The Bridge at Rishikesh
(This film is based on the Hebrew docudrama
In 1994 Paul Bennett, a young advertising copywriter from Highland Park in
Chicago decided to take a trip to India with friends Tom and Rachel. Theyíd
been fascinated by the sub-continent since their High School days. Like
thousands of young Americans, skeptical of their role in the brashest
capitalist economy on earth, and also wondering whether there was something
else to life...they decided to go see it.
In the course of his journey, Paul writes letters home to his parents and to
his two friends as they separate to visit different places. He also records
his journey on home video. As the journey progresses, his letters change from
the incidental comments of the young traveling American, to perceptive and
sensitive insights into who he is and where he now thinks he is going. The
home movie becomes an extraordinary and stunning visual chronicle of a young
manís journey into what he believes is spiritual enlightenment.
But the trip begins in disillusionment. Having thought of India as a colorful,
friendly and happy place, Paul is robbed on his first night in Bombay and
spends the next few days trying to contact his parents and have them send him
some money. He feels desperate and lost and considers returning home.
But things seem better when they decide to head for Goa - theyíd heard
about the drugs, all‑night raves and uninhibited beach life. They go and enjoy
what has made Goa famous - or notorious - among young tourists from all over
But Paulís thoughts now turn beyond drugs and enjoyment. He starts to ask
questions he never asked before. ďWhy wasnít I happy all my life? What will
make me happy?Ē In his heart, Paul begins making plans to embark on a deeper
spiritual quest. Paul travels alone to Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities.
In the exquisite city on the banks of the Ganges, Paul encounters holy men,
magnificent temples and thousands of Hindus rushing to bathe in the sacred
river at daybreak. Alongside all this grandeur and spirituality people
everywhere try to waylay Paul and cajole him to part with his money.
Paul canít find the answers to the questions that begin to eat away at his
soul with increasing intensity. But Paul is told by a sadhu (Holy man) of the
kumbh mela, a great religious gathering. Paul is filled with hope that
he will finally find what he has started to crave. After traveling through the
night, he arrives at what is probably the largest gathering of humanity for a
common purpose. Through the dawn mists he sees a camp of six million people.
The religious gathering is captivating, almost circus-like, full of impressive
and colorful ceremonies. Paul is overwhelmed at first but then is shocked to
discover that most of the sadhus are charlatans and petty swindlers. Alone and
confused, he wanders through this bizarre spiritual fair, unable to retrace
his steps but equally unable to find his way. The questions plaguing his mind
set his soul reeling.
In a desperate attempt to restore his emotional balance, Paul rests in a
village where he is welcomed by a local family. The peace and tranquility he
encounters in the village intensify the alienation from his own family life.
Paul continues to Rishikesh, a town in the Himalayan foothills, where he hopes
to find monks who, like him, are tired of human society and prefer to live as
hermits in the mountain caves. After wandering, he finds a cave with a sadhu
in seclusion. Paul is attracted to his mischievous laugh as he gazes at the
monk through the fireís thick smoke. The letters he writes from the cave
reveal the all too delicate boundary between madness and genius, between
creativity and abandon.
Paulís letters and video eventually record how he finds himself at a
crossroads of his life at the bridge over the Ganges at Rishikesh. He has come
to believe that when he crosses the bridge he cannot return to his former
Paul crossed the bridge and disappeared into the mists beyond the river. He
never came home. He has not been seen since. His parents and friends still
have the letters and the video. They wait, hoping one day to see him again.
The Bridge at Rishikesh is based on the true story of a young
Israeli, Arnon Yahell, who left home in 1994. His parents Batia and Yakob live
in Savion, Israel and have his letters. There was no video shot by Arnon. This
device has been added to enable the film to become a mixture of dramatic
reconstruction and personal visual storytelling by Paul. Paulís film becomes
the compelling central narrative of the movie, with his thoughts and
experiences retold by the images he recorded and readings from his letters.
is young, bright and very good at his job writing advertising copy. He enjoys
his dog eat dog creative world, but always in the back of his mind he felt
that his life as a successful young American was shallow. He is a winner but
comes to question what Ďwinningí means. And these thoughts were continually
focused by his day to day work Ė using his creative skills to oil the wheels
of consumer America.
A strong-willed but somewhat ditzy young woman who has been Paulís close
friend and the object of his affections Ė and those of their mutual childhood
friend Tom Ė since their high school days. Paul and Tom courted her
relentlessly as part of their never-ending one-upmanship contest, but Rachelís
relationship with both never went beyond ďgood friends.Ē
Paulís childhood friend and chief rival for Rachelís heart is a handsome,
charming young man who seeks spirituality but lacks Paulís depth. Even back in
high school, the two were rivals as well as friends, their contest over Rachel
representing only one aspect of a far more intense kind of competition. Tomís
confidence and dominance always left Paul frustrated and hurt.
and Phyllis Bennett (Paulís Parents):
Paulís parents receive his letters and read about the changes happening to
their son. Paul finds it difficult to share his spiritual experiences with
them, as he feels they are foreign to their world and to their way of life.
Dr. Bennett is a liberal-minded psychologist with a keen analytical mind who
maintains a solid, well-entrenched view of the world. His only disappointment
is that all his expertise in psychology has not helped him to narrow the gap
and ease the crisis between him and his son. Paulís mother is a real estate
agent and vacillates between hope and despair, realizing that Paulís
disappearance is harder to take than his death, because uncertainty makes it
all the more difficult for her to reconcile herself to what has happened.
Ten years Paulís senior, Barbara is both a sister and mother figure to him.
Paul always looked up to her, admiring her accomplishments as a militant
environmental activist and her hippie-like free spirit. She understands him
and can identify with his experiences more than anyone else in the family.