Conversation with Gagan Malik


"My life changed with the role I played as the Sakyan Prince in the film Sri Siddhartha Gautama. Though a nonsmoker and teetotaler I was a not a vegetarian, but after acting in the film I felt I had to live better, be more pure. After all people looked up to me as the man who depicted the person who became the Buddha, so I could not let them down. I have this thought that he, Siddhartha, who had everything: heir to a throne, beautiful wife and child, all material comforts, riches, left it all for the sake of humanity. It was difficult for him to take the step to renounce his princely life but he did it because he was sure he would help himself to break the cycle of births and deaths and help other beings too. So what are minor sacrifices to me? I now have this strong desire to do something for other people, to have the world living in love, friendship and peace."

The actor

It was difficult for me to believe that I was actually seated beside and talking with the young actor who played the role of Siddhartha Gautama in the recent Light of Asia Foundation film on the life of the Prince from his birth to his great renunciation and the attainment of enlightenment. I saw on TV an interview with him which was abbreviated. I wanted more on this man who came through the screen in his role as if to touch us with the Bodhisatva’s purity and compassion. I telephoned Navin Gooneratne and he willingly arranged for me to meet Gagan.

Goodness! Gagan is handsome! Six feet tall, very slim, fairly fair in complexion with a mop of somewhat curly hair. He was completely relaxed and seemed to have all the time in the world to chat to this woman – me. He was dressed in a white embroidered shervani shirt and fitting trousers but what arrested me were his eyes and his voice. His eyes were as in the film, softly penetrating with affection and compassion coming through. His well modulated voice had the slightest of slight Indian accents but he spoke English as it is spoken by educated South Asians. He did not want to talk about himself but about the project he and Navin Gooneratne are launching. He had not a trace of mega star airs, none at all, substituted for by humility and obviously having things in proportion, mostly brought about by his role of Prince Siddhartha.

He said he opted to live alone during the shooting of the film away from all other actors and crew and even the director, producer et al. "I had to live my part day and night. I kept telling myself I am depicting the Buddha before Buddhahood, the prince during his early teens and later years until at 29 he made the great renunciation. And do you know I meditated a lot at that time and I definitely got help from Him." He meant the Buddha which we could explain by the word ‘inspiration.’ The Buddha was a mortal albeit with great powers, extraordinary intellect and a personality far superior to any human being, but he died. He never wanted to be taken as a god or be venerated. So by Gagan saying he felt he was being helped to act the part was a psychological state of being inspired; recognizing fully and aspiring to depict the superior qualities of the person he was in the film.

I asked him what his feelings were when he acted the scene where he sits in meditation by a stream and later under the Bo tree. What thoughts ran through his mind, were they all about acting and being filmed. He shook his head firmly. "No, I did not think about acting. I was a prince setting out to find salvation for humanity’s suffering. I lived the part. I was Siddhartha, though mere Gagan. I was into meditation; I increased my powers of concentration. I even underwent the trauma of renunciation. I felt peace descend. I asked for help to act well. I followed the middle path in the acting too. I was completely living the meditation scenes, like most others. Then I heard the director’s voice saying the scene was successfully shot, and I came back to my life. Now when I watch the film I get tears in my eyes."

The new project

Gagan is here to set in motion the idea of forming Lotus World with Navin Gooneratne and others. He was really more concerned and interested in this rather than his film acting and likely fans and all that. "My aim now is not to be a super star. It is to be of service. It’s time to do something to serve humanity. So, no more mega stardom, no more fame." He explained in detail what Lotus World is.

Lotus World is projected to encompass the world, starting from Sri Lanka. People who come into Lotus World need to base their lives on three pillars:

1. Goodness which encompasses right speech, right action, right livelihood

2. Friendship which is most important and meant to be universal

3. Mindfulness which brings in mental peace

It will be like forming a single family community with no regard to race or religion. The principles however are Buddhistic. Feelings of love, friendship, mutual help will bring joy and peace in life. Gagan elaborated this last point by saying that while driving if he saw an injured man on the road, by taking him to hospital he would probably be saving a life and bringing happiness to himself. "The world will change. My dream is that every politician would join Lotus World. Everyone needs a teacher and Buddha is our teacher. Only a bad person can become a good person (Angulima). Every saint has a past. Every evil has a future. The individual is responsible for himself and the world too. I am an artist, my area is acting. My contribution is through art - I can spread the message of love and compassion. It is easy to preach but now is the time for action. I have gone to almost all temples in this country, met with monks and got their feedback and suggestions. We will launch Lotus World on September 21 which is World Peace Day. For a start we will take our film Sri Siddhartha Gautama to the world. We met your President; he was gracious. He promised us help. So we have hopes of taking our message along with the edited version of the film to all parts of the world."

Family man

I brought the conversation back to him. His devotion was to cricket as a boy and young man. He played for Delhi both locally and in foreign countries. After twelve years of cricket he moved to films. Then he was selected to play the role of Siddhartha Gautama from among very many applicants for the part, which he considered a great privilege. When I met him a week ago, he had just completed shooting a TV series on the Ramayana with him playing the part of Rama. "My mother was the happiest woman on earth when I won this part as she is a great devotee of God Rama. She fasts on account of this religious belief." He worked on this TV project 24 days a month, leaving the remaining six for Sri Lanka.

He said his maternal grandmother gave him his name, Gagan, which means sky. He married his school sweetheart at 22. To my question as to why so early he replied: "My wife, being from a business family in New Delhi was to be given in marriage early. So I married her young. My family is also in business and we live as an extended family, very happily. My wife complains I do not spend enough time with her, but that is life. I have to give a part of my life and much time to promoting Lotus World to bring happiness and peace to people universally." They live in New Delhi and sometimes in Mumbai where he owns a flat.

You can gauge the quality of this man’s sense of humaneness and friendliness to all with this anecdote. When I introduced myself, he said my first name was that of a North Indian film actress who was also a singer. Flicking through his iphone he picked on a song sung by her and had me listen to it. To him others are important, not himself, his ego or his image. Thank good Karma for people like Gagan Malik! He came to Sri Lanka to star in a film and was so influenced by the role he played and liked the country and people so much that he decided to visit much oftener and help this country and, as far as possible people further afield, through his art of acting. No difficulty with his looks and charm and sincerity of purpose.

- Nan

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