The central tenet of Zoroastrianism, “Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta”, or “Good thoughts, good words, good Deeds”, is also the title of Bettina Ehrhardt’s comprehensive documentary on celebrated Western classical music conductor Zubin Mehta. The 89-minute film, which is being screened in the Discovering India section of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (October 22-27), maps Mehta’s journey from Mumbai to Vienna in the 1950s to train in classical music, his professional debut at the age of 20, and his rise in the global orchestra circuit. The documentary interweaves interviews with Mehta’s friends, colleagues and family members and archival footage from his concerts around the world.
“I sang before I spoke,” Mehta tells Ehrhardt about the rigourous training that began in the early morning hours in his household. Mehta’s father, Mehli Mehta, was a violinist and the founding conductor of the Bombay Symphony Orchestra. Zubin Mehta’s talent was recognised early on. He began conducting the Vienna and the Berlin Philharmonic orchestras in his twenties, and he also in Los Angeles, Israel and Montreal. In 1990, Mehta achieved global acclaim when he collaborated with the tenors Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti for The Three Tenors concert. The recording of the show became a best-selling classical album.
Apart from sharing insights into his childhood, Mehta, who speaks fluent German in the feature, speaks of his controversial efforts to delink politics from the promotion of Western classical music. Mehta gives the instance of his performance of German composer Richard Wagner’s symphony in Israel, where he continued to play despite angry protests by locals. Wagner was a known anti-Semite and a favourite of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Similarly, Mehta’s colleague, violinist Chaim Taub, remembers playing the Israeli national anthem to an unsuspecting audience in Germany.
The film includes the work of the Mehli Mehta Foundation, which teaches Indian children Western classical music, and concludes with Mehta conducting at one of his concerts. His frenzied hand movements are that of a man possessed by good thoughts, words, and deeds.