Tina Turner visited India to explore role of ‘The Goddess’ in film, wanted to ‘reinvent’ herself


PTI, May 25, 2023, 4:16 PM IST

Tina Turner, who had Indians across generations dancing to songs such as “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, was all set to play “Shakti” in a film to be directed by Ismail Merchant and visited Varanasi and Kerala for an exploratory trip.

But the film, announced in the early 2000s, was not to be. And the queen of rock ‘n’ roll, a practising Buddhist who died at the age of 83 in her Switzerland home on Tuesday, spoke eloquently about the project, “The Goddess”, and its “cosmic energy”.

”The cosmic energy of Shakti attracted me to this film and the film to me. It signifies a new energy, new abilities and new beginnings. I fed the desire in me which wanted me to feel the energy of thousands of people in a stadium. Now I want to go to another message,” Turner told the Eastern Eye in an interview in 2004.

Turner, who was 64 at that time, said her belief in ”prayer” and the healing power of faith pushed her to say yes to the character.

”The epitome of my career was when I could fill a stadium of 190,000 people, but now I am ready to move into another kind of performance. I want to reinvent myself. Everyone expects Tina Turner to come back with a new album, but I will give them this movie,” she told the UK-based publication.

Titled ”The Goddess”, the film was to be made under Merchant-Ivory Productions, named after the filmmaker and his partner-collaborator James Ivory. It was met with protests from right wing elements in India who objected to Turner playing the Indian goddess.

The film could not lift off with Ismail Merchant’s sudden death in May 2005 after a surgery.

In an interview with Eastern Eye, Merchant recalled the moment Turner came to his mind for the role.

”… I saw Tina Turner at radio City Music Hall performing in front of thousands of people. She arrived magnificently on a crane and landed in the audience. People went berserk when she did this… I thought, if there was something this woman can do then it is to become the goddess Shakti,” Merchant had said.

It took him a decade to finalise the script. And it was only then that he approached the music icon. Determined to make the film despite objections, Merchant explained his stance in a statement titled “The Goddess”.

The protests were ”based on misconception”, he said in a statement still available on the website of the production house.

He described Turner as ”one of the great artists of our time” and one who had thrown herself ”whole-heartedly into the project”.

”In her recent trip to India, she said that she felt she had come home. An artist of such international stature should be welcomed coming to India, learning our traditions in order to portray them so that the whole world may know the glory of our music, dance, and spiritual ethos,” Merchant said.

The filmmaker said ”The Goddess’ was not meant to be a specific representation of a single deity, whether Kali, Laxmi or Durga.

”She is Shakti, the universal feminine energy, which is manifest in Kali, Durga, Mother Mary, Wicca, and each and every woman on the planet. The film has been conceived in order to celebrate this energy, not denigrate it.” Turner, who has credited Buddhism for helping her get out of an abusive relationship with former husband Ike Turner, was also planning to sing for the movie in languages such as English, Sanskrit and Latin, according to reports.

Turner’s India association through a film could not be possible but her death led to many fans remembering the impact of her music. Her hits included ”Proud Mary,” ”Nutbush City Limits” and ”River Deep, Mountain High” and her fans couldn’t get enough.

In a tweet, actor Urmila Matondkar quoted lyrics from Turner’s popular song ”The Best” and shared an old picture of her posing with a hoarding of the singer.

”You’re simply the best. Better than all the rest!! RIP.. Tina Turner. May your music, incredible journey from abuse to music superstardom and boundless passion for life continue to inspire many more!! Rest in Power #Tina #TinaTurner,” the actor wrote. Actor Pooja Bhatt also tweeted a tribute to the music icon referencing how she overcame her personal struggles and turned it into music.

“This musical is not about my stardom,” Turner said of the musical ‘Tina’ which premiered in 2018. “It is about the journey I took to get there. Each night I want audiences to take away from the theatre that you can turn poison into medicine.” #TinaTurner Reign on queen,” Bhatt said.

Music composer Vishal Dadlani said Turner’s passing is a personal loss.

”This hurt. I remember being around 10 when ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ came out and how that voice and that vibe left an instant impact. What a brightly-shining star she was! @tinaturner forever. #TinaTurner,” the music director-singer wrote on the microblogging site.

Composer Salim Merchant shared a news article on Turner’s death on his Instagram Stories to the tune of ”What’s Love Got To Do With It?” ”Rest in power Tina Turner. Your music and spirit will continue to inspire generations to come #TinaTurner #RestInPower #MusicLegend,” Merchant wrote in the caption.

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