Film Review: Faith Connection (2013) Dir. Pan Nalin
The amazing event which is the Kumbh Mela is almost impossible to describe to anyone who has not experienced it. It is the largest and most sacred Hindu festival which occurs every twelve years in India. It takes place on the floodplains near Allahabad where the Ganges and Jamuna rivers join with the invisible Saraswati river. The site is fifty square kilometers on which a temporary tent city is erected with toilets and water for showers and pontoon bridges and roads. (Imagine Burning Man times 100) The last Kumbh Mela was in 2013 and lasted two months during which time around 100 million pilgrims from all over the world and all walks of life came to take a dip in the river and cleanse themselves of all their sins. As a regular traveller to India, I found myself in India at the time of this last Kumbh Mela and was encouraged by Indian friends to go. As a photographer, I found it an irresistable opportunity. As a mildly claustrophobic person it was a challenge. But like all of my India experiences it was completely mind altering and emotionally rich. The magnitude of the event rendered my powers of description inadequate.
It is no small achievement what Pan Nalin has accomplished in making a film which makes the event somewhat fathomable for a Western audience while still rendering the huge diversity of seething humanity of the pilgrims, the holy men, the gurus, the saddhus and the officials. He has ingeniously woven three separate stories of lost boys separated from their parents; a small child who has been separated accidentally from his frantic parents, a young boy who has willfully decided to run away with the saddhus (the Hindu version of running away with the circus), and one baby boy one who was abandoned and has been in the care of a very old saddhu baba since infancy. These three stories form the framework of the film and provide very different perspectives into the vastness and variety that is the Kumbh Mela.
With gorgeous cinematography, a wealth of fascinating characters and compelling stories rendered in intimate close-ups juxtaposed against the pageantry of such unimaginable scale this film works beautifully as a dramatic film as well as a documentary. The characters are unforgettable and the amazing power of faith which creates something as phenomenal as the Kumbh Mela will most likely leave an indelible impression. It is a moving and profoundly affecting film.