Review: ACMI Faith Connections

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Rated: MA 15+ (Strong drug use and nudity) 

Pan Nalin, 115 mins, India/France, 2013, Hindi with English subtitles

Pan Nalin’s recent documentary Faith Connections opens with an orange-tinged mountainous India amongst murmurs of prayers and street traffic. Just as you begin to immerse yourself in this ironically relaxing environment, oscillating between man’s noise and nature’s hum, Nalin disrupts continuity through the visual appearance of an initial dark bar. As the camera pans out to reveal the bar actually belonging to a gated window, we meet the protagonist explaining his mission – to attend to the holy festival of Kumbh Mela and collect a jug of holy water as requested by his father. This is where our unexpected journey begins.

For the uninformed the film does a great job of explaining the faith festival where many journey to bathe in the sacred river.  However, it is not through a historical or particularly logical lens that Nalin’s explores this, but rather through the eyes of the locals – the devout, the pilgrim and the child.  Once again this reminds us that it is quite powerful to show, rather than tell. Although his powerful message kicks off to a slow thirty minute start where you just seem to be left “watching these millions of people driven by power of devotion” as the narrator puts it, you eventually begin to piece together the meaning of Kumbh Mela for yourself through the vignettes and characters at their gatherings. Despite the end goal for all to dip in the water, the film revealed that everyone has different intentions and reasons for attendance. Some come to give, feeding thousands out of good will whilst other take, in hope to reap spiritual blessings. 

What makes the backbone of this film is the tracking of three parallel stories – a lost boy Sandeep, a stray boy Kishan and a loved boy Bajrangi. The viewers emotions are constantly being shaken up, playing through the rollercoaster of distress and anxiousness following Sandeep’s parents in a crowd of millions to find their son last seen wearing no pants, to delight and warmth as you follow Hatha Yogi baba raising baby Bajrangi who was abandoned at three days of age, to finally shock and bewilderment as you follow rebel Kishan who ran away from home expressing his street wit and learning from the Sadhu’s amongst their marijuana inspired sessions. The film is extremely frank and does not hide the injustice that occurs on the streets or the poverty of the nation, yet Nalin manages to instill hope in the viewers through the encouraging stories of the individuals he follows.

Overall, it is the unvoiced that speaks loudest in this film, through the camera constantly tracking and sweeping through the grounds at the eye level of a young child, positioning viewers also on a pilgrimage of their own. Footage of feet, the earth and movement is a regular motif which is juxtaposed photographic close ups individual’s faces amongst the crowds. You weave through the crowds you see for yourself what true India is – it’s people. The film ends the same way as it opens, fading back from the window as our protagonist gives the holy water to his father.

This two hour spiritual life feature is not for all. The bottom line: for the curious and patient individual that is willing to put away their biases and hop into someone else’s shoes. Be ready to be lost and bewildered. 

Written By: Sandra Lee, April 2014

Rated: MA 15+ (Strong drug use and nudity) 

Pan Nalin, 115 mins, India/France, 2013, Hindi with English subtitles

Pan Nalin’s recent documentary Faith Connections opens with an orange-tinged mountainous India amongst murmurs of prayers and street traffic. Just as you begin to immerse yourself in this ironically relaxing environment, oscillating between man’s noise and nature’s hum, Nalin disrupts continuity through the visual appearance of an initial dark bar. As the camera pans out to reveal the bar actually belonging to a gated window, we meet the protagonist explaining his mission – to attend to the holy festival of Kumbh Mela and collect a jug of holy water as requested by his father. This is where our unexpected journey begins.

For the uninformed the film does a great job of explaining the faith festival where many journey to bathe in the sacred river.  However, it is not through a historical or particularly logical lens that Nalin’s explores this, but rather through the eyes of the locals – the devout, the pilgrim and the child.  Once again this reminds us that it is quite powerful to show, rather than tell. Although his powerful message kicks off to a slow thirty minute start where you just seem to be left “watching these millions of people driven by power of devotion” as the narrator puts it, you eventually begin to piece together the meaning of Kumbh Mela for yourself through the vignettes and characters at their gatherings. Despite the end goal for all to dip in the water, the film revealed that everyone has different intentions and reasons for attendance. Some come to give, feeding thousands out of good will whilst other take, in hope to reap spiritual blessings. 

What makes the backbone of this film is the tracking of three parallel stories – a lost boy Sandeep, a stray boy Kishan and a loved boy Bajrangi. The viewers emotions are constantly being shaken up, playing through the rollercoaster of distress and anxiousness following Sandeep’s parents in a crowd of millions to find their son last seen wearing no pants, to delight and warmth as you follow Hatha Yogi baba raising baby Bajrangi who was abandoned at three days of age, to finally shock and bewilderment as you follow rebel Kishan who ran away from home expressing his street wit and learning from the Sadhu’s amongst their marijuana inspired sessions. The film is extremely frank and does not hide the injustice that occurs on the streets or the poverty of the nation, yet Nalin manages to instill hope in the viewers through the encouraging stories of the individuals he follows.

Overall, it is the unvoiced that speaks loudest in this film, through the camera constantly tracking and sweeping through the grounds at the eye level of a young child, positioning viewers also on a pilgrimage of their own. Footage of feet, the earth and movement is a regular motif which is juxtaposed photographic close ups individual’s faces amongst the crowds. You weave through the crowds you see for yourself what true India is – it’s people. The film ends the same way as it opens, fading back from the window as our protagonist gives the holy water to his father.

This two hour spiritual life feature is not for all. The bottom line: for the curious and patient individual that is willing to put away their biases and hop into someone else’s shoes. Be ready to be lost and bewildered. 

Written By: Sandra Lee, April 2014

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