Film Review: Faith Connections
Directed by Pan Nalin
The Hindu pilgrimage and ritual of the Kumbh Mela is the largest human gathering in the world, bringing together around 100 million people to sites along the Ganges every three years. Indian director Pan Nalin attended the 2013 gathering for a personal reason: His father asked that he go, and that he bring back some holy water and some good stories. The resulting film is a vivid portrait of life amid the spiritual throng, and it shows the push-pull between the human need for connection and the smothering effect of others. Nalin shows us one ascetic who has renounced the world, but who has also effectively adopted a small abandoned toddler; he also shows us another boy, who lives on the streets and relies on the police and others to take care of him. Meanwhile, other families look for their children who have been lost among the worshippers. (When you gather tens of millions of people together, children invariably wind up getting lost, it seems.)
The sheer size of the Kumbh Mela is both Nalin’s greatest asset and his greatest challenge. It’s hard to tease out stories in this vast stretch of humanity, and Faith Connections does occasionally lose focus. At the same time, the event lends a fascinating, otherworldly quality to what we’re seeing onscreen; the images Nalin has gathered are beautiful and evocative. He also loses a bit of himself—it’s interesting that a story that starts in such a personal register winds up being so much about other people. But maybe that’s the essence of spiritual connection, and of an event like the Kumbh Mela: our ability to disappear amid the immanence of spiritual belief, in ways both good and bad.