Interview :: Pan Nalin on the making of Faith Connections

Interview :: Pan Nalin on the making of Faith Connections

by Habiba Ahmad

Director Pan Nalin
sets his latest documentary during the Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious festivals in the world. Throughout his filmmaking journey, he came across several men and women that decided to either embrace the world or renounce it. But the one thing they all had in common Nalin noticed, was the strength of faith.

His remarkable encounters are documented in 'Faith Connections'. Take a look:

MyBindi's Habiba Ahmad caught up with Nalin to discuss his latest spiritual endeavor and what it was like to capture it all.

Your documentary ‘Faith Connections’ uses one of the largest religious gathering Kumbh Mela as its backdrop. What led you to this and why?

Toronto International Film Festival

It all started with a simple wish from my father; he wanted me to travel to Kumbh and fetch a bottle of holy gangajal (water from the river Ganga) for him. I myself was curious about status of faith in the 21st century. With all the modernity, science and technology that surround us –where does the belief in supreme force stand today? And above all what is it like to be in the middle of the crowd of 60 million people?

‘Faith Connections’ tells the story of five different people that have one commonality: faith. When creating your film, did you already have characters in mind that you were interested in studying or did you come upon them by chance?

Toronto International Film Festival

I had gone to Kumbh with no preparations whatsoever. I had no characters in mind. But I knew that each part of my being must crave for the film. It has to be a deeply moving experience first for me and only thereafter I should worry about capturing it on camera. So coming across these characters were driven by my desire to find emotionally engaging personas that are part of the Kumbh. Reach out to macro within the multitudes.

Kumbh Mela is a religious festival that only occurs every 12 years. Did you ever feel the pressure to tell the story of all your characters right as the chance to film again will be long after?

Toronto International Film Festival

Kumbh Mela occurs every 12 years, and that was the most exciting aspect of this astonishing project. I did not feel pressure but that very idea that the next such event would be in 2025, inspired me to penetrate within the crux of the crowds and feel their power of devotion. As a filmmaker, such ideas about time fascinate me, and inspire me.

What was the greatest challenge in the making of this film?

Toronto International Film Festival

The greatest challenge has been crowds, hordes, and masses thronging the place!! There were moments where it will take twenty to thirty minutes to cross the road few meters wide! Logistics are a nightmare, living, sleeping, food –even recharging camera batteries would mean walking twenty miles as no vehicles are allowed within the Mela. Then there are cinematic challenges: how to stay close to characters and at the same stay invisible?!

Among the characters, you follow a ten-year old runaway child and also a mother in search for her lost 3-year old son. As a filmmaker, did you ever find yourself putting your work on hold to get involved and help?

Toronto International Film Festival

Especially the mother, who was searching for her 3-year old son, broke our hearts. When one whole week passed without any sign of her son, Me and my team got fully involved to help; police stations, camps, railway stations… We printed posters and displayed it across the Mela… And now even after our movie is complete we are in touch with characters and trying to help.

Your film talks about embracing the world or renouncing it. Can you please expand on these two ideals?

To embrace the world or to renounce that is the question.” It’s my belief that this question would be the main dilemma in our lives, in near future. Regardless of religion or where we live. The way the world is going, more and more people are trying to escape from the very world they created. In India ‘renunciation’ is several thousand-year-old tradition. People who have renounced the world were earlier known as “Samanas” like Buddha in his young age was a Samana before he became Buddha. Those people who renounced the worldly life are known as Sanyasi, Sadhu, Baba… in short they are wondering hermits or in some case they retreat in the Himalayas. 

The Kumbh Mela is one of the rare places where people from both side meet with one aim – to take a holy dip. But as a storyteller what intrigued me the most is people who are on the edge: who are waiting decide to stay in the world or renounce it. We have a character of ten-year young kid Kishan who is living with the same dilemma. Or Hatha Yogi Baba pondering over that he must embraced the world because the society he abandoned, gave him a child abandoned by the society.

Toronto International Film Festival

What is the one message from ‘Faith Connections’ you want your audience to walk away with?

No message whatsoever. But come and experience extraordinary mass movement of humanity and feel the quest of few individual souls – all connected by one faith. It’s enlightening entertainment.

What was the greatest lesson you took away from filming ‘Faith Connections’ and/or the characters that you followed?

Faith is believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.

Your first feature film ‘Samsara’ followed a Buddhist monk on a quest to find enlightenment. What draws you to religious practices, especially those from the eastern world?

Toronto International Film Festival

I remain fascinated with our quest to worship the unknown. For me that represents some of the most important inner conflicts. To be clear, I’m fascinated with spiritual practices but not really the religions –and I strongly differentiate the two. Because man can certainly survive without religion, but if you take away the faith from humanity – what will be left of us?

Since filming such an astonishing religious pilgrimage, are you interested in documenting more? If so, which one would be your next subject matter?

I’ve been working on Rastafarian and the birth of their spiritual practices, its influence on Reggae music and the lifestyle across the globe.

Watch Faith Connections at TIFF 2013!