Why Kumbh Mela?

Where else on earth would one witness such power of devotion? In our times we are losing "real" touch with religions instead it’s all about power, politics, fanaticism and exploitation of faith. True devotion is rare and vanishing from our planet. Religions make no longer make any sense; spirituality is packaged and exported, and then re-imported back as a lifestyle. Thus, only the poor of the world still hold onto the true faith - spectacle of one such holding is the Kumbh Mela. Such power of faith, that I was moved to tears. No logic can explain this because it’s about that internal feeling where you feel the fire within you. But somehow that fire of faith only burns among the poor of the world. Millions of those folks flock to the Kumbh Mela driven by that fire, guided by that faith. And that manifestation does not exist anywhere on earth except once in twelve years at the Kumbh Mela.

How do you approach world’s biggest crowds and find stories?

We live in the age of images. Our lives are invaded by images and sound, they come in all forms; cinema, TV, internet, smartphones, books, magazines… Our senses are constantly bombarded with audio-visual content. So when I arrived in Kumbh, I said to myself if I don't find few people who intrigue me, who move me; I will abandon the idea of making a film because there are just too many films out there. And above all I was after the simplest plot possible; a mother would find her lost son or not? An abandoned baby turns a Yogi’s life upside down. A kid pondering to choose to become a Sadhu or Gangster? A pilgrim who wants nothing…. Because only the discovery of those people with exceptional "real" stories could nourish my vision. Once that was clear, then all I had to do is dive into the ocean of humanity and go fishing! And surprisingly, the experience is close to that of the fishing; you sense it before you actually see it!

How did you conceive the cinematic style of the film?

With modern day audio-visual onslaught on our senses, I try to seek a personal visual style, a point of view, which brings a certain freshness to spectators. With all kind of media invading our lives, it's not only the story that's important but also how you tell it, and who tells it. Thus I decided to find a way of knowing my characters, and then try and be very close with the lens. The attempt was to feel under-the-skin of humans. I was also inspired by artist Natasha De Betak 's amazing macro photography. So when I began exploring the micro and the macro, it added a whole new dimension to the cinematic style.

You make both fiction and documentaries, is it easy to switch?

I do not like to differentiate be it fiction or non-fiction. For me they are just films. I do not believe in divisions like art, commercial or world cinema. For me its root simple: there are movies we like, and there are movies we dislike. The fun and excitement in making a documentary is that it’s full of surprises; you never know where you’ll start and where you’ll end up. Unlike fiction, my documentaries are "made" after the filming. Meanwhile one needs to decide almost every single frame before you film a fiction. When you tackle the reality head-on, you only have a choice of where to place your camera. When to switch on the camera and when to switch it off - that's about it. You’ve no control, whatsoever, on desires and destinies of your characters. You’ve no power over plots. And that is a truly uplifting sensation. In fiction, you’re grabbing life to create slices of reality. In documentaries, you’re grabbing slices of reality to recreate life. In both cases, intention is one and the same; to recreate life, to tell stories.

Excerpts of interview with Pan Nalin

Writer / Director