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Short Cut to Nirvana - Kumbh Mela
U.S.A. 2004

Opening 27 Apr 2006

Directed by: Maurizio Benazzo
Writing credits:

Imagine the largest gathering in recorded history on earth: 70 million people. This documentary impressively begins with a satellite photo of this mass of humanity which is the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, north India, in 2001. Every 12 years this spiritual Hindu pilgrimage takes place but it is every 144 years that the Maha Kumbh Mela takes place, of which this is its latest occurrence. Over a six-week period, people from all over the world come to pray for peace and rebirth for the self and the world at large. It is believed that at this time, bathing in the confluences of the sacred rivers of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati, will purify the soul and body and all one’s sins from 1000 births will be washed away in these holy waters. Thus, the unending cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth is broken and one enters the “short cut to nirvana.”

The mission of this expedition of film makers, photographers, writers, sound designers and composers is to bring us a multi-sensory experience and they are highly effective. We are guided through the intriguing crowds in this makeshift tent city by a western female pilgrim and an Indian Hindu swami, both visitors to the Mela. Throughout the documentary we are given their personal impressions as sadhus and gurus are interviewed. Exposed to an array of Indian yogis - the man who has held his arm up in the air for over 20 years, the Japanese woman who is buried underground for three days, the man who sits on a chair of nails over fire, the sadhu who wraps his penis around a stick and holds the stick behind his legs as someone stands on it - we are left to our own conclusions. Amazing feats of what the human being is capable of through will power and belief. The camera jumps from scene to scene where we are exposed to the sights and sounds of a myriad of colors, to the hustle and bustle of people walking, observing, dancing and chanting in ecstasy. The visual effects are so intense that one is even able to sense the smells. We are offered glimpses of the most exotic accumulation of people imaginable. Even the Dalai Lama is present to share the message of peace in this spiritual gathering. On a particular day, in accordance with planetary alignment, millions of people go down to bathe in the sacred waters. First, however, the sadhu’s must enter in order to purify the waters. The parade of saints down to the river is grandiose with the accompanying horses, elephants, camels and bulls that are carrying the procession along with musicians and dancers and the sea of humanity that follows down to the rivers edge. Through a patchwork approach of shots which is exceptionally synchronized to the music, directors and producers, Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day, offer us not only a documentary of an ancient religious pilgrimage but also a personal spiritual journey of sorts. (Coppelia Hays Branscheid)

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