DOCUMENTARY After having reported from conflict zones, Diego Buñuel turns his eyes towards the Kumbh Mela for an upcoming film. BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA
As the news of the stampede at the Allahabad railway station started arriving, events at the Kumbh Mela took a solemn turn. But for Diego Buñuel, a Spanish-French journalist, the magic of the Mela is still intact.
Buñuel has for the last few weeks been recording the goings-on at the Kumbh for a documentary on the subject, titled “Inside the Mahakumbh” which will reveal “what it takes to create and maintain the behind-the-scenes infrastructure needed for the Kumbh Mela.”
Ask him if the focus of the documentary will include the stampede, and you will be met with a steadfast answer. “The stampede was a little different from the Kumbh itself; it happened at the railway station. There is nothing larger than the Kumbh Mela, the biggest gathering of human beings in the world. That was a tall order to deal with already.”
The documentary will be telecast in over 60 countries where “people have little idea of what the Kumbh is about, what Hinduism is about and, sometimes, even what India is about.” Buñuel’s “job is to take these people by the hand and just dive into this incredible event and find the hidden gems…You have millions of people over 55 days and it is amazing how the flow of traffic, of people, of buses, of cars, is managed. It is a massive operation.”
How does one explain such a massive event to an audience? “I think you have to break it into several pieces. One part of the story focuses on the infrastructure that was developed in order to get so many people in one place. Then there’sanother piece on the spiritual aspect. And yet another on the Ganges,” he answers.
As a former war-correspondent, Buñuel’s assignments have included covering areas like Iraq, Congo, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Pakistan. He has even been shot at in Colombia.
Is the approach required for reporting conflict very different? “The Kumbh Mela is a fun event. In situations of conflict you have to, on the contrary, focus on one person’s story. Stalin used to say ‘a million deaths is a statistic, a single death is a tragedy’. My job is to focus on that one death.”
Buñuel’s reporting of conflict areas has aired in the show “Don’t Tell My Mother”. But someone else in his family would have been happy to listen to Diego’s tales. The great Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel was his grandfather, and a great influence on his life.
The sight of Naga sadhus at the Kumbh, he confesses, was as surrealistic as his grandfather’s films.
(“Inside the Mahakumbh” will be aired on National Geographic Channel on March 4, 2013 at 10 p.m.)