Film Review: Darshan Explores India’s Hugging Saint, Amma

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    Darshan, The Embrace, directed by Jan Kounen, 93 minutes, opening September 15 at Oak Street Cinema, 309 Oak St. SE, near the intersection of Oak Street and Washington Avenue SE in the Stadium Village area of the East Bank, Minneapolis. For show times, consult www.mnfilmarts.org

    From the opening moments until the very end of Darshan, The Embrace, director Jan Kounen offers us a beautiful and yet realistic glimpse of India, a nation with spiritual wealth co-existing alongside material poverty. From the urban congestion to the quiet countryside, we see the people who make up this nation. Ascetics meditating. Beggars sleeping. Children playing. And we see a saint conferring darshan – meaning "sight" or "vision" – to those seeking a spiritual blessing. This film’s focus is on the woman affectionately known as Amma (Mother) and known worldwide as "the hugging saint," Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, who has dedicated her life to helping the hungry, the poor, and those wishing to be better human beings.

    Director Jan Kounen, who accompanied Amma on and off for one year, describes the experience as "the evolution of my perception of Amma; first, through the eyes of the Westerner before the unknown, then gradually sliding in to witness overflowing love and the perception of beauty in a destiny which has become a legend." For the viewer, Darshan, The Embrace is a rare opportunity to watch the experience of Amma in relation to the throngs of believers who endure heat and hours of standing in line, just for the chance to hug, and be hugged, to love, and be loved. It is a chance to hear her thoughts on life, and on death, which she compares to the period at the end of a sentence, a temporary pause in the flow, which always resumes.

    This film gives us little in terms of information about how Amma became who she is. It is simply a moving portrait of a person who is changing lives, one embrace after another. And it is a poignant reminder that each of us has, within us, the capability of doing the same, helping others in the same way, one step at a time, one hug at a time.

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