When filmmakers and long-time school friends Krishna Agazzi and Filippo Gastaldi came together in 2016 to document Naga yogis during the build-up to Kumbh Mela, a mass pilgrimage that is inscribed in UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, they never imagined just how introspetive it would be.
What came of the intense shoot is a 72 minute award-winning documentary titled Naga: The Eternal Yogi that has both observed standing ovations and skeptical debates.
Agazzi shares the unique social functionality of documentary filmmaking is what drew him into the industry, explaining, “A documentary does not aim to entertain but to inform, to create content and help people to broaden their vision of life and social phenomena — even if, in its form, it keeps an eye on the way the audience enjoys the movie and the editing rules that allow the spectator to understand it. Naga: The Eternal Yogi gave us the chance to tell something that is still unknown to many, exploring concepts such as eternity, infinity, renunciation, universal love and respect for life and its forms.”
Agazzi owes a lot of what was accomplished to the intensive research done by him and his team on Sanatan Dharma, where they unearthed a new paradigm for testing values, actions, occupations and social relationships in their home in Italy.
He adds the film offers ways to look at dual lifestyles, “Clearly there are many difficulties because here in the West some things really aim at self-satisfaction or monetary enrichment. Values and ethics have become impoverished and it seems that in order to be satisfied, we must live a life in the consumerist and capitalist mechanisms. Naga reveals the possibility of ‘undressing’ ourselves from many burdens and leading a more modest and freer existence away from the constraints of contemporary society and its totems, from its sufferings and its joys.”
The documentary offers glimpses of extraordinary moments of raw emotion and drama with the people. “With Naga, had we been a typical TV crew, it could be not possible to catch very intense moments of pure devotion. However, we were inside the drama, side by the side of very reliable yogis,” he discerns, “Yes, we had a camera, but we got completely accepted by the atmosphere and the audience, and the camera magically disappeared.”
The collective experience did not happen without its occasional pitfalls. Gastaldi looks at the filmmaking experience as a learning experience, with difficulties and all.
Such instances included continually looking inward which was quite challenging for the whole team.
“Moreover, the shooting and the travel were just the beginning, so that when we got back into the studio to edit an enormous quantity of raw material, watching it over and over again became an intense deep practise.”
Socially assimilating themselves back into Western society after a profoundly immersive period was quite difficult. “For us who live outside India it is difficult to retune ourselves to the vibration we got when we were among the Babas in the akhada; and the simple natural results of doing this film is the simple human reaction to the experience.”
While the subject in its entirety may raise a few eyebrows, the team maintains they’ve been as objective and descriptive as possible, allowing whichever concepts to come to the surface organically, without manipulation and judgement.
They believe this has been achieved and that that’s what accoladed them with last year’s award for Best Documentary at the first ever Rishikesh Art and Film Festival.
Working on Naga gave the team insight into the documentary industry with Gastaldi seeing a need for purely independent documentaries in the world.
“Real life has become very popular in this flat modern world; when nothing happens in our lives we try to see what happened in others’ lives. This might be superficial but it’s not. We are all guided by what we see. We need to feed the planet with curiosity, because we can travel without moving, by simply switching on a real world film,” he concludes.
Naga: The Eternal Yogi is available for viewing on Journeyman TV and YouTube.