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A film on Mata Amritanandmayi Devi

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New Delhi (UNI): A French film on Mata Amritanandmayi Devi, endearingly known as Amma - The Hugging Saint, which got rave reviews after its screening in the Cannes film festival, is to be released in the US this month. Darshan - The Embrace, directed by award-winning France-based filmmaker Jan Kounen, explores the enigma surrounding Amma, who commands a larger than life persona. It was officially selected for screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, 2005.

''The exact date for release of the film has not been fixed but it will be most probably in the second week of August,'' said an official of Amritapuri, the global headquarters of Amma's monsatery in Kerala's Kollam district. Jan Kounen and his crew began shooting for the film in 2003 during Amma's 50th birthday celebrations in Kochi. Later, Kounen and his team travelled with Amma on her Indian and international tours in order to complete the film. The film, with English subtitles, has used a lot of footage from her previous interviews.

During the making of the film, Kounen had said he would present the portrait of a woman who, as a young girl, had a vision that made people feel she was going crazy. ''I want to document the journey of that girl into her present avatar as Amma.'' Himself an ardent devotee of the spiritual lady, whose list of followers encompasses several countries, including the US and Canada, Kounen said he was restless and plagued by severel dilemmas and ''Amma eased away all these and showed me the right path''. Born in a poor fishing village in Parayakadavu in Kollam district, the 53-year-old spiritual lady has so far embraced around 30 million people during her 35 years of spiritual journey.

Her list of devotees includes former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, BJP leader L K Advani, several chief ministers, MPs and ministers. Amma who makes annual sojourn to the US for around two months in June-July, has just returned to her monastery. About her recent visit to America, media reports said some 2.25 million Americans began their day reading an article about Amma. A half-page article on her appeared in the USA Today newspaper (July 19), the daily with the widest circulation in that country and second widest circulation of any English language daily worldwide.

Grossman, the USA Today journalist who reported on her visit, wrote, '' Her arms are open to all: infants and the elderly, wiry collegians, hippies gone gray, dudes in Dockers or saffron robes, Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, children and the childlike -- anyone longing to be enveloped by perfurmed softness. No questions asked. One lesson offered: Open your heart to the world."

Asked about her message for Americans: her response was: ''We have to regain our original faces rather than wearing masks...We go more and more after the external world and we miss the inner self.'' She has spread her message of love and affection from the podium of the UN, the Parliament of World Religions and a number of inter-faith gatherings.

For her philanthropies, especially during the 2004 tsunami disaster, she was honoured by the New York-based Interfaith Centre, thus joining the league of Nobel Peace Laureate Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton and famous Hollywood actor Richard Gere, among others.

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