Sanskrit animated film an 'experiment' to save language, culture: Filmmaker
New Delhi : With "Punyakoti", India's first animated Sanskrit film, debutant filmmaker V. Ravi Shankar, a Bengaluru-based IT professional, is setting out to contribute his bit to save Indian culture and heritage which he feels is getting more recognition now in the West than in its own country.
Famed musician Ilaiyaraaja is providing music for the film, while acclaimed actress Revathi will be contributing as a voice actor for the movie, the story of which is based on a famous folk song in Karnataka.
"This is a cinematic experiment," Shankar told IANS in an email interview, explaining why he chose Sanskrit for the film.
"Sanskrit is one of the most structured, concise and scientific languages in the world. It took over a thousand years to evolve through the effort of thousands of scholars. It is the only language made through engineering root sounds rather than words. It has an algorithmic grammar. And it develops many cognitive areas of the brain. Many people in India don't know about this.
"And spoken Sanskrit is simple, unlike the language used in literary works. The West is investing in understanding this. It will be a shame if we let it die. We are waiting for a stamp from the West to tell us how good our own heritage is. So this is my small contribution to our own culture and heritage," added the 45-year-old, whose daughter Sneha -- who speaks Sanskrit well -- has worked as a dubbing artiste for the film.
No producer was ready to take a risk with a Sanskrit film, says Shankar, who then resorted to the crowdfunding route.
The film has gone through two rounds of crowdfunding. The earlier campaign in 2015 raised Rs 40 lakh from 300 backers for pre-production and production, and the second, ongoing round is aimed at wrapping up production and promotional expenses to the tune of Rs 36 lakh on Wishberry.
"In India, since ancient times, we have a sharing culture and even today most of our biggest contributors were average middle-class people. They want to do their little bit for a good cause and were passionate about the theme.
"Ideas like crowdfunding are slowly getting traction in India and can be definitely be a ray of hope for independent filmmakers who want to do unique work," he added.
Renowned puppeteers Anupama and Vidyashankar Hoskere, who know Sanskrit well and are working to revive dying arts, have lent their voice to the film's characters too.
Shankar is glad Ilaiyaraaja and Revathi, who like to encourage experimentation in cinema, got associated with the project without worrying about the results.
"Their involvement definitely bought more interest to the project," he said.
The film's story is about the love of a mother for its calf.
"Every mother would teach this song to her kids and it will bring tears to everyone who hears its story. I wanted to take it to the world through this movie," Shankar said.
The plot is set in Karunadu, the home of a truth-speaking cow. One day, when a tiger attacks the cow -- Punyakoti -- in the forest, she beseeches him to let her go, so she can feed her calf. She promises to return later. Staying true to her word, she returns later. The tiger is moved by her honesty and lets her go.
"I was moved by the story and the strength of the mother's love and courage, and the respect it earns by telling the truth in the face of impending death. I thought these values were universal and timeless," said the writer-director.
That the cow is a protagonist in a story which aims to spread the message of living a life of integrity and in harmony with nature, is interesting given that it comes at a time when people talk of cow vigilantism. Does the movie have any relevance to this reality?
"No relevance. We had no idea when we conceived the story in 2013-14. The associations came about only after 2014. We want the main message of the film to be about our values and our culture," said Shankar, who is using 2D animation for the project.
Why 2D in the time of 3D?
"We have adopted the puppetry style of Karnataka and it lends itself well to 2D. Also, making a 3D movie is a much more expensive affair, so we are taking it one step at a time," said Shankar, who currently works as Senior Solution Design Head in the department of Digital Business Services at Infosys.
He works on "Punyakoti" -- his "passion project" -- in the night and during holidays.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)