World Sanskrit Day: Makers behind animation film say the language needs to get its due

Aug 26, 2018, 14:31 IST | Anju Maskeri

On World Sanskrit Day, the makers behind India's first crowdsourced Sanskrit animation film, discuss the need to give the classical language its due

World Sanskrit Day: Makers behind animation film say the language needs to get its due
A still from the film, Punyakoti

In 2014, when V Ravi Shankar, a digital transformation solutions head at Infosys, Bengaluru, approached production studios with the idea of making an animation movie in Sanskrit, he encountered more critics than he'd imagined. "For them, the idea was ludicrous, almost laughable," he recalls. If Rajinikath-Deepika Padukone starrer Kochadaiyaan, a virtual motion-captured film made on a budget of Rs 125 crore, could tank at the box office, what hope did he have? In a telephone interview from the IT capital, he tells us how out of every 100 people he had spoken to, only two or three showed a glimmer of interest. The rest asked him to stop wasting his time and devote his adult life to something "more productive".

Today, Shankar stands vindicated. His film Punyakoti - the first crowdsourced attempt at making a full length 2D animated film in Sanskrit - has reached its post production stage. What's interesting is that over 100 people from across the country have collaborated on the project, including actress Revathi, music maestro Ilaiyaraja, National Award-winning editor Manoj Kannath and puppeteers Anupama and Vidyashankar Hoskere.

V Ravi Shankar
V Ravi Shankar

Shoutout to Sanksrit lovers
Shankar, 45, is currently raising the last Rs 36 lakh through Wishberry, aimed at wrapping up production and promotional expenses. The earlier edition of the campaign in 2015 raked in Rs 40 lakh from 300 backers. He's hoping for a similar miracle. "I set out to make a movie in which I had no expertise. So, the only way ahead was to crowdsource both talent and funds," he says. The idea germinated when he got into his organisation's Sanskrit Appreciation Club in 2013, where volunteers taught the language to non-speakers. Within two years, he had picked up the language enough to speak it - and understand literary texts. "I was bowled over by the richness and aesthetics of a language that was, sadly, dying. I had to do something," he explains.

The story is based on a popular folksong from South India about an honest cow called Punyakoti, who on being attacked by a tiger in the forest, begs him to let her go feed her calf and promises to return. Keeping her word, she returns to the tiger to be eaten. The latter, moved by her honesty, lets her go with the promise that he'd never disturb any of the cows again.

Busting cliches
Anupama Hoskere from Chennai, who has provided the voiceover for the cows in the film, remembers studying the story back in school. "The emotional tug of the fable, and the fact that the film was being made in Sanksrit, reeled me in," says Hoskere recounting the time she met Shankar at a puppetry workshop where he was present to give a talk on the film. While Hoskere has lent her voice for the cows, her husband Vidyashankar is the narrator of the film. Interestingly, her association with Sanskrit goes back a long way.

Having studied the language in school and later in college, she began using it extensively in her puppetry performances. Hoskere is also the founder of Dhaatu, an organisation that works to revive the traditional art form of puppetry and owns the single largest puppet collection in India. While Hoskere's past experience made her job fairly simple, not many see it as an "easy" language, she adds. "The popular perception is that it's a tough, antiquated language. That couldn't be further from the truth," she says. "The reason we feel this way is because we aren't exposed to it," she adds.

An indie venture
Most collaborations took place over social media and through word of mouth, reveals Shankar. Pune's Deepak Divate, who has done the animation for the characters in the film, says he connected with Shankar through LinkedIn. While he had no prior experience with Sanskrit, the prospect of working on a film such as this excited him. "They would help with the translations of the dialogues over video chats and email," he says. Since most contributors were professionals from various fields, all interactions would take place post 9 pm, once they were home from work.

Dilip TT from Thiruvananthapuram, one of the contributing artistes, says it's important not to compare the film to mainstream animation films. "It's an indie project made on a shoestring budget and not for out and out commercial purpose. For us, it's a labour of love and a way to help the language find more takers," he says.

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