Esha prakruti dharmasya
Maanava lobascha, sangharsasya katha
The above line in the introduction video explains the story of the struggle between human greed and nature’s harmony.
The opening scene of the trailer starts with a waterfall flowing down a mountain and echoes the cooing of the birds, followed by a banner: India’s largest crowdfunded and crowdsourced experiment-The First Sanskrit Animated Movie.
Yes, the trailer of Punyakoti a popular Kannada folktale of a cow’s love for her calf is out, and received over 2 lakh views in just two days of its launch on May 22.
“I feel very humbled to know that it has got some recognition. I didn’t expect the trailer to go viral. We have faced a lot of challenges and receiving this huge response online makes me feel responsible to make the movie live up to expectations. We plan to showcase our animation in various film festivals and hopefully have a theatre release.” says the Bengaluru-based director and scriptwriter Ravi Shankar.
The germ of the idea
How did Ravi, a HR professional in Infosys, Bengaluru, and a novice in the animation industry, think of making a full length 90 minute film, that too in a language unfamiliar to him?
The story traces back to his graduation days. His first job after graduation was as a copywriter in an ad agency where he did the scripting for India’s first children’s animated CD rom film— Panchatantra.
“At the back of my mind I always had a dream to make my own animation film. After watching Arjun— The Warrior Prince, I told my wife that I wish to make an animation film. She lent her support and then there was no looking back. I chose Punyakoti, the Kannada folktale, because it is a popular south Indian folk story and gives the message of leading a life of integrity against all odds and living in harmony with nature. There was an anti corruption movement also going on around 2013 and hence hence it was relevant for our times,” says Ravi, adding that he wouldn’t have taken the plunge if not for his wife’s motivation.
The thought of making it in Sanskrit was totally by chance. Ravi attended a workshop on basic Sanskrit conversation at his office and he felt the urge to do something in the language.
“That is when I thought of merging the ideas. I decided make the animation movie in Sanskrit. While many would think of investments and savings at that time, I was planning on making a movie in which I had no expertise. I thought it would be a good idea since no animation has been made in the language.”
The start of the journey
Ravi shared the idea to his friend, AV Girish, an animator himself. Girish, the animation director recalls, “He narrated the story to me and I liked it. I also suggested that it needs to be expanded for a full length animation film. My major concern was getting a producer for the project. I told him, that the animation was not very challenging but it would be better if we have financial backing.”
Ravi wove his own imaginative story of the circumstances that led to the encounter between a cow and a tiger in a village that is facing an impending drought.
They met Ravi’s mentor and doyen of tamil film industry’s music world, Ilaiyaraaja, and showed him the script.
“I have showed my earlier scripts to him and he has given me suggestions. This time he was very happy about the idea and motivated us to go ahead. He was also ready to compose the songs for Punyakoti for free. I feel really blessed to have him on board too.”
Having an idea is easy but the most challenging part is execution. Unlike the traditional way of doing a market research, knowing the potential of the idea and then deciding whether to go ahead or not, Ravi was determined to go for it.
Ravi, who considers Steve Jobs his role model says, “He just had this idea of iPad and went ahead. I too followed the same path.”
With a green signal from Illaiyaraaja, they approached 100 animators who would give a minute’s footage each, but things didn't work out as planned. “Many whom we approached in the industry felt it was not a great idea and we faced rejections. They also took advantage of me being a novice,” recalls Ravi.
During this challenging phase when the duo was wondering how to overcome this trying situation, Mohandas Pai, chairman of Manipal Global Education and former CFO of Infosys mentored them to opt for crowdfunding with Wishberry.
“We set a target of 40 lakhs. To our surprise, we achieved the target amount in the given time period,” says Ravi.
Some things fell in place on their own, confesses Ravi. During the online crowdfunding process, someone commented that the Punyakoti team could approach Samskrita Bharati.
“When I contacted Samskrita Bharati, I was invited to give a talk to the students about the project. It was very touching that they pooled in and contributed too. We met Professor Leela, who has over 35 years of experience in directing Sanskrit plays. She showed a lot of interest in helping us."
From dialogue supervision and delivery to selecting and finalising the cast, the professor helped a lot. The characters for voice-overs are all a part of her Sanskrit drama troupe ranging between the age of 5 years (her granddaughter) to 80 years. Popular names from the Sanskrit theatre fraternity include Anupama Hosakere and Vidyashankar Hosakere, Narsimha Murthy and Anand Raja Mani among others.
Dr. SR Leela who has even given voice-over for Neena Gupta’s Draupadi role in GV Iyer’s Sanskrit movie Srimad Bhagavadgita beams, “I was very thrilled to be a part of a Sanskrit animation as I love the language and I hold it very close to my heart. I have taken special care to make the dialogues as simple as possible. I had kids including Ravi’s daughter and elders at my disposal and accordingly distribution was done. Before going to the studio, I had to give them practice so that we do not waste studio time. Balancing these two was not that easy.”
Ask her about the expectations she has from the film, she answers, “It can give the right lift to the fact that Sanskrit is both ancient and modern at the same time. The beautiful visual appeal of the animation can advance the impact of Sanskrit to a large extent.”
Apart from Dr. Leela’s troupe, the cast ensemble also boasts of some eminent names comprising actor and national awardee Revathi and Roger Narayan from Hollywood of U-Turn fame. The national awardee film editor Manoj Kannoth is on board and Anwar Ali, a famous contemporary poet based out of Kerala, has written the dialogues for all the characters.
Revathi, who has given her voice for Punyakoti , sharing her immense joy in being a part of the project in a introductory video released by the team online says, “I am extremely proud to be a part of this beautiful project and it is my responsibility to take this forward to the future generations. Ravi and his team have left no stones unturned and I am sure Punyakoti is going to be a landmark cinema in Indian films.”
Roger, who had earlier voiced for the Indian penguin in Happy Feet 2, is voicing Kaalinga, the master of Punyakoti.
“The fact that the animation is in Sanskrit, made it intriguing. I got to think of Kaalinga’s character through many layers - as a master of Punyakoti, as a father, as a husband and as a member of his community and it was interesting to incorporate all that into the voice and tone. In the process of researching the vocabulary that went into the character, it gave me a chance to brush up my conversational skills in Sanskrit which I knew how to read and write. I felt honored to have the opportunity to share the screen with Revathi Ma’am and also perform to the music of maestro Ilayaraja Sir,” shares the actor, who enjoyed working with the team and especially with Ravi and his family.
With the amount raised through crowdfunding, Ravi and his team managed to finish the animatics with dubbed dialogues by June 2016. The technical team worked and interacted on Google hangouts.
“While I reached out to some animators from Kerala, Ravi contacted animators from Mumbai, Romania and Brazil. I screened their past work and we zeroed in on 30 of them. They worked on the storyboards and the animatics-- rough sketches with a timing of each frame. I did the composting, compiled all of them and added the necessary colours and special effects. The graphics of some of the characters are inspired by traditional folk puppets,” recalls Girish who adds that they opted for an experimental method of creating the animation film.
The team has not tied up with a particular studio.
“We have tied up with a Pune based collaborative platform Gamedoora to drive online collaboration and project management. The digital archiving and asset management of the movie is done by a Chennai startup--CineHive,” says Ravi with pride.
By September 2016 the team exhausted all the funds collected and from then on they have gone ahead with personal funding sourced from friends and family.
The lesson learnt
“I know now how not to make an animation in 100 ways,” quips Ravi.
“Currently the special effects and finishing touches are being added and in a couple of months, we plan to send the film to national awardee Manoj Kannoth for editing,” adds Girish.
After the trailer went viral, there is some positive development for the team.
“In the last few days, some big banners have approached us to lend their support. We are hopeful it materialises and can take Punyakoti a project close to our hearts to various film festivals and have a theatrical release too,” signs off Ravi.
Watch the trailer here:
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