BENGALURU: Learning a new language is never easy. The task gets tougher when one tries to do so with the aim of creating an animated film on it. And yet, that is what Ravi Shankar Venkateswaran set out to do with Punyakoti, which is said to be the first Sanskrit animated feature film. What began as an idea in 2014 will finally see the light of cinema halls this year, with Teriflix, a mini theatre in Bengaluru, agreeing to exhibit the movie, which will also see a release on a digital platform in April.
The story of Punyakoti has a hungry tiger being transformed by a truth-seeking cow but Venkateswaran’s version, an 85-minute film scripted and directed by him, serves as a backstory to this popular tale. The Bengalurean first heard the story in 2013 and though moved by it, it also left him with many pressing questions. “Why did the cow stray from its grazing ground? What brought the tiger out of the jungle?” These questions led to Venkateswaran penning a story that offers a different take, one that focuses on the impacts of ecological imbalance and how humans have played a role in it. But what gave rise to the idea of making this an animated film in Sanskrit?
A chance encounter with the language, where the organiser of a workshop told Venkateswaran about the lack of popular contemporary works in Sanskrit. “I decided to make an animated film because no one else would. And if I want to contribute to society and help the language, then the children of today need to know about its existence,” says the 47-year-old, who learned the language at 40. Venkateswaran jokes that had he known the challenges earlier, he wouldn’t have made the film. The HR and marketing consultant, who previously worked at Infosys, moonlighted as the film’s director post office hours. The four-year production period had him working with over 30 animators, including from Romania and Brazil, to direct each of the 30 scenes virtually. “Each frame has so many processes –thumbnails, lighting, rigging. It’s not easy,” he says.
He first wrote the script in English before working with a children’s writer to develop the dialogues in Malayalam (since it is close to Sanskrit) and finally got them translated by Samskrita Bharati. The cost of the project was Rs 1.5-2 crore and 70 per cent of it came through crowdfunding. The film’s cast includes Revathy and Roger Narayan, while the music is by Ilaiyaraaja. Quality control, however, came from Venkateswaran’s own kids, aged 13 and 18 now, with his daughter even lending her voice for one of the characters. “My son, on the other hand, had a poor opinion of the film because it was not as good as Chhota Bheem. But he liked the finished product so that’s approval enough,” he laughs.