Stepping up for Sanskrit on the sliver screen
Renowned upanyaskar Dushyanth Sridhar and his team are bringing Kalidasa’s magnum opus to the screen with the sanskrit movie Sakuntalam
We have a sample space of more than 1,60,000 movies, inclusive of all regional languages, made till date in Indian cinema. Of which, ours will be like the tenth Sanskrit movie and that’s a negligible count for a historical language. Not like Sanskrit movies have not been made in the past but these numbers will offer you a reality check and that’s disheartening,” begins Dushyanth Sridhar, talking to CE, ahead of the release of his maiden movie Sakuntalam, which is an aesthetical adaptation of Kalidasa’s work Abhijñana Sakuntalam.
For the love of the language
Produced by Dushyanth and Srinivas Kannaa under Desika Daya Productions, the historical film’s first look was released on October 24 and the trailer is all set to release this Deepavali. “Our larger aim is to create niche, culture-related projects which other filmmakers refrain from taking up. What better subject than Mahakavi Kalidasa’s magnum opus that’s regarded the best and adored by Sanskrit lovers? The story was written about 1,900 years ago in India, when most nations in the world didn’t even exist,” notes Dushyanth, a renowned speaker, writer and researcher on Indian scriptures.
Abhijñana Sakuntalam was the first Indian work to be translated into English in 1789. In 1940, the Tamil film industry was the first to translate it and make a three-hour movie starring MS Subbulakshmi and GN Balasubramaniam, who played the titular roles. It was remade twice in Hindi (in 1943 and 1961); in Malayalam by 1965, in Telugu by 1966 and Kannada by 1983. It has been remade in all four south Indian languages and Hindi six times featuring the same storyline and dialogues, says Dushyanth.
Despite being a small-budget film, the cast has some legendary names from the industry. Rajkumar Bharati, who is also the great-grandson of Subramania Bharathi, has composed the music. Sai Shravanam, who was the sound recordist for Academy award-winning Life of Pi, is the music producer for the film. The audiographer for this film, AS Lakshmi Narayan, is a two-time National Award winner. The editing is by B Lenin, a five-time National Award winner; make-up is by Pattanam Rasheed, another National Award winner.
Playing the lead roles are debutantes Payal Shetty and Shubham Sahrawat. Veterans including Y Gee Mahendran, Mohanraman, TV Varadarajan and Sivakumar play important roles. “The dialogues are primarily in Sanskrit (95 per cent) the rest is Prakrit (5 per cent) while the sub-titles are in English. We had a two-month Zoom workshop and all the artistes heard the dialogues and delivered it without prompting,” he shares.
A wholesome package
Elaborating on the salient features of the film, Dushyanth explains, “The hymns recited in the background are derived from Rig Veda (Surya Suktam and Sri Suktam), Krishna Yajur Veda (Narayana Suktam, Mantra Pushpam, Sri Rudram, Arghya Mantra) and Shukla Yajur Veda (Satapatha Bramhana). The dance movements are primarily Bharatanatyam, with minor influences of Odissi and Mohiniyattam. A performance in Yakshagana also forms an integral part of the storyline. The ragas are of Carnatic and Hindustani styles.”
To incorporate diversity and national integration into every part of the film, the architecture showcased is from four prominent dynasties of ancient India. Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal (in Karnataka) depict the Chalukya architecture (6-8th century CE); Tiger Caves (in Tamil Nadu) depict the Pallava architecture (8th century CE.); Somanathpura (in Karnataka) depicts Hoysala architecture (13th century CE.); and Lepakshi (in Andhra Pradesh) depicts Vijayanagara architecture (16th century CE.).
“The lyrics of the songs comprise lines from Kalidasa’s Sakuntalam, Shringara Tilakam and Shyamala Dandakam (in Sanskrit); Bhatruhari’s Shringara Satakam (in Sanskrit); Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural (in Tamil); Kshetrayya’s Padam (in Telugu); Swati Tirunal’s Padam (in Malayalam) and Goswami Tulsidas’s Ramcharitamanas (in Awadhi). And for costumes, handwoven fabric was procured from the weavers of Gandhigram and the Crafts Council of India; for the forest and earthy colours, natural dyes of flowers, leaves and vegetables were used. Through a rishi, different asanas in yoga are depicted such as padmasana, vatayanasana, and trivikramasana,” he explains.
Dushyanth and his team are handling the final touches for the movie. It will be released on OTT platforms by November or December (the details of which will be disclosed soon), once the post-production work is complete. “This film will be a moral booster to the language and encourage more people to appreciate its beauty. It’s an ode to Sanskrit,” he notes.
A glimpse of the story
The film tells the story of Sakuntala, the daughter of sage Viswamitra and the damsel Menaka, and her love for king Dusyanta. Dusyanta, the king of Hastinapura, belonged to the Chandravamsa and the Puru dynasty. After a marriage, which results in Sakuntala becoming pregnant, the king goes back to his capital promising to come back for her but does not. Later, when Sakuntala goes to his palace to claim her love, he has forgotten her, much to her shock and disappointment.
For details, visit: www.desikadaya.org