The plot is ambitious enough. An unemployed and impossibly slothful young man Abhaya teams up with a perpetually truant college student Narahari to find out what he can about Anekal Subbaraya Shastri (1866 – 1941) because he is intrigued by news reports that this mystic flew an aircraft sometime towards the end of the 19th century AD. They end up with no proof and poorer than before in more ways than one.
The movie is apparently based on a few real people, some readily identifiable as was evident at a post-screening discussion on the film at Suchitra auditorium last Sunday. Abhaya (Amanulla) and Narahari (Santhosh) encounter a series of weird people – including scientists, savants and surviving relatives of the Subbaraya Shastri – to get to the bottom of the it: Did Shastri indeed fly a plane?
Director K. Suchendra Prasad's own take on it is not clear in his movie, nor was it in the post-screening talk, but the promoters of the movie believe it did and with a passion. Their pamphlet reads: “...Vimana Shastra, authored by Shri Bhaaradwaaja Muni, one of the transcendent sages in the exceedingly ancient land of India, is, but a mine of marvels... The erudite scholar that Shri Anekal Subbaraya Shastri was, not only scripted the very epic of technology and its annotation; but also successfully flew an aircraft titled ‘Marutshakti'. It's only despairing that such an iconic achievement didn't find its way to the pages of history (sic).”
Published scientific opinion is in vehement disagreement. In their paper, “A Critical Study of the Work Vymanika Shastra”, scientists H.S. Mukunda, S.M. Deshpande, H.R. Nagendra, A. Prabhu and S.P. Govindaraju of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (Scientific Opinion, 1974), come to the conclusion that “...the planes described above (in old manuscripts) are the best poor concoctions, rather than expressions of something real. None of the planes has properties or capabilities of being flown; the geometries are unimaginably horrendous from the point of view of flying; and the principles of propulsion make them resist rather than assist flying.”
The movie does have at least one scientist (Srinivas Prabhu) who describes the stories of the flight as “cock and bull stories.” But the real scientists of IISc. go further: “What we feel unfortunate in history is that some people tend to eulogise and glorify whatever they can find about our past, even without valid evidence. In the absence of any evidence, efforts will be made to produce part of the evidence in favour of antiquity.”
Suchendra Prasad resorts to a repetitive juxtaposition of scenes alternating between bizarre encounters in the seekers' never-progressing quest, bits from the past and hard-on-the-eye privations of poverty and unemployment on the one side and the tedium of uninspired college education on the other.
“Prapaata”, produced by Maruthi S. Jadiyavar and presented by the Voicing Silence, is filled with well-known actors – H.G. Dattatreya, Shivaram, Srinivasa, MP Venkata Rao, KSL Swamy and Sethuram – who represent characters we don't know and never understand. Eventually, Suchendra Prasad's “Prapaata” fails to make a point, either in favour or against a historical character, reporting a search as he found himself found it – futile and bewildering.