Reimagining a popular folk tale

A still from Punyakoti  

We’ve all heard of the legend of Punyakoti, the honest cow, and Arbhuta, the hungry tiger who turned benevolent. Now, try reimagining it. Why did Arbhuta come out of the jungle? Why did Punyakoti stray from the pasture? Because of lack of food? Or was it man-animal conflict? V. Ravi Shankar does just that in Punyakoti, touted to be India’s first Sanskrit animation film.

“There’s no question that this is a moving tale. We’ve heard it for generations. But, I wanted to imagine what happened before what we know as the legend of Punyakoti happened. That became my story,” says Ravi, who juggles his filmmaking dreams with a career as head, business practice, Infosys.

And so, Punyakoti became the story of how human greed upsets the environmental balance. It is decided to build a bridge on the Cauvery in Karunadu. Jungles are cut and a drought ensues. The lone voice of reason is ostracised, before Nature unleashes her power.

Ravi thought of making the film in Sanskrit after he attended a workshop in the language. “The market for animation films is crowded. To stand out, we needed to be different. I learnt Sanskrit after I was 40. It was an easy language to relate to; yet many don’t want to learn it. My kids watch Japanese and Korean animation and don’t think it is difficult, so I presumed Sanskrit would work as well,” he elaborates.

It helped that Ravi was going through a mid-life crisis. “What else could I do? Do I get my next big car, apartment or do something not attempted before?”

But, how did he think of filmmaking in the first place? “I’m still wondering,” he laughs. “It’s been a most stressful couple of years, but I wanted to try out something where many animators came together for a virtual collaboration. Initially, I thought that if I brought on board 100 animators who gave me a minute’s footage each, I’d have a movie ready. Now, we have about 30, from across the globe,” explains Ravi.

Going virtual allowed for speedy pre-production. “We were working online and there was no single studio. We have people from India (primarily Kerala, followed by Mumbai and Kolkata), Romania and Brazil.”

The film is also India’s first crowd-funded and crowd-sourced film, tags that got associated by chance and not intent. “It was an extremely difficult yet rewarding process,” says Ravi. “I’d give them an assignment in the morning before heading to work, and when I got back home I would find it ready. Technically, I was working out of two workplaces, one real (Infosys), the other virtual. I’m yet to meet some of my collaborators.”

The film has some big names on board. Actor-director Revathy has lent her voice, so have Roger Narayan, last seen in the Kannada U Turn, and actor and Kannada scholar Narasimhamurthy. Maestro Ilaiyaraaja, says Ravi, was among the first to encourage them. “‘Experimentation is good’, he kept telling us,” says Ravi.

The film is halfway complete, and the team is on the lookout for a co-producer and distributor. “We’ve spent about Rs. 50 lakh so far, and are looking for an additional one crore rupees,” says Ravi.

Despite working out of different locations, they’ve maintained a uniform style, because of the work put in by the core team. For Sanskrit, the team relied on Samskrita Bharathi and Prof S.R. Leela from Bangalore. “We’ve kept the language really simple. We’ve taken the help of children’s writer Anwar Ali for the dialogues,” he says.

The team also ensured that the language and style was not associated with any geographical terrain. “We want to keep it global. This story is not just for kids; it is for everybody, everywhere.”

Inspired art

Among those who helped with funding is Shereen Abraham, an artist from Dubai, and Ravi’s former colleague. She’s created 20 art works inspired by the popular Kannada folk song about Punyakoti and proceeds would go towards the movie. “The cow speaks the truth at all times, and it seemed apt for today, when we are surrounded by corruption and lack of integrity,” says Ravi.

The show will be held from August 11-13 at Art Houz, Alwarpet.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 6:09:04 PM |

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