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Sanskrit Cinema: A creative way to revive Sanskrit

Nithin Sridhar

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“Priyamanasam”, a Sanskrit movie is all set to release this September. It is a 90 minutes movie based on the life of 17th century Keralite poet Unnayi Warrier. The movie is being directed by award winning director, Vinod Mankara.

The movie will depict the hardships and mental turmoil that Warrier faced while he had penned his magnum opus “Nalacharitham“, a Kathakali play.

A movie in Sanskrit may not create ripples in theatres, may not excite box offices, there may also be difficulty in getting theatres for its release. Still, I have been cherishing an intense desire to do a movie in Sanskrit all these years since I watched G V Iyer’s filmsVinod Mankara told PTI.

Priyamanasam is going to be the first Sanskrit movie in almost two decades and only the third one till date. Previous two movies were made by the legendary director, G.V.Iyer who was known as “Kannada Bheeshma” (Bheeshma of Kannada).

The first Sanskrit movie, released in 1983, was “Adi Shankaracharya” and it won four national awards at the 31st National Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Audiography.

The movie revolves around the life of Adi Shankaracharya, the 8th century Hindu philosopher, reformer and yogi* who consolidated Advaita Vedanta** and reformed Hindu society. The citation of the award says that the award is being given for “its dedication, depth and power and the impressive skill with which it captures the Indian philosophical tradition.”

The second Sanskrit movie, released in 1993, was “Bhagavad Gita.” It premiered at International Film Festival of India, and it also won National Film Award for Best Feature Film.

Meanwhile, a crowd-sourced animation movie is being made in Sanskrit by V. Ravi Shankar, a techie from Bangalore and A.V. Girish, an animator.

The movie will be based on “Punyakoti”, a Kannada folk song that tells the story of a truthful cow named Punyakoti. The movie aims to explore the theme of man-animal conflicts.

These upcoming movies have raised interest among Sanskrit enthusiasts and may well prove to be a blessing for the revival of Sanskrit.

According to 2001 census, only 14,135 people reported Sanskrit as their native language. It is a spoken language only in few villages like Mattur in Karnataka, Kaladi in Kerala, Jhiri in Madhya Pradesh, Ganoda in Rajasthan, and Shyamsundarpur in Odisha.

But, all is not lost yet.

Many organizations like Samskrita Bharati, and Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan are working to teach spoken Sanskrit to common people. Apart from traditional pathshalas (schools), there are many modern universities dedicated to Sanskrit. Post-Independence, around 3000 Sanskrit works have been created.

There is a growing interest among the Indian Diaspora abroad.

In 2010, Uttarakhand had declared Sanskrit as the second official language of the state. It has been reported that a USA committee is providing assistance to various Sanskrit theatre groups in Dehradun. Further, a department dedicated to Sanskrit is present in the state secretariat at Dehradun and many officials are working out various ways in which Sanskrit can be linked to the job market.

Nowadays, urban people are also showing an increased interest in learning Sanskrit. This can be witnessed in the rapidly growing followers of “Sanskrit Appreciation Hour” conducted by UK based Rohini Bakshi on Twitter (#SanskritAppreciationHour).

Therefore, this decade may prove to be a turnaround period for Sanskrit and finally enable it to make a comeback. Only thing that was missing till now was creative interaction between Sanskrit and people.

Initiatives like Priyamanasam and Punyakoti will go a long way in filling this vacuum. They will provide a platform for common people, especially in urban areas, to interact with Sanskrit language and its creative side through audio and video.

These initiatives will further inspire others to produce music and movies in Sanskrit and to sponsor various creative activities like poetry, plays, and books in the language.

In near future, these creative platforms may turn out to be the driving forces behind Sanskrit’s revival.

Glossary:

*Yogi– an accomplished practitioner of Raja Yoga.

** Advaita Vedanta– A non-dualist philosophical school within Hinduism.

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