The folk song and tale of Punyakoti, the virtuous cow, have been narrated to children of most households in Karnataka for generations. The emotional connect the tale has with the people of the State is tremendous given that it is chronicled more as a story in personal integrity, ethics and compassion, for both kids and adults alike. There have been several interpretations and adaptations, which were mostly the retelling of the same tale. The world of Punyakoti, however, was left to the imagination of a story teller who would weave a fascinating drama around the famous folk tale.
Little did Ravishankar, a techie by profession, know that he would be that story teller who would give new wings to the tale of Punyakoti. It all started with his friend, Umesh Karanth, narrating him the folk tale of Punyakoti in the bus during the daily commute to their workplace. Ravishankar tells, “I was surprised that such a fabulous story was not known much outside Karnataka. I told my friend that we need to tell the story to everyone but in a different way. It was then that Ravishankar authored a book on Punyakoti in 2014 where he wove the background to the folk tale. BG Gujjarappa, internationally renowned artist and painter, had sketched the images for the book.
• The emotional connect Punyakoti has with the people is tremendous given that it is chronicled more as a story in personal integrity, ethics and compassion, for both kids and adults alike.
• The movie will give an opportunity to create new animation styles based on Indian ethos rather than copying from the West.
The Pitch and Passion
Ravishankar was not satisfied with the book alone and wished to make an animated movie of a story which could appeal to everyone. “We see great animated movies from the West. Though we saw few efforts in making animated movies in India, people complained about their quality. The animated characters were also inspired by the western forms. This was also a reason as to why I wanted to make an animation movie and improve this image,” he tells.
But, wishing to make a movie and making it a reality are entirely different things. His efforts hit a roadblock when no prominent film producer came forward to produce the movie though they were appreciative of his story and attempt. Many even tried to dissuade him from making a Sanskrit animated movie saying that it will not work. “I then told my friends that I will produce the movie and will own up the whole project. I resolved that even if it takes 10 years to complete with a scene a day, I will do it myself. I had decided to dedicate my life for the movie,” he says. He recalls that the meeting with Mohandas Pai of Manipal Foundation turned out to be a blessing as he suggested him to go for crowd funding. “In 2015, we started crowd funding initiative on Wishberry. We also reached out to people through social media,” he says. Punyakoti teams’ effort at crowd sourcing was so successful that the team got the ‘Social Media Empowerment Award’ in 2016. The Rs 40 lakh they raised through crowd funding was just enough to meet the costs of pre-production and animatics. But without much ado, Ravishankar and the team started to work on the film in 2016. They opted open source software wherever possible to cut down the costs.
Team Work and Perseverance
While Ravishankar was determined to make the movie at any cost, the efforts and sacrifice of his team mates, including the stalwarts of the film industry are laudable to say the least. Music maestro Shri Ilayaraja has given the music without charging a single pie. National Award winning actor Revathy came to the recording on her own. She is doing the movie for free. Like her, many people worked for free or at a nominal charge. Appreciating their efforts, Adobe India gave them a licence for an editing software for free. It was the theme and purpose of the movie that inspires us all, says Ravishankar.
Echoing his view is Creative Director of Punyakoti Girish AV. While speaking on what inspired him to be a part of the project, he says, “The theme of the story of Punyakoti was the main inspiration. This project also gave us an opportunity to try and create new animation styles based on Indian ethos rather than copying from the west.”
Famous film maker Robert Wise who directed all time great movies like West Side Story and Sound of Music had once said that you need to have the three P’s: Passion, Patience and Perseverance if you’ve got to be a filmmaker. As it turns out, the team of Punyakoti has these in good measure without which the project would have never taken off.
Today several high budget movies which have the backing of large studios and limitless infrastructure at their disposal fail to connect with the audience and leave a lot to be desired in terms of the quality of its script, content and editing. In such a scenario, how did the team of Punyakoti working remotely, with a day job and working part time on the movie, that too with meagre resources and limited infrastructure even think of accomplishing the feat? For this, Ravishankar says, “Our team meets on Google hangouts and is in constant touch through emails. Even our scripting was done online.” Girish says, “The work of the team has been online. I stay in Trivandrum and travel to Bangalore sparingly for the project. Our editor Manoj Kannoth stays in Delhi most of the time. But we shared our screens online and discussed the script. It was a unique experience to work online for a movie.”
When asked as to why he chose Sanskrit for the animated movie, Ravishankar says, “I had attended a Sanskrit Conversational Course in Infosys few years ago which aroused my interest in the language. Subsequently, I came to know that nothing much was done in Sanskrit animation. But today there are people who are interested in reviving Sanskrit and our culture. Films are the best medium to achieve this”. This has been corroborated by the fact that Punkyakoti trailer has nearly 3000 subscribers and nearly 3.5 lakh views on YouTube. “I believe that animation evokes emotion in us and sticks to memory for a long time. Hence, Sanskrit was a natural choice for me to retell the animated story of Punyakoti,” he says.
Ravishankar’s belief in animation has been substantiated by some of the greatest animation film directors like Isao Takahata who always believed that "cartoons" can be every bit as powerful as live action cinema. Takahata has directed some of the best animated movies ever like ‘Grave of the fireflies’ and ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’, which stimulated the emotions of entire Japan over their themes and stories.
Ambition and Ingenuity
The trailer of Punyakoti has received overwhelming response for similar reasons. Along with arousing interest and emotions in the viewers, it has also kindled our imagination as to what the background story would hold and what could lead to the famed meeting of the cow and the tiger. Most queries the team gets is on the unique form of animation as showcased in the trailer.
“We wanted to use our own Indian style of animation instead of copying from the West. Indian folk arts were our inspiration. We have used shadow puppet animation which is based on traditional Indian folk art. Similarly we have researched and used new animation styles in the movie, which are based on folk arts and have also tried new styles in 3D animation,” says Creative Director Girish.
Along with generating curiosity over the story and animation, the team of Punyakoti has also caught the imagination of the people for attempting film making, while being busy with other careers. When asked how they made this possible, Ravishankar says, “Discipline was the key for us. I separated my official work and movie related tasks. I would ensure that both were given the required time and adhered to it. It was due to this clarity that we were able to honour the time-lines. Moreover, I saved lot of time by keeping away from TV, news or unnecessary social media interactions”, he chuckles.
When asked as to how he plans for the release, Ravishankar says, “Release in theaters will cost a lot of money. We will take the movie for national and international film festivals, but along with that we are planning for a digital release. We are also in talks with new initiatives like ‘Picture Time Digiplex’ which can set up a 100 seat theatre in matter of minutes. My dream is that the film should reach children in schools and villages. This is important because if people come closer to Sanskrit through our movie, that will open a treasure for them,” he says highlighting the larger motive behind the entire effort.
|Team of Punyakoti|
Director : V Ravishankar
Music : Maestro Ilayaraja (Internationally renowned music composer for over 1000 movies)
Editor : Manoj Kannoth (National Award winner for editing)
Concept Art : BG Gujjarappa (Internationally renowned artist and painter)
Creative Director : AV Girish
Sanskrit Mentoring : Prof SR Leela
Main Cast (Voice) : Revathy, National Award winner actor and director - As Punyakoti, the Cow
Roger Narayan, Hollywood and Indian actor - As Kaalinga
Taking Sanskrit Closer to People
Ace director Edward Zwick in an interview had said that, “As a filmmaker, I want to entertain people first and foremost. If out of that comes a greater awareness and understanding of a time or a circumstance, then the hope is that change can happen.” Given the kind of effort and passion the team of Punyakoti has put into the project, their higher goal of taking Sanskrit closer to the people is sure to be achieved.
When asked how he feels when Punyakoti is lauded as India’s first full-length Sanskrit animation film, Ravishankar says, “I am both proud and nervous. Proud because of our efforts but nervous over the reaction. I only hope that our film is as per their expectation and people love the movie and our effort”.
The team of Punyakoti comprising 200+ people working for a cause, has put in all its hard efforts. However, the other wheel of the chariot is the support of the people for such unique efforts in Sanskrit animation. As the team of Punyakoti goes in for another round of online campaign for crowd funding, let us hope that both the film and Sanskrit emerge as winners.