Ravi Shankar V is a writer, director and animator who directed India’s first interactive CD ROM for children called ‘Panchtantra’ way back in 1995. His latest obsession is Punyakoti, the world’s first animated feature film in Sanskrit. Ravi Shankar, who opted for Film Bazaar to showcase his unique endeavor spoke with Pandolin about the subject of the film, complexities of working with Sanskrit and the experience of collaborating with legends like Illayaraja and Revathi.


Ravi Shankar V and Illayaraja

What is Punyakoti about? What drove you to choose this subject?

It is the story of a cow that always speaks the truth. It is based on a folk song from Karnataka.

I had heard the story long ago and it left an impact on me. So, I wrote a picture book for children, which was based on the same story. Subsequently, that book became the subject for my movie.

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How easy or difficult was the process of adapting your own book as a screenplay?

A book and a screenplay are two different mediums altogether. A screenplay doesn’t follow the same narrative as the book. My screenplay is based on the five-act structure whereas the book is in an episode and chapter format. I won’t call it a difficult task but it was certainly different.

There are so many folk forms in this country. How did you zero down on the suitable ones for your film? What was the research process like? 

I did not follow a conventional research process or choose from many (folk forms). First, the narrative came to my mind and while I was writing, it started flowing. It was not an analytical process but an inspirational one.

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You have chosen a unique combination of Sanskrit as the language for the film and animation as the form. How did you decide upon this combination?

I chose Sanskrit because nobody else had done a full length film in this language. Nor did I see a possibility of anyone attempting it in the near future. People didn’t attempt it because they did not see a market in such a project. It did not fall into the commercial formula. Since this idea has been ignored for so long, I thought, why not attempt it? I feel Sanskrit as a language is an excellent medium to reach out to the next generation. I wanted to shatter the misconception of Sanskrit being a tough language to understand.

I attended a workshop on Sanskrit where I learned that it is the only language which is made of sounds instead of words. If any other country had such a language, they’d have celebrated it and told the world about it. It is sad that people always term Sanskrit as a dead language. Celebrating the language is of utmost important.

As far as the choice of medium is concerned, the story of a cow can easily be told via animation. Live action doesn’t support stories of fantasy as much as animation does.

Punyakoti - Pandolin.com

Still from Punyakoti

As Sanskrit isn’t your first language, were there difficulties while working with it?

Slokas and Mantras are different while conversational Sanskrit is different. The works of Kalidasa and his contemporaries are works of poetry. But conversational Sanskrit is extremely simple. It is like any other Indian language. If I  say, “Mama namah Ravi Shankar” then anyone with basic knowledge of any language from the Indian Subcontinent would be able to understand that I am saying, “My name is Ravi Shankar”. It is that simple!

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You are working with actor Revathi and legendary music composer Illayaraja in the film. What are your learnings from these two legends?

I narrated the idea to Illayaraja sir and he encouraged me to take it forward. What I learned from him was sheer discipline. He has great discipline and respects everyone’s time. If he says that he needs time to do homework, then he makes sure that when he turns up, everything is pitch perfect. His dedication and discipline are lessons for the younger generation. He is committed to his profession and at the same time is very encouraging towards young talent. Illayaraja taught me that creativity and discipline can go together.

Revathi taught me hard work. She did not know the language, so she wrote all the dialogues on a piece of paper and then learnt them by heart. Directing her was such an easy task. She is the perfect example of how much you must give to your profession. For example, I would okay a take but if she wasn’t satisfied and felt that she could do better, she’d insist on doing a retake. She was so energetic as though she was doing her first film. That was inspiring! Revathi taught me that you should approach every project like it’s your first.

You raised 40 lakhs as part of crowdfunding. How has that helped the film and what are your thoughts on the crowdsourcing model?

Animation is more expensive than live action films. In a day, you can take about five minutes of a live action film. But in animation every second has to be moved. If you are able to make six seconds of animation in a day, that’s a big achievement.

Crowdsourcing is a very difficult job. Out of hundred people that you contact, many won’t be interested for their own valid reasons. You have to convince everyone that it’s a worthy project to be part of. I did pay everybody an honorarium. Yes, that’s not a big amount but everyone is motivated to create a unique project. You have to be the anchor and the centre of the activity. Every second of your film should be clear in your mind. You must coordinate and communicate. The process is lengthy and demands lots of patience. Making cuts over and over again is not just tiring but also an expensive process that you invariably have to go through. I only budgeted for this film once. But I realized that I had to budget it four times the original budget. Redoing animation also costs money. The total budget for my entire film, which includes crowdsourcing, is about 2.5 crore.

Most independent filmmakers have great ideas. But to do a crowdfunding campaign you have to go and popularize your concept. You have to talk to a lot of people. It requires serious marketing skills to popularize your content. Many filmmakers are introverts and can’t sell their projects in front of the camera. Emotionally, it gets strenuous to know that out of hundred people that you talk to, probably just one person will be convinced. Many people think that their concept is good and people should like and support it. But it’s not the case. You have to keep talking about your project from morning till evening. I personally am an introvert. It took a long training for me to come out and start talking about my project. Crowdfunding is an additional training that you have to get as a filmmaker. One has to give up inhibitions. In my case, I would say that the success of the campaign was pure luck.

READ: Tips to kickstart your crowdfunding campaign

What stage is the project currently in? What are your expectations from Film Bazaar?

Out of the five acts of the project, three are already under production.

We need money for Post Production. From the Bazaar, we are expecting an amount of 1.5 crore through Co-Production.