Kolkata: Having taught Sanskrit in class rooms all his life, retired professor G Prabha is now making films in the ancient language to popularise it.
“Ishti” is the fourth movie made by anyone in Sanskrit and the first one in the language based on a social theme.
The film was screened this week at the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) and will be the inaugural film in the Indian Panorama section at IFFI Goa on Monday.
“All the other three films made in Sanskrit are on mythological themes or are biopics. But Sanskrit can be used to tell other stories also based on social themes. The film has a very modern and relevant subject,” Prabha said.
The doctorate in Sanskrit and retired professor of Chennai’s Loyola College had earlier made two documentaries but this is his first feature film.
“Ishti”, which literally means the search for the self, is set in the mid-twentieth century Kerala, when young Namboothiri Brahmins successfully challenged the orthodox, patriarchal traditions of their community which allowed the patriarch, sole control of family property and denied normal education to its members particularly women.
The film has a feminist angle too. When the professor-turned-filmmaker started work on the ambitious project one of his first tasks at hand was to teach Sanskrit to actors.
“The protagonist I found had studied the language at the graduation level but there were many other actors who couldn’t speak the language. So before we started shooting I gave them language training,” Prabha said.
When asked about the contemporary relevance of the ancient language often related to the Brahmanical class, he pointed out that Sanskrit is the mother of all Indian languages.
“Even now it is not a dead language because there are people, even if new, who still speak Sanskrit like me and my family. And it is a myth that Sanskrit was the language only of the Brahmins. In Kerala even the Dalits use it.”
He plans to make more such films in Sanskrit provided he manages to convince a producer.
“I am a writer and a teacher so I don’t understand the market and commercial success,” he said asking that when Indians can fancy films made in Spanish and French then why not in an Indian language.
He shrugs off suggestions that making Sanskrit films can help bring the language back in vogue by saying that how can one or two films revive such a deep and ancient language having a rich body of literature.
However, he said that more such Sanskrit films will help popularise the language.