Sarbagunakar Srimanta Sankardeva- the first Assamese animated film
She wore the director’s hat once again, but not to say “Lights, Camera and Action”. Assamese cinema’s one of the most acclaimed directors, Manju Borah, recently stepped into a terrain, animation, that resulted into ‘Sarbagunakar Srimanta Sankardev’, a film on Assam’s greatest social and religious reformer, Srimanta Sankardev. The film, to hit the theaters on November 11, not only aims acquainting the young generation of the great cultural heritage left behind by Sankardeva, but also for the world to know what he did for humanity five centuries ago.
“I must thank my producer Sanjive Narain for coming up with the idea of recreating the life of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva, the great saint, poet and socio-cultural reformer. I was initially apprehensive as animation was something I had never tried before. But, as work began, I got excited and happy about doing this,” said Bora, also adding, “Sankardeva is the most important figure in Assam’s socio-cultural history, hence the work was all the more challenging. His stature and ideologies needed to be reflected correctly. My goal is to reach out to the young generation, especially the children.”
She took upon project with a belief that animation will be able to draw the attention of children better. “In a world where people are constantly sowing the seeds of ill-will, and there is violence in the name of religion; Sankardeva’s ideas and philosophy need to be adopted. He believed in uniting the people and not in breaking up the fabric of modern society into narrow fragments,” she explains.
But the journey had its own challenges. Her team had just one animator and his assistant. Moreover, it was not the conventional style of filmmaking, where they would first finish the script, hunt for locations, decide on the cast and begin shooting; and where the actors would be constantly briefed by the director. “Here I only had these animated figures to deal with and not really communicate with them. And this is not any cartoon where our imagination can take its own course. I needed to stick to facts and also guide the animator to create each and every important character associated with Sankardeva, as per how the records describe them.”
She further adds, “Rendering is a slow process in animation. If I wanted a change in anything created by the animator, I would have to wait for a week to get the revised version as there was no big team working. Also, power cuts led to waste of time as the animation software runs on high voltage.”
Another new thing for her was, she had to do the dubbing of the dialogues even before the characters were actually created by the animator, as he would depend on dialogues for lip movements. “The dubbing, for this film, in itself was a great experience for me as I invited artists from all over the state and their different accents added value to my work,” she says.
The film has a simple narration and the director has tried to make it attractive and interesting for children. “We worked on his character right from child hood to adolescence, then his spiritual growth, the pilgrimage and other aspects of his life and personality have been taken care of elaborately in the film.”
The screenplay and direction is by Manju Borah while research and dialogues for the film have been done by Prabhat Chandra Das. Music is by Tarali Sharma, director of animation is Dr. Gautam Das, editing is by Sreekar Prasad and chief assistant director is Jiban Dauka.
One thing, that is bothering the director, is lack of enough exhibition facilities, especially, in the smaller towns and rural parts of Assam. “She feels that is where the actual audience for Assamese cinema reside. “Even in urban areas only few halls are there, and cost of tickets is very high. An average middle class family cannot afford to spend too much on a film show,” she laments, still hoping that her film is received well.
Now that her job as a director is done for ‘Sarbagunakar Srimanta Sankardev’ she is looking forward her next important projects; one, a biopic on Rupkunwar Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, and the other, an Arunachali film. “The later has much anthropological significance as the particular culture that I want to talk about in the film is on the verge of extinction. The story is by a famous Arunachal based writer. I am eager to begin these projects soon in my conventional style of filmmaking but I am still waiting for producers! She laughs.
Dr. Rashmi Sarmah
(Dr. Rashmi Sarmah is a Guwahati-based freelance journalist and communication researcher)