Even though a few biographical and Puranic movies in Sanskrit have been released so far, Ishti is the first ever movie made in Sanskrit that deals with a social theme
Even though three to four Sanskrit movies had been made in the past in Bharat, Dr. G Prabha Pillai’s “Ishti” is the first story or feature film made in Sanskrit. Malayalam’s matinee idol Nedumudi Venu is in the lead role of 71 years old Vedic scholar Ramavikraman Namboothiri. Story dates back to the social and cultural backgrounds of Brahmin Namboothiri families of mid twentieth century in Kerala. Those Namboothiri families and their social life were infested with all sorts of superstitions and practices. Ramavikraman, like his contemporaries in other Namboothiri families, stuck to his systems and practices whatever superstitious they were. His fall commenced by the entry of the 17 years old Sreedevi, his third bride. Venu has done hundred percent justice in presenting the typical Namboothiri style of romance, headstrong attitude stemmed from his scholarship and also the gloom originated from the sense of loss, etc. The Sanskrit pronunciation is spotless too.
Those were the days when younger generations of Namboothiri families challenged the orthodox, patriarchal traditions of their society. The eldest one in the Namboothiri family had the sole authority and control of the family properties. He could formally marry a woman from the same community and bring the spouse home. Younger brothers could have sambandham (informal relations) with Nair women. Nairs were inferior to Namboothiris in the so-called caste hierarchy existing those days. The children born from those relations did not have any right to the father’s property. Namboothiri women were the most affected members of the family. They did not even get the formal education and were bound to live as illiterates. In this context, Dr. Prabha can, by all means, claim a feminist angle his film does have.
Ramavikraman Namboothiri, the head of the family has performed Somayaga, a very important yaga (yajna), so he is called Somayaji. His ambition is to perform Athirathra (Agniyaga) and bag the title of Akkithiri. The fire from the yaga would be preserved to light his funeral pyre. He is willing to sell off the family fortunes for it, but is not at all ready to pick up the tab for the treatment of his brother’s ailing son. He was born to a so-called lower caste woman; thanks again to the sambandham of the young male members! Eldest one could go for polygamy and that too with teen aged girls, quite often girls of his grand daughters’ age!
Somayaji’s third wife Sreedevi was literate. She weathered the orthodoxy and inspired the younger brothers of her husband to assert their right to know. Somayaji’s eldest son, Raman Namboothiri could chant Vedic hymns, but, could not read and write. Sreedevi could convince him. But, the elders came out with a new design; they alleged illicit relations between Raman and his father’s wife. Somayaji supported the elders. But, Sreedevi condemned her husband and walked out of the households. “Ishti” in Sanskrit means search for self, yoga, etc. The film is the first ever one in Sanskrit with a social theme.
Film maker Dr. G Prabha is a scholar in Sanskrit with a Doctorate. He retired as the HOD of Oriental Languages in Layola College, Chennai. Dr Prabha has done two documentaries earlier: One is Agnaye, a movie on the famous Athirathram or Agnicayana (a Somayagam of 12 days duration). Another one is on Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri, the great poet of Malayalam.
It appears, the movie is going to serve dual purposes: One is the exposure of the pathetic situation Namboothiri society had undergone in the last century. Another one is the propagation of Sanskrit language. n