A Successful attempt has been made to picturise Mahakavi Kalidasa's magnum opus, Abhijñāna ākuntalaṃ in its original language Sanskrit, into cinematic form. The film is slated to release shortly.
The historical film was directed by Dushyanth Sridhar, a renowned harikatha exponent, writer and researcher on Indian scriptures. Abhijñāna ākuntalaṃ is from Kālidāsa's work. Dushyanth Sridhar and Srinivas Kanna produced the film under Desika Daya Production banner. The film is set in an era pre-dating the Mahabharata and tells the story of Sakuntala, the daughter of Sage Viswamitra and the damsel Menaka and her love for king Dusyanta. Dushyant, the king of Hastinapura of that time, belonged to the Chandravamsa and the Puru Dynasty. Sakuntala becomes pregnant after the marriage, and the King goes back to his capital, promising to come back for her. But he does not return. When Sakuntala goes to his palace to claim her love, he has forgotten her, much to her shock and disappointment.
The cast includes Payal Shetty ( debut) and Shubham Sahrawat (debut) in lead roles with Y. Gee Mahendra, Mohanraman, TV Varadarajan and Sivakumar playing important characters. Rajkumar Bharathi, great-grandson of Subramania Bharati, has composed music. Sai Shravabnam, who did the sound recording for the award-winning Pi, is the music composer. The film was edited by B. Lenin, a five-time national award winner.
Dushyant Sridhar said, "The shooting for the movie began in June 2021 at Maara Studios, Chennai, and is the tenth Sanskrit movie to be made. Earlier GV Iyer made Adi Shankaracharya and Bhagavat Gita in Sanskrit language, which were super hits in early 80s. Shakuntalam was written some 2000 years ago in Bharat, when most nations in the world did not even exist. There is enough space to make movies in regional languages, but there is no specific industry for Sanskrit cinema. The understanding and the vision that I have towards this subject made me to take up film. This is my first attempt in this direction. I still took this up because I love to bring my vision on to the visual media. The reason why I have chosen Shakuntalam was for two reasons. Sanskrit and the subject. It is one of the several languages spoken in the country. While other languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindu have several followers, Sanskrit is the only ancient language that is least spoken, I wanted to do something for this classic language. I won't say it is being neglected, but it is not represented enough in many forms. Kalidasa's other works including Shakuntalam has been made in other languages including in Tamil, Hindu, Malayalam but Sanskrit. it is like Silappatikaran (Tamil) being made in Greek, Latin and Mandarin but not in Tamil. So this will be the first time the epic is made in its original form. Sakuntalam is one of the best literary works".
He said, "I have been reading this since childhood, and the real task was adapting this mammoth work by Kalidasa for the big screens. All that has been written in the play format can't be adapted to cinema. So I had to draft a new screenplay, keeping the present day viewers in mind. The real challenge was to train the actors in Sanskrit. We had several sessions on Zoom for the dialogues. The workshop took over two months and then we started the shoot. Except for Shubham, for whom I have dubbed, all the others dubbed for themselves in Sanskrit."
95 per cent of the film is in Sanskrit, while the remaining 5 per cent of the film is in another ancient language, Prakrit. There will be English subtitles for the general audience. Dance sequences will have Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Mohiniyattam and Yaksha Gana performances. Carnatic and Hindustani ragas are used in the film. The hymns recited in the background are derived from Rig Veda (Surya Suktam and Sri Suktam), Krishna Yajur Veda (Narayana Suktam, Mantra Pushpam, Sri Rudram, Arghya Manta) and Shukla Yajur Veda (Satapatha Brahmana). Chalukya, Pallava, Hoysala and Vijayanagar dynasties have been shown in the movie. Abhijnana Sakuntalam was the first Indian work to be translated into English in 1789. In 1940, the Tamil film industry was the first to translate it and made a three-hour movie starring MS Subbulakshmi and GN Balasubramaniam, who played the title roles.
The film will be released on the OTT platform by this month or November, once the post-production work is complete. The trailer is expected to be released on Diwali. "It will be morale booster to the language and encourage more people to appreciate its beauty. It is an ode to Sanskrit," he points out.