‘Sarbagunakar Srimanta Sankardeva’ – the first Assamese animated biopic on Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva, directed by the multiple international and national award-winning director Manju Borah and produced by Sanjiv Narain is all set to hit the screens on November 11. It was a challenging task to make a movie on Srimanta Sankardeva. Director Manju Borah was intrigued by the idea for quite sometime. But as someone whose works basically revolved around indigenous culture, it was fascinating for her to delve into Srimanta Sankardeva’s life. Even at a time when movies have become more of a business undertaking than artistic endeavours, this multi-talented and versatile filmmaker continues to make socially relevant films tailored for the sensibilities of different audiences around the world, and that despite their limited commercial prospects.
After undergoing thorough research works on her new project, which has actually been one of the director’s hallmarks throughout her illustrious career, she formed her own artistic vision for the first Assamese animation film. The growing popularity of animation movies around the world, including India has also provided impetus to her decision. The Assamese culture with its treasure troves of myths, folk tales and fables could make fabulous animations. It could sow the seeds of creativity among filmmakers as it did in the case of Manju Borah. The filmmaker was quite keen to direct a universally relatable story with a meaningful message embedded in it that will inspire and motivate not just adults but kids and young adults. What germinated as an idea in the beginning turned into full-fledged initiative.
The philosophy of Srimanta Sankardeva, which he propagated more than 550 years ago, is relevant even in modern times. Speaking of her film, Manju Borah said – “In a world where people are constantly sowing the seeds of ill-will and hate, where forces are trying to divide the country on various pretexts, where violent conflicts in the name of religion has become the order of the day and where people are living in constant fear, Sankardeva’s ideas, philosophy and humanity are felt more in the contemporary context.”
The great mystic, the founder of Neo-Vaisnavism in Assam, created the backbone of Assamese society and culture. The works of Sankaradeva are a large corpus. A saint-scholar, poet, playwright, social-religious reformer and a figure of importance in the cultural and religious history of Assam, Sankardeva is widely credited with building on past cultural relics and devising new forms of music (Borgeet), theatrical performance (Ankia Naat, Bhaona), dance (Satriya), literary language (Brajavali) and many more. He trans-created scriptures (Bhagavat of Sankardeva), poetry and theological works written in Sanskrit, Assamese and Brajavali. The Bhagavatic religious movement he started, Eksarana Dharma or Neo-Vaishnavite movement, influenced two medieval kingdoms Koch and the Ahom kingdoms.
Sankardeva initiated to assemble the devotees into Satras, which continue to be important socio-religious institutions in Assam and to a lesser extent in North Bengal. His naamghars which are open to all, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, for congregational prayer and nama-kirtana, become a popular institution in the religious life of the Assamese people. He forged profound connections with people from all walks of life. “Mahapurush Sankardeva believed in uniting the people and not in breaking up the fabric of modern society into narrow fragments,” Borah said.
As a religious reformer, Sankardeva’s greatest achievement is his success in bringing his people from a debased form of Sakta tantricism to the pure monotheism of his Vaishnava faith. He thought that the best way of reforming the religious life of people was to present to them what was good and to make it appeal to their imagination. He called his faith ‘Eksarana Naamdharma’ – that is the religion of worshiping one by uttering his name. As a theologian, Sankardeva made the Bhagavata-Purana the main canon of his Vaishnavism and his works include a creative translation of a large part of that text.
But despite his enormous influences on the common people of Assam, the new generation is yet to realise his ideology and great creations. But the filmmaker strongly believes that her film, all set to release on November 11, will provide an unique experience to the viewers and hopefully change that outlook.
Manju Borah is supported by a skillful team of technicians who dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy to the project. A film such as this requires a great deal of artistry and meticulosity, which the team has lent themselves to without compromising on the visual aesthetics.
Presented by A. M. Television, ‘Sarbagunakar Srimanta Sankardeva’s script is written by Manju Borah herself. The animation direction is by Dr Gautam Kumar Das. The film’s dialogues and research are by Prabhat Chandra Das. The editing is done by the renowned editor A. Sreekar Prasad. The animated biopic has music by the National Award winning singer Tarali Sharma. The film’s chief assistant direcor and production controller is Jiban Dawka. The Borgeets and Kirtans are rendered by Tarali Sharma, Bhupen Nath, Nityananda Deka, Prashanta Rajkhowa, Pragyan Barua, Ranjan Bezbarua, Tapan Kalita, Naba Kalita, Dilip Gogoi, Rebakanta Handique among others. The film’s audiography was done by Dipak Dutta, Bijoy Nath and Babul. The film’s sound design and mixing was executed by D. Yuvraj at the Prasad Film Laboratories, Chennai. ‘Sarbagunakar Srimanta Sankardeva’ features the voices of Ranjan Bezbarua (Srimanta Sankardeva), Rajiv Bhattacharjya (Madhavdev), Upakul Bordoloi, Moni Bordoloi, Lakshi Borthakur, Tarali Sharma, Arpana Dutta Choudhury, Pratibha Choudhury, Ujjal Khanikar, Amitav Rajkhowa, Satyen Sarma, Bibhuti Hazarika among others. Both the director and producer are optimistic about receiving a positive response from the audience.