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    A former professor fuses an ancient language and an old social practice for his onscreen début, Ishti

    A professor of Sanskrit is not someone you’d picture sitting in the director’s chair. But G Prabha, the former head of department of Oriental Languages at Loyola College in Chennai did the unexpected when he wielded the megaphone recently for his début film, Ishti. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, he made the feature film in Sanskrit, with Malayalam cinema’s veteran actor, Nedumudi Venu. “As a teacher of Sanskrit and as someone with a creative bent of mind (he writes short stories in Malayalam), I thought I should make a film in the language that flourished in India. Except for a couple of movies made by GV Iyer (like the 1993 National-award winner, Bhagvad Gita) no one has attempted it,” begins Prabha, adding that he had to put his dream project on hold for over a decade, while searching for a producer, before deciding to bankroll it himself.

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    Ishti means the search for self and is pegged on a Namboothiri Brahmin family in Kerala, from the 1950s. Inspired by the life of social reformer VT Bhattathiripad, he says he took up the story “because it is of a community that uses Sanskrit. It is also a progressive tale that challenges the status quo of the time—a time where only the oldest son could marry from within the community, child marriage was still prevalent, with men in their 70s marrying teenage girls, and education was not encouraged”. Prabha, who cut his teeth on two Malayalam documentaries—Akkitham (2010), on poet Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri, and Agneya (2014), a film on Brahminical rituals—admits that writing the script took over eight years, with visits to Namboothiri families and libraries filling in key details. He also did a film appreciation course at Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India, before wielding the megaphone. “Since the film was not made for a big-screen release, I wanted performers, not stars. While I knew Nedumudi Venu fit the patriarch’s role, I looked to theatre for the others. FTII’s acting professor, Jijoy PR, is also one of my actors,” he says.

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    The biggest challenge was getting them to learn their lines. Prabha had one-on-one sessions, translating and transliterating the lines, and helping them master the pronunciation. “Nedumudi Venu was the only one who didn’t have much trouble since he has done Sanskrit plays earlier,” he shares. With plans to screen Ishti at film festivals, and take it to universities abroad that teach Sanskrit, Prabha chuckles that someone who watches a “Baahubali might not like it, but then again, after you watch Ishti, you might wonder what kind of a film Baahubali is”.
    Preview on April 24, at MM Preview Theatres (Chennai), at 5.30 pm. Details: 044 28343813

    —Surya Praphulla Kumar

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