Priyamanasam a tribute to poet-scholar of Kerala

Priyamanasam, the third Sanskrit film ever made in the world, received rave reviews at the recently concluded International IFFI Goa, when it was screened as the inaugural film of the Indian Panorama Section.

The yet-to-be released biopic, directed by Vinod Mankara, not only depicts the life of the 17th century poet-scholar of Kerala, Unnayi Warrier, but also the emotional turbulence the poet had undergone, which is shown through the traditional medium of Kathakali.

The movie is to set to be shown at major domestic film festivals including the festival in Chennai. The Sanskrit film is also going to be screened at major international film festivals from 2016.

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Vinod took pains to portray the year-long duration of Unnai Warrior penning Nalacharitham and depict inner conflicts of the great poet. Unnai was so close to his characters that the author could touch and feel them. After eight years of research the director could delve deep into the psyche of Unnai and portray his character in a subtle and aesthetic manner.

Priyamanasam is the Sanskrit film coming after a gap of 22 years. The two other Sanskrit movies were made by GV Iyer.

The first Sanskrit film Adi Shankaracharya (1983), produced by the National Film Development Corporation of India, narrates the life of a philosopher and a theologian of the 8th century and the most renowned exponent of the Advaitha Vedanta school of philosophy which preached the unity of all existence.

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The second Sanskrit film was Bhagavad Gita, produced by senior Congress leader T Subbarami Reddy. It is based on religious book Bhagavad Gita, a part of the epic Mahabharata. The film’s Telugu version was released in Andhra Pradesh.

Some people are curious as to why the director chose to make Priyamanasam in Sanskrit, the 4,000-year-old classical language often dismissed as a dead language.
The film was, in fact, the realization of his long-cherished dream of making a film in Sanskrit. Since he saw the first two Sanskrit films during his college days he has often wondered why films are not made in the language that “is sweet, aesthetic and musical.” The thought of making a Sanskrit film started growing on him and finally decided to go ahead with the project.

The director says the trigger point for making this movie came in 2008 when he made the documentary Nalacharitham Anjam Divasam. When this documentary was completed, he was sure as a continuation of this documentary, the final destination was to make a full-length Sanskrit movie.

Elaborating on his decision to go ahead with making of Priyamanasam, Vinod says: "In that sense, Priyamanasam is the continuation of Nalacharitham Anjam Divasam. Nalacharitham (Story of Nalan) is performed in four days, all the 11 soliloquies, from the protagonists Nalan, Damayanthi and their messenger, the swan. These are not performed in their entirety in the contemporary milieu, both in terms of singing and performance. I felt that Unnayi's mind, his soul and his life were hiding in this story. When I connected the dots, I felt his life story was concealed in his soliloquies. The eight-odd years I spent, doing intense research on him became handy".

The film traces the final years in the life of Unnai, as the poet struggles to complete Nalacharitham Aattakatha, at the Palace of King Marthanda Varma of Travancore, who had entrusted him with the task of writing this epic in the style of Kathakali, the dance drama art from native to Kerala.

In fact, Nalacharitham is considered to be the first work in its genre to portray real human characters and emotions. In an art form which largely deals with characters that were either Gods or demons, the work brings to life the real human characters and deals with human emotions.

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Poet’s trauma and travails

Priyamanasm portrays the trauma and travails of the poet as he struggles with his internal demons and writer's block. The characters that he creates torment him with questions about their characterisation and their fears and insecurities about the roles they play. They are all, in fact, images of his insecure and troubled mind. The film suggests that Nalacharitham is as much an autobiography as it is a work of fiction.

Vinod carefully dissects 11 monologues and unravels details of Unnai's life. The many layers hidden in the words have been peeled away to reveal the fascinating life story of this bard about whom very little is known.

The movie juxtaposes events of Unnayi's final years with those of his youth to present a fascinating world filled with colours, love, dance, music and emotions. Constantly shifting between these two periods in Unnayi's life, the film presents insights into his mind. The ancient art form of Kathakali has been skilfully used to embellish the narrative.
Priyamanasm showcases beautifully the dance-drama art form of Kathakali. Above all, it is a fascinating tribute to the creative powers unleashed by the most powerful of emotions – love.

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