Acharya Vidyasagar’s life is as engaging as a fictional movie: filmmaker Vidhi Kasliwal

Filmmaker and producer Vidhi Kasliwal has made a documentary on the life of the Jain monk Acharya Vidyasagar. Titled Vidyoday, the film will feature the journey of his life story through interactions and is beautifully depicted through sand art by the well-known Italian sand artist Fatmir Mura.

In an exclusive conversation with Road To Divinity, Kasliwal gets candid on the process of making the documentary and its aim.

Personal connection:
Although I am a Jain, being born and brought up in Mumbai kept me distant from Muni culture. I didn’t grow up going to Munis or offering them aahaar (food). But my mother’s family is very well renowned in the Jain community and regulars when it comes to doing Muni darshan. In fact, there is a very old temple in Ajmer – Nasiya ji – that has a 3D model depicting the story of Adinath ji, the first Tirthankara, made entirely of gold. This is also a tourist attraction today and was built by my mother’s great-great grandfather centuries ago. It is through this connection, I had a basic insight into the Jain order of monks.

When opportunity knocked on the door:
My mama (maternal uncle) told me that Acharya Vidyasagar ji’s deeksha is completing 50 years and many activities had been planned to celebrate this. They were also grappling with the idea of making a documentary on his life and journey. And I immediately volunteered thinking this should be something interesting and different, that I’ve never done before. Everyone was quite receptive to me doing it and I met various senior people of the community to try and understand what exactly they wanted in the film before I officially started working on it.

First glimpse of Acharya Vidyasagar:
First and foremost, I was very keen to do his darshan. Although I hadn’t visited Acharya Vidyasagar or read much on him, I had heard so much about him. And I have no words to explain what came over me in his presence. His aura is so pure and so powerful, I was moved to tears and I literally began to weep. That’s when I decided I had to do this film.

Acharya-Vidyasagar
Acharya Vidyasagar and sand artist Fatmir Mura.

Extensive research:
It took such intensive and extensive research work for us to know about him and his journey. We had to talk to various sources, collate material from all over the country and we also needed someone who could guide us and authenticate the information for us. That’s where Muni Pramansagar ji (a disciple of Acharya Vidyasagar) came in. He very patiently pointed us in the right direction and then left it upto me as a filmmaker, despite being such an exalted Muni. This is such a big thing. He said he would only point out factual errors, if any and the rest would be my call. This increased the responsibility on me and I had to give it my all.

We’ve been at it for over three years now. The research and the shoot took us all over the country with major portions shot in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. We faced many hardships and unique challenges through these years, but all in all it has been an enriching experience not only for me, but for my entire team.

Tougher than feature filmmaking:
When we started out, we had a rough outline in mind. We knew what were the topics we wanted to cover and hence began working towards those. But unlike a fiction film, where one knows every dialogue every character is going to say in each shot in each location, in non-fiction filmmaking you have very little or no control on what exactly you’re going to be able to capture. We had to go with the natural flow of things, hoping it would all come together on the edit table.

Making a Documentary is far more challenging and difficult than making a work of fiction. The not knowing is the part that contributes to the most anxiety. Only once you have all the content and the conversations, then can you begin to give it shape and with any luck weave a compelling story around it.

Not willing to cast someone to play Acharya Vidyasagar:
It was especially fascinating to hear what his younger brothers and sisters had to say about growing up with him, as now, inspired by him, they too have renounced worldly life and are following the same path of spirituality. We collected so many interesting anecdotes of his childhood from his siblings and friends, but how were we to depict them. There weren’t any pictures or videos of that time, of those incidents. Some people suggested why not cast someone and shoot those ‘flashbacks’. But I was rather uncomfortable casting an actor to play his part, it would have been very inappropriate. I don’t think any actor could have done justice to such a pious soul and I don’t think as a director I could have replicated his essence and aura.

Idea of roping in Sand Artist Fatmir Mura:

Besides being a master philosopher, Acharya Shri is also a literary scholar. His most accomplished work is a 500-page epic poem “Muk Mati”. The title itself gave me an idea. Why not use ‘Mati’ (sand) to recreate the happenings. Sand Art is a very captivating and unique art form, and we needed a master artist for this, thus began our search for one.

Rummaging through Google for ‘best sand artist’, we came across Fatmir Mura, an Italian Sand Artist, living all the way in Florence. We were floored by his style and the intricacy he brought out in his works which we saw on YouTube. We randomly messaged him through Facebook messenger and promptly got a reply. That’s how our ‘long-distance relationship’ started.

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Vidhi Kasliwal

Non-Indian getting to know Acharya Vidyasagar:

It was going to be a long drawn, challenging task. Almost 35% of the visuals were going to be Sand Art, so they needed to be engaging. They needed to convey very specific stories and emotions, so they had to be detailed and nuanced. All the facts had to be accurate, so we had to be prepared for a lot of back and forth. The subject was steeped in Indian culture, so we had to have patience – for us to explain the smallest of details and for him to get a hang of them.

As expected, we took 2 years to complete the Sand Art. But what has been achieved is beyond our expectations. What started out as rough sketches, turned into beautiful symphonies of sand. Hats off to Fatmir to have the persistence and intelligence to grasp such foreign things for him – like the attire of Indian women, the writing of words like ‘shree’ in Devanagri script, and so on. So much so that on seeing the sequences, not a single person can guess that they have been done by a non-Indian. Thus, proving his artistic mastery over emotions and instincts.

Life story engaging enough for the youngsters:

We wanted the film to be a factual representation of Acharya Shri and his journey. Sometimes facts can get quite repetitive and boring, but that is not the case here at all. Every aspect, every chapter of his life is so engaging that it could almost feel like fiction, but believe you me, we didn’t need to embellish at all.

Nowadays, with exposure to digital platforms on the rise, the popularity of different content including non-fiction documentaries has increased and found loyal audiences especially in the youth. And I’m confident that youngsters will find ‘Vidyoday’ a compelling and insightful watch.

Message not confined to Jainism:
Besides being a religious leader, he is a philosopher and an author par excellence with a keen sense of humour. Being completely up-to-date, he is fully aware of the challenges we face in today’s times and he offers practical solutions on how to face them. I strongly feel that people will connect with him on a level beyond religion, cause what he says is not only confined to Jainism, but covers principles of equality, non-violence, working hard, etc., all of which can help us lead better and deeper lives.

About the release of the film:

This is a one-of-a-kind film, more like an audio-visual documentation on Acharya Vidyasagar ji Maharaj. The life cycle of such a film is posterity and our ultimate goal would be to have it on a digital platform for generations to stream it as and when.

As for now, we are concentrating on theatrical screenings. It’s not a regular theatrical release, but more like an on-demand theatrical release.

  • By: Keyur Seta
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Durga Puja 2018 at Ramakrishna Mission: Pictures

Like every year, Durga Puja was celebrated with aplomb in 2018 too all over India. It reveres Goddess Durga, who defeated the demon Mahisasura on this day.

The day is also celebrated as Dussehra in various parts of India. It was the day when Lord Rama killed the evil Ravana, who had kidnapped the former’s wife Sita.

Various branches of Ramakrishna Mission not only in India but world over celebrate Durga Puja. The same is the case with its Mumbai branch.

Have a look at pictures from this year’s Durga Puja in Ramakrishna Math in Khar, Mumbai:

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The lesser known love story of Krishna and Rukmini

Plenty has been said about the love story between Krishna and Radha. In fact, there have been several books on the topic while the story is found in numerous movies too. However, the love story between Krishna and his wife Rukmini hasn’t go its due despite it being so profound and moving.

Rukmini was the daughter of the king of Vidharbha named Bhishmaka. She had heard tales of Krishna’s greatness from a sage who used to visit her regularly. He used to share His tales in details which ensured that Rukmini could visualize him and his deeds. She didn’t realize when she fell in love with him and decided to marry him.

Much to Rukmini’s delight, her parents wanted her to marry Krishna. But her brother Rukmi opposed the marriage as he wanted her to marry Shishupala, the king of Chedi. Rukmi was a friend of Krishna’s enemy, king Jarasandha. Getting his sister married to his enemy would have incensed Jarasandha. As Shishupala was a close associate of Jarasandha, it would have made the latter happy.

Krishna-Rukmini
Photo souce: Ritsin.com

Finally Rukmini’s father Bhishmaka gave in to the demands of Rukmi and agreed to get her married to Shishupala. Horrified Rukmini wrote a letter to Krishna promising her profound love for him because of his qualities. She urged Krishna to visit Vidharbha at the earliest and elope with her.

The task of handing over the letter to Krishna in Dwarka was given to a priest she trusted. After reading the letter, Krishna immediately ventured to Vidarbha with brother Balarama. They reached Vidarbha, where they were greeted by Bhishmaka, who always approved of Krishna.

On the day of the wedding, Rukmini was all dressed up but was getting anxious and tensed as Krishna was nowhere to be seen. The plan was to take her away while she would visit the Indrani temple. She finally saw Krishna in his chariot. He took her inside the vehicle and sped off. An infuriated Jarasandha ordered his army to stop them but to no avail. Krishna and Rukmini succeed in their venture.

The story is very similar to what we have seen in countless Hindi films. But what stands out over here is the love Rukmini developed for Krishna. It is one of the rare instances where looks played no part for both the parties.

Rukmini fell for Krishna after learning His greatness as a person. On the other hand, Krishna was moved by Rukmini’s devotion for Him. Both developed deep love for each other just by the qualities of their characters rather than appearance.

This is something to dwell upon for people of today’s era where the mere attraction born out of the looks and beauty is wrongly concluded as love.

Luz’s Paintbrush: Children’s Book Review

In a country like India, literature basically exists only for the grown-ups. This is further categorized deep-meaning and escapist books. In all this, children’s literature is hardly found anywhere in the mainstream, except for the old fables and tales recycled numerous times.

But this is not the case abroad where children’s literature is taken seriously. US Author Ashley J. Kimler and visionary artist Myztico Campo’s Luz’s Paintbrush: How You Created The Universe not only fulfils the needs of children’s literature but also aims at conditioning their minds to consider peace as life’s biggest aim.

In Spanish language, Luz means light. The book tells the story about the origin of the earth and other planets through the character of a divine feminine spirit called Luz. After spending her life travelling into different realms of existence, she lands at the mysterious outer space.

Luzs-PaintbrushShe gets so mesmerized by the place that she manifests different ideas and goes onto create the entire solar system through her divine paintbrush before finally arriving on planet earth to create her magic.

Luz’s Paintbrush gets you involved right at the start with its words and images. Generally, sketches aid storytelling. But over here, it is as important part of the narration as the text. The combination is enough to get you on a mysterious yet pleasurable journey.

Over the years, good children films are proved to be those that impress even the grown-ups. The same can be applied for literature as well. Kimler’s writing has a natural flow that gets one captivated, irrespective of your age and belief pattern.

Campo’s sketches are colourful and full of life. Apart from being an explanation of the text, the pictures can also been seen independently.

But the book doesn’t stop at being an interesting journey. There is an underlying message of peace and harmony which is not spelled out. Obviously, different religions around the world have different theories about the evolution of the earth. Most of the kids would eventually or most probably hang onto one of the theories after growing up.

So, to get them started about the evolution in such a simple and peaceful manner might just stop them from being rigid about their respective religious beliefs later on in life. This is much needed in today’s times when people are even ready to kill in the name of religion world over.

One questionable aspect pertaining to India is that some sentences are too deep to be understood by Indian kids. So, it is imperative for their parents to be well-versed with English in order to provide explanations. Also, the book could have been lengthier as it’s a very fast read.

Overall: Luz’s Paintbrush is a pleasurable read that also gives a message of peace.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Review by: Keyur Seta

Author: Ashley J. Kimler

Illustrator: Myztico Campo

Publishers: Notispress Communications

Pages: 32

Cover: Amalgamation of different colours giving a glimpse of what to expect inside

Filmmaker Vidhi Kasliwal makes documentary on Jain muni Acharya Vidyasagar

Film director and producer Vidhi Kasliwal’s next is a documentary on Jain monk Acharya Vidyasagar. Titled Vidyoday, the film, which will be produced under her banner Landmarc Films, will trace the life of one of the most revered Digambar Jain Munis (philosopher monks).

“The film also enlightens us upon the various facets of Jainism as a philosophy, the frugal yet fulfilling lives of Digambara Jain Monks, their main teachings and principles, such as respecting life of all species and ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence),” said an official statement from the makers.

Speaking about the reason to make a documentary on him, Kasliwal said in an official statement, “I was moved to tears by his aura in the sheer presence of Acharya Shri. This is what drove me to taking on this film. The more I read about him and observed his restraint and discipline, the more in awe I grew of him and his conduct. How could there be such a being in today’s day and age?”

Acharya-Vidyasagar

She added that shooting the documentary wasn’t easy. “It was a difficult project to helm, but I was fortunate to have a wonderful team and we got utmost co-operation from all of Acharya Shri’s pupils and followers all over the country. It took extensive research, intensive fieldwork, strenuous shooting, intricate editing and post-production work by close to 80 people over 1000 days canning 200 hours of footage to complete this 108-minute documentary,” she said.

Kasliwal also stated the importance of the project. “And I speak for my entire team when I say this – working on this documentary has been one of the highlights of our careers and it has certainly left each one of us elevated and enriched,” she said.

Kasliwal’s recent productions include acclaimed Marathi films like Ringan (2017), Gacchi (2017) and Pipsi (2018).

Watch the teaser of the documentary by clicking HERE.

Janmashtami: 5 Bollywood songs on Lord Krishna

Janmashtami is once again here and the birth of Lord Krishna is celebrated not only in India but all over the world. It is natural for such a figure to have various art forms based on him. The medium that is used the most to convey his qualities and messages is songs.

Radha-Kaise-Na-Jale

 

Generally one doesn’t associate mainstream Hindi cinema of Bollywood, as it is popularly known, with devotional or spiritual music. But there have been quite a few songs dedicated to Krishna, even in mainstream commercial cinema.

Let’s have a look at some of these. These are my personal favourites and there is every chance that your most liked song might not feature in it. Feel free to mention your favourite songs on Him in the comments.

Mann Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj – Baiju Bawra (1952)

To put it simply, this song is a classic. It transcends the boundries between believers and non-believers. I have seen even athiests appreciating this song. Singer Mohammad Rafi, composer Naushad and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni are on top of their game. So, it’s impossible to rate one above the other. Do wait till the end when the effect reaches its pinnacle.

Radha Kaise Na Jale – Lagaan (2001)

The most popular song on Krishna in the modern era, ‘Radha Kaise Na Jale’ looks at the sweet relationship between Krishna and his lover Radha. The songs sees both of them taking a dig at each other but, of course, in a playful manner. Lagaan had another song dedicated to Krishna – ‘O Palanhare.’

Mohe Panghat Pe Nand Lal – Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

Yet another song that speaks about the playful love between Krishna and Radha. Lata Mangeshkar’s magical voice, some enchanting visuals (even in black and white) make this song a classic, just like the movie. Also, Naushad excels in a Krishna song yet again.

Title song – Kurukshetra (2000)

Not just in our films but generally in India only the childhood and early young days of Krishna (especially his love for Radha) are spoken the most. Apart from this, He is regarded as the mighty God. However, his lessons in the Bhagavad Gita and his role in the epic Mahabharata aren’t spoken much.

This is a rare Hindi film song that features His sermon to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and that too in a hard-hitting manner. The shlok ‘Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya…’ in the end produce a terrific effect. Easily an underrated motivational song.

Aarambh Hai Prachand – Gulaal (2009)

This entry might surprise you no ends. There is no mention of Krishna anywhere here. You will initially feel the song is political in nature, just like the subject of this Anurag Kashyap film. However, after delving deeper into it, one realizes that it has an underlying message of a warrior’s duty preached in the Bhagavad Gita.

Nadgaon: Unexplored nature’s abode near Mumbai

Our visit to a little place called Nadgaon last month was quite enlightening. Whenever someone asks me as to when will I make my first foreign trip, I feel there is so much left to be seen in various parts of India. Well, this trip made me realize that there is a lot to see even around 100 kilometres away from our home in Mumbai.

When I decided to go for a day long trip to Nadgaon, which is near Karjat, I was looking forward to a well-deserved break. However, I certainly didn’t expect to be so intimately close to nature.

Mountains-greenery

The place where he stayed is a farmhouse run by a friendly family. You can book it for a day and do whatever you wish to. I have seen houses surrounded by nature in various parts of India. But this was a rare place which has long stretches of greenery without a trace of any house, building or shop. Such vast untouched areas of nature.

Through the backside of the house one can go down the steps to a pretty waterfall. The path and the following steps are difficult but the risk is worth taking.

If you have the energy for a long walk, you can go to a nearby river which is around 45 minutes walking. Again, this is worth the effort as the river is too soothing and, like the rest of the village, without civilization.

Back at the house, apart from breakfast, lunch and tea, the owners provide with corn (bhutta) and groundnuts cooked naturally on a chulha.

All in all, even if you visit it just for a day, like we did, it is still enough to take back some calmness. If you feel nature of God, you are in for some spiritual experience. The ideal time to go is monsoons.

By: Keyur Seta

Note: Do drop a comment if you wish to know the details about staying at this farmhouse.

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The caravan of our Karwaan

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Way to the river
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The super peaceful river
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The owners also rare animals like cows, horses and lambs.

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Way to the waterfall
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Waterfall from above

Waterfall