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.
Although I am a Jain, I have not grown up doing darshans of muni and offering them aahaar (food). There is a temple in Nasiya ji about Adinath ji, the first tirthankar. It is made of gold. That temple was built by my great great grandfather from my mother’s side. This is how I have some connection with the community and muni culture.
When opportunity knocked on the door:
My mama (maternal uncle) told me that Acharya Vidyasagar ji’s diksha is completing 50 years. They had planned many activities for the occasion. That’s how the idea of making a documentary originated. I thought of giving it a shot as it was something new for me too. For going ahead, We had to take guidance and a nod from some people of Jain community.
First glimpse of Acharya Vidyasagar:
I thought first and foremost I should do his darshan because I had never met him or had read much about him. When I went for his darshan, I don’t know what came over me. I was moved to tears. Just his aura touched me so much that I literally started crying. That’s when I decided to do this film.
It took an extensive research for us to know about him and his journey. We had to collate information from various sources. We have another muni Pramansagar ji Maharaj. He gave a lot of guidance. Despite being an exalted muni, he left it up to me as a filmmaker which is such a big thing. He said he would just point out if there is any factual error.
We have been working on it for three years. It was been such an enriching experience for our team. We went to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka to shoot. Despite so many hardships, It has been a wonderful experience.
Tougher than feature filmmaking:
We had an outline in our mind on the kind of topics we would like to cover. But it is not like fiction where you know the story and where to shoot it. We had to just go with the flow and then we edited it in a way that it tells a story. Once you have the content and the conversations, then you have to weave a story out of it.
Filming a Documentary is much tougher than making a fictional film. Till you get on the edit table, you don’t really know how it will shape up.
Not willing to cast someone to play Acharya Vidyasagar:
We found interesting anecdotes from his two brothers and two sisters, who have followed the same path. We were wondering how to recreate it as there are no pictures or footages. Some people suggested me to cast someone and shoot those portions and make it like a docu drama. But in doing so the essence of him being such an exalted person would have been lost. I think it would not have been appropriate to cast someone in his role.
Idea of roping in Sand Artist Fatmir Mura:
Besides philosophy and religion, he is also a literary scholar. He has written this epic 500 page poem called Muk Maati. I thought why not recreate something from Maati (sand) and we came up with the idea of roping in a sand artist.
We didn’t know Fatmir Mura at all as he lives in Florence, Italy. We were just rummaging through Google typing things like ‘best sand artist’ etc. That’s how we came across his name. We went through his work on YouTube and it was excellent. We just randomly messaged him on Facebook. He replied and that’s how the journey started.
Non-Indian getting to know Acharya Vidyasagar:
It was going to be a very challenging task. Almost 35% of the film is conveyed through sand art. So, it had to be engaging and convey the details and nuances of storytelling correctly. It was going to be time consuming. It has taken almost two years to get the sand art in place.
Fatmir gave one full round of only rough sketches. As he is not Indian, it took him little time to grasp the Indianness. Like the attires of ladies and how should one write ‘Shree.’ But he is intelligent and hats off to him for being patient enough and and bring the emotions out so well.
Life story engaging enough for the youngsters:
We wanted to be as true as possible to his life and journey. I feel his life and journey is so engaging that we didn’t have to put that extra effort to make it so. The incidents that happened in his life makes you feel it’s a fictional film. I feel because of the exposure to the digital platform, the youth has also got interested in watching documentaries.
Message not confined to Jainism:
I think more than him being a religious leader, he is a philosophical and literary personality with a sense of humour. He is aware of the challenges we are facing in today’s times and how we should face them. I feel people will connect to him beyond religion. It is not about him talking about the Jain religion. It is about his principles that people should lead their life with. Like equality, non-violence, carrying out hard work etc.
About the release of the film:
Our ultimate goal would be to have it on a digital platform for people to stream it as and when they would like to. But as of now we are concentrating on theatrical screenings. It will be like an on demand release in theatres.
- By: Keyur Seta