Saturday Features

Bringing Shankhadhar to life

  • Though not without fault, The Lengend of Shankhadhar—Nepal’s first animated movie—is a veritable breakthrough
- Bijaya Ratna Asanbare
Shankhadar Yaa Baakha, recants the story of Shankhadhar Saakhwa—a local hero credited for establishing the Nepal Sambat. To that end, the plot traces the historical narrative of Shankhadhar paying off the debt of all the residents of Kathmandu Valley

Dec 10, 2016-Nepal’s first animated movie, The Legend of Shankhadhar, a bilingual which is titled Shankhadhar Ko Kathaa in Nepali and Shankhadhar Yaa Baakha in Nepal Bhasa, will be screened publicly in Nepal from the second week of December. Although there have been several instances where animation was used in parts of Nepali movies, a movie made entirely in the medium hasn’t been attempted before. The Legend of Shankhadhar comes as the first such movie, and the fact that it was made independently makes it an even more commendable accomplishment; a leap forward for the industry in its own right.

Shankhadhar Yaa Baakha, recants the story of Shankhadhar Saakhwa—a local hero credited for establishing the Nepal Sambat. To that end, the plot traces the historical narrative of Shankhadhar paying off the debt of all the residents of Kathmandu Valley, and thus beginning the calendar which began with the “year all debts were paid,” as Nepal Sambat has been cited as in historical documents.

To set up context, the movie makers begin with a story of a woman in Kathmandu who is unable to pay off a merchant’s debt. As a result, she is publicly humiliated on the streets—privy to all. This sight weighs heavy on Shankhadhar’s mind and is seared into his memory. Meanwhile in Bhaktapur, a famed astrologer, Siddhiwant Joshi, predicts that the sand brought from the Bishnumati River, at an auspicious time he has picked out, will turn into gold. Taking his advice, the king of Bhaktapur commands two porters to travel to Kathmandu to bring the sand as prescribed, but keeps its purpose a secret.

Shankhadhar catches sight of the porters and is surprised to see the two excavating sand from the river early in the morning. He encounters them again, while they are resting at a sattal—their kharpans stacked with sand lying next to them.  When Shankhadhar inquires into where they are hauling the sand to, they inform him of their destination: Bhaktapur. Intrigued further, Shankhadhar invites them to his home and coaxes them to leave the sand there and to excavate another batch from the river to take to Bhaktapur, which they willingly do.

Sure enough, the unsuspecting porters take fresh sand to their king, while the ones they left behind at Shankhadhar’s home turn into gold overnight. The rest of the story deals with how the protagonist uses the gold not for personal gain, but to pay off the debts of the Valley’s residents; like the woman ostracised in the opening scenes.

The animated movie based on the above story brings Nepal’s national hero and initiator of Nepal Sambat to the silver screen for the very first time. Sanyukta Shrestha, the producer, director and writer of the movie, must be commended to that end. What’s more, an attempt has been made to relate this historical story with the present day context. This has been accomplished by starting the narrative with the Nepal earthquake of April 25, 2015, which destroys the innumerable heritage sites and buildings in Kathmandu.

In one of those sites, a child asks a mother if everything the earthquake destroyed can be rebuilt. The mother then recants the story of Shankhadhar who did the seemingly impossible some 1137 years ago.

In the movie, Siddhiwant Joshi’s voice has been lent by comedy king Madan Krishna Shrestha, and that of Bhaktapur’s king Ananda Dev by Madan Das Shrestha. The two porters have been voiced by popular artists Rajaram Poudel and Kiran KC. Similarly, the lead character has been played by Suraj Bajracharya, while Sunita Rajbhandari ‘Junu’ and Shlesha Shrestha have lent their voices to the narrating mother and the daughter.

There is no doubt that the Legend of Shankhadhar is a breakthrough project that has charted new horizons. But partly because it has no other bench mark to aspire to, it does have its shortfalls. The need for an in-depth research on historical facts related to Shankhadhar is still wanting, and as a result, no new clues are revealed in the movie—with it being based entirely on popular legend. Neither does the movie fully cover all known facts. Shankhadhar could have been shown witnessing some more debt related incidents. It is a proven fact that Thakuri king Raghav Dev, son of Man Dev, ruled Kathmandu at the time, while Man Dev’s youngest son Ananda Dev ruled Bhaktapur. Such facts have been omitted. Had the running time been a little longer, such inclusions could have been made. Here, budget limitations undoubtedly played its part.

Regardless, it is a milestone that Nepal’s first animated movie will soon be released. And with it, Shankhadhar Saakhwa, who until now remained an obscure, almost mythical figure, resigned to folk tales is being brought to life on the silver screen—which in itself is a laudable achievement.

The movie is being screened at the Microsoft Innovation Centre in Kichapokhari on Dec 17, 24 and 31. There will be three shows per day.

Published: 10-12-2016 10:02

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