By Utpal Borpujari
It was a connection that spanned a millennium, and then inexplicably got snapped. The vast links that Indian
kingdoms, particularly those from southern India, had with the South-East Asian region from the 1st to the 10th A.D. are something that have always been of great interest to historians and scholars, but managed to escape the attention of people at large. Not even the BJP or its sister organisations, whose politics revolve around “Hinduvta”, have ever sought to “educate” people on these historical connections that have the Ramayana as one of the major building blocks.
It was exactly these historical connections, now mostly lost to the memory of the common Indian, that started intriguing Chennai-based documentary filmmaker S Krishnaswamy while making Indus Valley to Indira Gandhi, a four-hour documentary on Indian civilisation in the 1980s. The result: a TV series that goes to over 100 locations in Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, the epicentres of the civilisational dialogues with India, visually bringing alive how Indian architecture, music, mythology, dance forms and aesthetics gave shape to some of the most stunning thought processes in the region.
As the series titled Indian Imprints, spread over 18 episodes of 25 minutes each, reveals, it is not only Angkor Vat in Cambodia, the largest Hindu temple complex in the world, that was the result of this dialogue with Pallava and other kingdoms from southern India. In fact, as acclaimed cinematographer Madhu Ambat’s camera caresses some of the most significant architectural structures spread across the five countries, reliving the links between India and the region and the profound impact the former had on them culturally.
Krishnaswamy, no stranger to extensive research for his documentaries, avers that this Prasar Bharati-funded series, being telecast currently on Doordarshan’s DD-India and DD-Bharati channels, has been his toughest yet. “Since I got this idea implanted onto my mind in 1999, I had been researching on it. And it was quite a tough job since there is no book, not even a travelogue, that focuses on this great dialogue between civilisations. It took an exploratory trip to the five countries once Prasar Bharati commissioned us to do it in 1999, followed by location hunts, combined with guidance by Prof Lokesh Chandra, an authority on the subject, and interactions with scholars from the five countries that helped us in bringing the idea to shape,” says Krishnaswamy, who studied film and television in Columbia University in New York before taking to documentary filmmaking 45 years ago.
The visually-appealing series, while being extremely educative for Indian viewers who might not know the historical linkages in such great detail, has been also successful in bringing alive the fact that quite a few of the magnificent structures spread over the South-East Asian region have fallen to the vagaries of time and the mankind. Particularly heart-rending is the visual proof of the fact that the American forces destroyed a large number of intricately-designed temples in a complex in Vietnam through carpet bombing, simply because they believed their adversaries were hiding in those historical structures.
Krishnaswamy, who is in the process of making one more production on South-East Asia, says that Prasar Bharati is planning to get the series dubbed into Hindi and various other Indian languages to take it to viewers across India. “And since the copyright lies with Prasar Bharati, we understand that they have plans to bring out DVDs of the whole series,” says the producer-director, who has won more than one National Film Award for his documentaries.
Admittedly made with a budget that is not adequate for a series of this scale, Indian Imprints, despite the director’s propensity to appear on screen while giving the commentary, could be reason enough for the viewers to plan out their next vacation in the naturally-lush region to try and relive some of those historical linkages that went beyond the physical more often than not.
(An abridged version was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 04-07-2008)