Ayswarya Sankaranarayanan

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year & six months

This grant will support a filmmaker’s quest to make an animation feature and illustrated book for young readers on the 47 miniature paintings made in the Pahari tradition. The paintings tell the story of Nala-Damayanti and are displayed at the Amar Mahal Palace, Jammu. The art is considered to have come directly from the family atelier of Nainsukh – a legendary Pahari master miniaturist,. They are based on a 12th century epic poem called the Naishadiyacharita, also known as one of the five greatest epic Sanskrit poems. Each painting has a protective flap containing a paragraph of written text.  The Nala-Damayanti paintings will be studied along with the corresponding verses of poetry, so as to understand the aesthetic principles and ideas that flowed from text to the images. The text contains a condensed and simplified meaning of verses from the epic, intended either to instruct the painter or the viewer about that particular scenario of the painting. Ayswarya says “that it is more rewarding to read the paintings as we would the epic-poem itself because both the poem and the paintings consider it only secondary to narrate the well-known story of the lovers; their primary aim is to dwell on each situation in the story and build upon it with imaginative embellishments to increase their delicacy. So both the poetry and the paintings can stand alone and are intricate, elaborate and independent of each other, despite their integrity as a narrative whole.”

Using the Nala-Damayanti paintings as a basis of study for the translation of text to image, Ayswarya will construct a screenplay and a story-board for the animation film. Along with the story board, the essential elements of the narrative will be condensed into an illustrated book for young readers. Based on the story board, an animation film will be made transforming the forty seven paintings into moving images. The process of making the animation film will be as follows — the paintings will be first photographed using a high-resolution DSLR camera, both as still and moving images. Then the photographic images will be digitally processed so as to match their original appearance and also to separate the background from the characters. The aim is to retain the colours, textures, delicacy of lines and the overall appearance of the original paintings.

The photographs of the characters will be printed on cartridge paper and made into puppets with movable joints. The characters will be animated by placing them over glass panels mounted on a light-table to which a camera was clamped. The animated figures will be digitally merged and composited with the backgrounds. A comprehensive sound design based on the instruments that appear in the paintings will be incorporated.