Grant Period: Over nine months
Sashikanth is a cinematographer who has shot several films on the agrarian theatre form of Therukoothu over the past ten years. This grant supports Sashikanth in the making of a two-part film on the Draupadi Amman Mahabharata Koothu festival celebrated in around 200 villages in Tamil Nadu every year. The film will look at this festival through two groups of custodians of the festival: one, oral historians, theatre people and storytellers and two, the villagers themselves who sponsor and participate in the festival.
The film will also trace how this festival has sustained the notion of civil society for over 800 years in the villages where it takes place and how the identities become fluid during the festival, when the entire village is transformed into a performance space, and every villager into an actor. The first part of this documentary film will be called The Ballad of Draupadi, where the mythology of the cult and the history of the region will be explored as Draupadi sings the Mahabharata. As a dramatic device, Sashikanth will stage the Koothu play Draupadi Kuravanchi (Draupadi the Flower Seller) at the Senji fort.
For the second part of the diptych, called Kelai Draupadi, he will go back to the village for an elaborate documentation of the festival, where the villagers recite, perform and live the myth of the Mahabharata for the duration of the festival. The notion of identity and disguise is a major theme of the festival and in all the rituals performed in the village.
Sashikanth will document the festival at two distinct levels: at the macro level, he will document the myth of the cult of Draupadi; at the micro level, he will focus on the festival as an enabler for the villagers to come together, reinforcing their fluid yet collective identity. Sashikanth has already shot several hours of material on the festival from the perspective of its participants. Alongside the ritualistic practices that take place during the festival, he will also shoot Therukoothu performances at night and interview the participants. The rushes of his film will be given to NFSC, as this vital documentation might be useful to future scholars working on the subject.