“Krishna is the most revered Indian character both in India and abroad.”
Wholesome family entertainment—what to speak of films focusing on a spiritual subject matter—is hard to come by in cinemas these days, even in India.
On August 3rd, however, the weekend before Lord Krishna’s appearance day Janmastami, Indian families flocked to see “Krishna Aur Kans,” a 3D animated feature film based on ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s book Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Krishna Aur Kans, which depicts the first ten years of the life of Krishna—revered as God Himself by Vaishnavas around the world—is a trend-setter in several ways. It’s India’s first animated film to be shown in stereoscopic 3D. It also received the widest release ever for an Indian animated film, getting shown in 350 screens across the country.
For Ashish S.K., executive producer of the film and CEO of Reliance Animation, the company behind it, making a movie about Lord Krishna wasn’t a difficult decision.
“Krishna is the most revered Indian character both in India and abroad,” he says. “And the stories about him are so fascinating that both kids and adults love to watch them. But above all, Krishna’s stories portray our culture and heritage and offer valuable life lessons to people of all ages.”
Lord Krishna isn’t a new subject for Ashish S.K. and Reliance Animation. The company also produced Nickelodeon India’s thirteen-part animated TV series Little Krishna, which continues to run on repeats and has also been distributed in twenty-one foreign countries including Russia, the Ukraine, Armenia, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Each of Little Krishna’s twenty-two-minute episodes focused on Krishna killing a different demon sent by the evil King Kans—better known to ISKCON readers as Kamsa. But there was little space to tell the important story leading up to Krishna’s birth, or to depict his showdown with Kamsa.
“The two-hour feature Krishna Aur Kans seemed a natural extension in order to be able to tell the story in a linear and more conclusive form,” says Ashish.
Krishna Aur Kans begins with Kamsa’s ruthless rule, and shows him throwing the Prince Vasudeva and his wife Devaki in jail after hearing a prediction declaring that their son Krishna will kill him.
But Krishna is born and safely transferred to the village of Gokula and then to Vrindavana, where he grows up as a naughty little prankster, stealing milk and butter, enchanting the residents of the village with his flute, and lifting Govardhana Hill. Kamsa, still afraid that Krishna will kill him, sends demon after demon, in a variety of terrifying animal forms, to try to kill Krishna. But each one fails.
The film’s last act sees Kamsa, in frustration, inviting Krishna to fight professional wrestlers in an arena, where Krishna finally kills the evil king and frees his parents.
While several commentaries by past saints and scholars were consulted for the film, its main source was ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s book Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, based on the ancient text Srimad-Bhagavatam.
“It was inspiring, and the easiest to understand,” comments Ashish S.K. As well as consulting Prabhupada’s book, he explains, the film crew’s four years of research also took them to Vrindavana, the village in Uttar Pradesh where Krishna is said to have appeared. The script was then written by Kamlesh Pandey, who hails from the holy city of Allahabad, close to Vrindavana.
Next, producer Ashish along with director Vikram Veturi spared no effort in creating the vibrant animated visuals for the film.
“Over 1,200 artists worked for about five and a half years, creating each and every frame with great aesthetic and artistic precision,” Ashish says. “For a country where every generation grew up with stories of Krishna, we wanted to make sure we were showcasing those treasured narratives in the most authentic manner.”
Designing the film’s characters was one of the toughest tasks, with Krishna in particular taking one-and-a-half years and fifty different designs to perfect.
“We had to work very hard to do justice to descriptions like ‘the bodily hue of Krishna was like a rain bearing cloud,’” explains Asish. “The Bhagavatam says that Krishna’s beauty was so captivating that not only his friends and family, but even the animals and plants were stunned. Now, after all our work, when audiences and reviews comment on how beautiful and cute Krishna looks in the film, it feels really good.”
While celebrity-voiced animated films are now the norm in Hollywood, Krishna Aur Kans is somewhat of a leader in India, with its stellar voice cast including some of India’s finest actors.
Krishna is played by Prachi Save, an Indian actress and voice-over artist who has done the Hindi dubbing for many famous Disney characters such as Minnie Mouse and Alice in Wonderland. Kamsa is voiced by Om Puri, who is a veteran of Indian cinema and also appeared in Charlie Wilson’s War with Tom Hanks and the British hit East is East. And Krishna’s beloved foster mother Yashoda is played by Filmfare Best Actress winner Juhi Chawla, who starred in the films Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke and Ishq with Aamir Khan.
Meanwhile Mukesh Khanna, best known for playing the role of Bhisma in BR Chopra’s TV serial Mahabharat, voices the great devotee Akrura. And Anupam Kher, who has appeared in over 400 Bollywood films as well as Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and the upcoming Silver Linings Playbook with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, voices Krishna’s family priest Garga Muni.
As with all Indian films, the soundtrack was also a central part of Krishna Aur Kans. With a background score as well as seven songs by music director Shantanu Moitra and lyricist Swanand Kirkire, it attempts to transport audiences back to Krishna’s time.
“The album has a wide variety of melody and emotions,” says Moitra. “There is bhajan, children’s songs, holi, rasa, emotional melodies, celebration… but it never looses the focus on Krishna.” One of the essential musical scenes in the film, for example, shows the village of Vrindavana enthralled by Krishna’s flute, as played by Rakesh Chaurasia.
Already released in Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand, Krishna Aur Kans will be released in the US and UK under the name “Hey Krishna” in the coming months. No exact date has been set yet.
The film’s success in India—where it has been well received by critics and audiences—is due in part to the support of ISKCON temples, who have helped promote it amongst their devotees and members. Ashish hopes for the same support in the US and UK.
“The purpose of the film is to spread Krishna consciousness, which we believe is also an objective set by Srila Prabhupada,” he says. “I hope that all the ISKCON temples and devotees worldwide will promote the movie to the best of their ability, as it is impossible for us to reach out to everyone. After all, who could be more appropriate to promote a film about Krishna than ISKCON devotees!”
Next, Reliance Animation staff plan to continue spreading Krishna consciousness, both to the public and within themselves, by following Krishna Aur Kans with “Dwarka” and “Mahabharat” films.
“Working on Hey Krishna has been extremely enriching for our team, and has left a lasting impact on most of us,” says Asish. “Many artists have become completely vegetarian, and some have even gone a step further and stopped using leather and eating onions and garlic. We learned a lot spiritually from this experience. And as far as I’m concerned, there is still a lot more to learn.”