The somewhat tepid summer of 2008 had drawn to a close, and I, a month away from my ninth birthday, stepped into a movie hall for the very first time, in tow with parents. Not many years thereafter, the significance of the four-screen E-Square complex, where we went often, would be overshadowed by the eight-screen Cinépolis complex of the Westend Mall that would adorn Aundh, Pune, but in 2008, the Westend Mall had not yet been built, and could thus not have morphed Aundh into the bustling area that it was eventually to be. I wandered into that essentially strange world of folding chairs and a ginormous screen, unaware that the experience would leave an indelible impression on my mind.

The darkness on screen was gradually illumined by a gold lotus, and it opened to depict, seated in it, a four-headed tranquil being. “Puraanon ke anusaar, Shri Brahma Dev ne, Brahmand ki rachna ki hai”, the film commenced with Shatrughan Sinha’s booming voice. “Swarg lok devtaaon ki niwaas sthan hai, jahan Indra Dev raaj karte hain. Prithvi lok jahaan hum aur aap jaise maanav rehte hain. Aur paatal lok, jahaan asuron ka niwaas hai. Is Brahmand ka nirmaan karna jitna kathin hai, usse bhi zyada kathin hai iski suraksha. Suraksha, laalach, irshya aur dvesh jaise āsuric pravrittiyon se. To phir, nirmaan ke baad is samast jagat ko paalta kaun hai? Chalata kaun hai? Kaun hai is saansaarik rath ka saarthi? Kaun hai?”

(TRANSLATION: The Puranas chronicle that Lord Brahma is the creator of the universe. Swarga, where reigns Lord Indra, is the abode of the Devas. Earth is the abode of us humans. And in the Pātala reign the Asuras. Of greater ardour than the creation of this universe is its defence — from such āsuric traits as greed, envy, hatred. So, who upon the universe’s creation sustains it? Who runs it? Who is the charioteer of the chariot that is this creation? Who?)

I could not be said to have understood every word of this refined, Tatsama Hindi that graced Sinha’s mesmerizing narration, but for someone thitherto not having heard such cultivated speech, I discerned remarkably well that which was sought to be conveyed, and the smoothness of the animation evoked within me profound interest. That I did understand is all the more important because, spend as I did some of my earliest years in the United States, I had no conversance with Hindi.

If not Sinha’s narration, then the title song, sung so exquisitely by Shankar Mahadevan and Shreya Ghoshal, was apt to have captivated the audience. The mellifluent music only accented the arresting lyrics. At the end of the title song, the viewers are blessed with the following depiction of Lord Vishnu:

The movie commenced with a front-page news clipping depicting a brother-sister duo, Ajay and Aarti, children of a wealthy businessman, having been kidnapped for ransom. They have managed to escape, but the kidnapper’s henchmen are in hot pursuit, running across the forest on a stormy night; until the kids come up to an ostensibly abandoned temple. Seeing no choice, they lock themselves in, and the henchmen helplessly bang at it; one calling their boss while, hilariously to us, ramming the other’s seemingly solid, bald head into the wooden door of the temple in an attempt to get it open.

“Ajay bhaiya dekho!”, Aarti points towards the idol, “Bhagwan Krishna!” (Look, Agraja, it’s Lord Krishna!)

The black-suit donned novelettish boss has arrived in the meantime.

“Bhagwan! Please hamari madad karo! Mummy ne kaha tha, tum madad karte ho. Bhagwan please! Please!” (Lord! Please save us! Mother had taught us that you are always around to help. Please! Please!)

“Vo kya madad karenge! Vo to khud hildul nahi sakte! Tum yahaan aa kar meri madad karo!” (Help? From him? He cannot move a muscle! In the meantime, I need your help here!) A visibly strained Ajay, trying his best to throw his weight against the doors to stop the innovative kidnappers, reprimands the praying Aarti.

“Ab kya hua?” (Now what?) The boss inquires.

“Andar hain! Badmaashon ne andar se band kar diya hai!” (They are in there. The rapscallions have locked the doors from within!) the one who was calling the boss replies.

“Tod do darwaza!” (Then bring down the door!) the boss says matter-of-factly.

“Solid lakdi ka hai”, the one calling the boss earlier informs, and proceeds, slapping the other’s bald head, “Iski khopdi ki tarah!” (The wood is quite hard, much like this guy’s head!)

“To jala do na!”(Then set it afire!) the boss urges.

“Iski khopdi ko?!” (Afire? His head?) the haired man asks incredulously, staring at the bald henchman’s head.

“Abe darwaaze ko!” (The door, dummy!) the boss clarifies.

“Theek hai, jala dete hain”(Okay, then!) the haired man assents.

The bald man cackles, “Popcorn ban jaayenge! Heh! heh! heh!” (Can’t wait to see them turn to popcorn!)

The boss sets the temple door afire.

“Ab to hum jal jaayenge!” Ajay exclaims, and turns vexatiously towards Aarti, “Dekh liya apne bhagwan ko? Kuch kiya unhonein?” (We are bound to be burnt alive! Quite the helper, your god, isn’t he?)

“Bhagwan, please hamari madad karo! Please! Please! Bhagwan, please hamari madad karo! Please! Please!”, Aarti prays yet again.

The camera takes the viewers straight into Krishna’s soul, and, behold! There, invisible to the children, is a benign-looking, smiling god seated on a serpent’s coil raising his hand in a blessing. Understandably, the god is not literally inside the idol, but merely perceiving Aarti’s prayers through the idol. In virtue of the blessing, the stormy night gives way to unrestrained rainfall, and the fire fizzles out, as the helpless kidnappers watch.

“Bach gaye! Aag bujh jaayegi paani se!” Ajay claims elatedly. (Saved! The fire shall peter out soon!)

“Dekha? Bhagwan ne madad ki!” Aarti asserts confidently. (See? God did extend his help!)

“Paani to barasna hi tha! Kal shaam se baadal garaj rahe thay”, Ajay played the devil’s advocate. (The rain was inevitable. The clouds were thundering since yesterday.)

The god is not done yet. His hand is yet raised in a blessing, an illuminating light emanant from it. Suddenly, the boss begins levitating helplessly in the air, and henchmen fly towards each other, banging their heads in the process. The preternatural phenomenon culminates with the boss falling to the ground.

“Bhoot! Bhago! Bhago!” the kidnappers run off.

“Suna! Gundon ke saath saath ab bhoot bhi? Baap re!” a worried Ajay exclaims. (You hear this? Goons at first! Now ghosts, too, have entered the fray!)

But they proceed nonetheless to open the doors, and witness a shadowy figure moving towards them, who becomes visible clearly only as he approaches the temple interior.

“Arre daro mat bachcho! Ab tum surakshit ho! Vo gunday bhaag gaye!” the equanimous-looking man attired in religious apparel reassured. (Fear not, children! You are safe. The goons have hightailed out of here!)

“Aap kaun hain?” Ajay poses the obvious question. (Who are you?)

“Arre main to pujari hu. Bhagwan ka sevak.” says the priest. (Oh! I am the priest; a servant of God)

“Aap hi ne humein bachaya na?” poses Ajay. (You saved us, didn’t you?)

“Narayana! Narayana!” and the elders seated in the hall forthwith know who the priest is. “Bachane waale to vo hain, jinki tumne prarthana ki thi! Bhagwan Vishnu.” (The saviour is He, whom you worshipped. Lord Vishnu!)

Aarti is perplexed, “Lekin, maine to Bhagwan Krishna ki prarthana ki thi.” (But it was Lord Krishna to whom I prayed)

“Vo bhi to Bhagwan Vishnu ke avatar hain.” informs the priest. (He, ultimately, is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.)

Ajay, the perennial skeptic, makes it clear, approaching the priest, “Main nahi maanta. Aap hi ne unhein bhagaya hoga!” (I believe none of this! I am pretty sure you chased them away!)

“Matlab Bhagwan sachmuch yaha aaye thay? Humein bachane?” Aarti asks the priest. (Do you mean the Lord Himself was here? To protect us?)

“Haan! Sachche mann se prarthana karne waalon ki Bhagwan hamesha madad karte hain. Yahi satya hai. Narayana! Narayana!” the priest proclaims. (Indeed! The Lord always helps those who render their prayers unto Him with sincerity. That is the truth.)

“Sab yahi kehte hain” asserts an adamant Ajay, “Magar, main aapke satya ko nahi maanta.” (These beliefs are propounded by all and sundry. But I do not for a moment believe that which you call ‘truth’.)

“Hmm!” the priest ponders, and instantly arrives at his decision, “Lagta hai Sanatana satya se inka parichay karana hi hoga” says the ever-grinning priest, a grin not intimidating but one of the equanimous and gentle, a being at perfect peace. (Hmm! Perhaps it is time I acquaint you with the Eternal Truth.)

“Sanatana Satya?” Aarti echoes questioningly, “Ye kya hota hai?” (Eternal Truth? What is that?)

“Arre batata hu”, the priest reassures, “Pehle mere saath ye mantra to bolo! Ihasamsare khaludustaare…” (Indeed I shall tell you, but first, repeat this mantra after me.)

“Ihasamsaare…”, echo the brother-sister duo.

“Khaludustaare”, guides the priest gently.

“Khaludustaare”, the children repeat.

“Kripaya paare paahi muraare!” the priest continues.

“Kripaya paare paahi muraare!” the children echo, and are forthwith lifted off to the skies, and it is here that the movie commences its true journey.

Ajay and Aarti are now in ancient attires. “Bhaiya! Apne aap ko dekho to! Bilkul pandit ji lag rahe ho!” giggles Aarti. (Behold yourself Agraja! You look just like a pandit!)

“Lekin hum, hain kahaan?” poses Ajay. (But where are we?)

“Itna bhi nahi jaante? Hum aasmaan mein hain!” Aarti explains. (Do you not know? We are high up in the skies!)

“Ye kaise mantra hain?” Ajay questioningly observes, after hearing an enigmatic mantra reverberating across the skies and outer space. (What sort of mantras do I hear?)

At a great, great distance from them is the Creator himself, Lord Brahma, in apparent sleep and yet chanting the mantras of the Vedas: “Agnimile purohitam, yajnasya devam rtvijam, hotaram ratnadhatamam, eeshetva oorjetva, agna aayaahi veetaye…” (I render praise unto Agni the Fire God, who is the Priest leading this Sacrifice to the gods, who, invoking the gods, bestows material and spiritual wealth; For food, thee, for strength, thee, O Agni, please be present, and protect us from sorrows!)

A woman manifests at some distance from Brahma, ostensibly investigating the source of the reverberant mantras. Gasping, she notes the obvious, “Brahma dev nidrawastha mein hain! Aur Ved vaani unke mukh se nikli jaa rahi hai!” (Lord Brahma is in deep slumber! And yet the verses of the Vedas escape him!)

A curiously horse-headed creature, who by his expression makes no bones about his villainous essence, also manifests himself at a distance from the meditating Brahma. By then, the woman, evidently an apsara, has disappeared. Gazing determinedly at Brahma, he declares, “yadi main inko aatmasaat kar lu, to main bhi inki tarah, amar ho jaaunga!” (Should I absorb the sheer power of these mantras, I shall be immortal, as is he!)

So uttering, he raises his hands up in the air in exultation, and fiery meteors begin raining in the skies.

“Bhaago! Bhaag!” bellows Ajay, as he and Aarti run across the clouds, until they bump into a sagely looking being who deemed it apt to appear right before them.

“Narayana! Narayana!” Of course! Who else could it be? But he has across his upper body a veena and khartal, and his hair is no longer flowing but tied. The children do not recognize him as the same priest who conspired to catapult them into the skies, notwithstanding the identicality of voice, albeit a slightly taller appearance.

“Aap kaun hain?” Ajay must pose. (Who are you?)

“Main?” the sage is about to say. (I’m…)

“Aapka chehra, pehchana sa lag raha hai.” I recall feeling, “Yes! Yes! Recognize him already!” (I seem to have seen you somewhere)

“Main Devarshi Narad!” the sage introduces himself. The god-sage is widely regarded in the Hindu tradition as analogous to a newsman, carrying news across realms, blessed with profound wisdom, and having been liberated from the cycle of Saṃsāra on Earth in the eternal service of Lord Vishnu. (I am the sage-god, Narada.)

“Baap re! Vahi, jo logon ke beech mein jhagda karwaate hain?” Aarti posed. Evidently, she is a child fascinated with scriptural wisdom and the idiosyncrasies of those who grace our scriptures. (Good gracious! You are he who instigates fights between and amongst peoples!)

More meteors incoming!

“Ye kya ho raha hai? Devtaaon mein bhi jhagda laga diya kya?” Ajay questioningly insinuates. (What is happening here? Caused infighting among the gods now, have you?)

“Narayana! Narayana!”, Narada hastily clarifies, “Iss baar maine kuch nahi kiya. Ye to pralay shuru ho gayi hai.” (On this occasion, I am not to blame. What you see is pralaya in motion.)

“Pralay kya hoti hai?” We thought Aarti knew better! (Pralaya? What is that?)

“Maane is jagat ka ant”, only Narada could have uttered it with a tranquil countenance. (The end of this world!)

“Ant?! Ajay gaps. (The end?!)

“He bhagwan! Ek baar phirse hamari madad kijiye, please!” Aarti, you entreat god to save you again, implying that you remember he had saved you earlier in that temple, but you do not recognize the temple priest himself who told you as much? (Dear Lord! Please save us, again!)

“Aap is pralay ko rok nahi sakte?” Ajay ostensibly putting on a brave front. (Could you not stop this pralaya?)

“Narayana! Narayana! Daro mat bachcho! Tum surakshit ho!” Narada reassures. (Fear not, children! You are safe!)

There is no time gap between the apsara appearing near Narada and commencing speaking. Straight to business, “Ye kaisa anarth ho raha hai munivar? Brahma dev nidrawastha mein hain! Aur Ved vaani unke mukh se nikli jaa rahi hai! Aur vo rakshas Hayagriv, Vedon ko aatmasaat kar raha hai! Yadi aisa ho gaya, to Hayagriv amar ho jaayega! Aur manavta Vedon se vanchit reh jaayegi!” weeps the apsara, while Narada could not be less concerned of his sleeping father’s inadvertent help to Hayagriva by way of the Vedic chants.

Woe betide this spell of ill-fate, O Exalted Muni! Lord Brahma is in slumber, and yet the verses of the Vedas escape him! And the demon Hayagriv is intent on absorbing those verses! Should he succeed, he shall be immortal, and Mankind shall be deprived of the Vedas!

A transcendent, reverberant voice refutes, “Ye asambhav hai! Vidhi ke vidhaan ko kaun badal sakta hai. Manu ko chhod kar sabhi ka ant nishchit hai. Amar manavta ko agle yug mein le jaane ka daayitva jo hai.” It is none other than Lord Vishnu, seated atop his powerful, giant Garuda, but not approaching our characters atop the cloud.

Impossible is so ill an event. Who could possibly challenge the word of destiny? With the exception of Manu, all have been fated to extinction. It is My responsibility, after all, to ensure the march of Mankind into the next era!

And thus commences the sterling story of the ten incarnations, the Dash avatāras of Lord Vishnu, illustrating his momentous role as the Preserver, seen through the eyes of two impressionable children rescued by Narada.

The movie would leave an indelible impression on my mind, and I shall ever be subsumed in the sea of nostalgia, ever lamenting the loss of that golden age of Indian animation; not so much an age as much a paltry period of a few years amidst the astronomical duration of all material existence. No longer, unfortunately, do such wondrous films, premised on spiritual wisdom, adorn our movie halls. We appear not to have an age, let alone a golden one.

Such is the film as to delight children and adults alike in its graceful animations, mellifluous music, exceedingly resonating songs and vivacious lightness. We have much to appreciate of its variegation in regard to its songs.

It is impossible to not dedicate a song to Mohini, the notoriously famed enchantress, so to say, whose nonpareil beauty was the principal reason behind the Amrit, the nectar of immortality, gracing the taste buds of the Devas and not the Asuras. Of course, Mohini is but a magical form of Vishnu, and it makes for curious study as to why Vishnu must always side with the Devas and never the Asuras! (Not true, strictly speaking). The song is a light-hearted take on the manner in which the Asuras and the Devas were equally bewitched, but the Asuras were perhaps at a greater loss of senses; try as they might, she remained elusive to them all.

Bhakta Prahalad’s story is enshrined in a most devotional song“Sada sumiran kar le pyaare”. Sanjeev Abhyankar richly succeeds in evoking a devotional sentiment within. Throughout the song, we feel an exquisite sense of devotion as well as concern for Prahalad, repeatedly subject to his father’s attempts to kill him. How dare the son of the present ‘omnipotent’ demon king worship the latter’s arch-nemesis! How dare the nephew of a formerly ‘omnipotent’ demon king worship the latter’s killer! With Prahalad having been thrown off a cliff, nonetheless serene in his worship of Lord Vishnu, it is impossible to not feel that infinite sense of delight as the Lord Himself defends him from a calamitous fall, catching him in His arms, as the song enters its final stage with the goosebumps-inducing crescendo of rapid chants of “Vishnave namah!”, adding to it a final act of Vishnu defending Prahalad from Holika’s fire as the all too familiar tale evinces.

A song that is apt to have let children ride their steeds of imagination across the verdure of dreams is the song “Phirse chamke tim tim taare”. The song is, so far as the core theme is concerned, not relevant to the movie. Perhaps overlooked, however, is the aptness of it; it commences soon after Vishnu in the form of Vamana sends King Bali, noble notwithstanding his birth as an Asura, to rule Paatal Lok, the netherworld. The Earth has now been freed of the Asuras, and the humans can prevail sans fear. Translated literally, the title of the song reads “Yet again shine the twinkling stars.” Indeed they must, for a momentous change has transpired on Earth. The merry song takes us on a lighthearted voyage to the stars, with Ajay and Aarti playing with the stars, traversing to an efflorescent paradise illuminated by a rainbow, Narada and the unnamed apsara included. It is a celebratory song, but aimed principally at children; an apt respite from the mature gravitas of the plot.

It would have been unjustified to not include a song celebrating the feats of one of the avatāras. “Bolo bolo Ramachandra ki jay!” fulfills that void. From Hanumāna flying to Lanka so as to convey Lord Rāma’s message to Maa Sitā, to his arrest in Lanka, to his escape, to the creation of the eminent Rāma Setu, to the war in Lanka and final defeat of Rāvana, the imaginative song traverses all.

The small but adequate panoply of songs is lent a final exquisite touch by way of yet another mellifluent song, celebrating Lord Krishna’s Raas Leela, “Raat suhaani mast chandani!” The song, while expressing the scenic beauty of Vrindavan in the most lyrical words, also lends melodious expression to the all too familiar yearning of other gopis for Krishna’s attention, for was it not reserved for the transcendent resonance of Rādhā with Krishna’s being?

The film takes us on a solemn voyage of Gautama Buddha, born in the age of Kali (or Kaliyuga) which heralds a slow but steady rise of adharmic forces, rigid ritualism so as to benefit a few, the hitherto ubiquitous spirituality now but a luxury, and faith in the Supreme on a steady descent.

As Buddha ascends to heaven, we witness the movie transition into the twenty-first century. An airplane explodes in the sky, mafia gangs wreak havoc in a megacity, airplanes crash into the World Trade Centre, terrorists gun down innocent tourists, and a fighter jet bombs buildings.

“Munivar! Lagta hai Bhagwan ke updeshon ka maanav jati par koi prabhav nahi hua. Kaliyug mein, satya asatya se parajit ho raha hai. Nyāya par anyay ki vijay ho rahi hai. Mujhe to ab manavta ke uddhaar ki asha dikhai hi nahi deti”, declares the apsara, addressing Narada.

O Honourable Sage! Not the wise words of the Lord Himself appear to have influenced Man in the slightest. In Kaliyuga, untruth triumphs over the truth, and the unjust prevail over the just. I see no hope of Man’s emancipation.

“Kaise dikhai degi, jab har taraf itni saari buraaiyan aur usse bhi bure log hain”, observes Aarti.

No way could such hope be seen, prevail as does evil and more evil still are many people.

Looking at the internecine destruction, Ajay poses solemnly, “Kya ye aaj, hamara aane wala kal hoga?” (Is this present, fated to be our future?)

And behold! Addressing the Quad is Lord Vishnu Himself, appearing in front of them, “Tumhara aane wala kal, tumhare hi haath mein hai. Sadachar ke rah par chalne waalon ka hit, aur durachaariyon ka ant, mere haathon nishchit hai. Jab paap ka ghada bhar jaayega tab main, Kalki avatar ke roop mein, dharti par aaunga.”

The future rests in your hands alone. That by me shall prevail the welfare of the righteous and the elimination of the unrighteous is certain. As the vessel of sins fills to the brim, I shall descend on Earth in the form of Kalki.

We are shown an impressive sequence of an equestrian Kalki armed with a high-tech sword, with Vishnu assuring thus, “Agni ashva par aarohit ho, satya aur nyay ki khaal se, asatya aur anyay ko kaat kar phek dunga. Dharti phir paap-mukt ho jaayegi.”

Equestrian on a horse of fire, from the fabric of truth and justice, shall I severe untruth and injustice. Earth shall be freed of sin yet again.

“Manavta, ek aise yug mein pravesh karegi jahaan satya, nyaya, aur charitra ki baagdor se sansaar roopi rath chalega.” Vishnu prophesies.

Mankind shall enter an era in which the beacon of truth, justice and righteous character shall guide the chariot of creation.

“Sevak ka pranaam sveekaar kijiye prabhu”(Accept the prayers of your servants, Lord!) says Narada. As all four fold their hands and close their eyes in respect to the Lord, Ajay and Aarti arise to dawn in the temple precincts!

“Jaag gaye? Lagta hai tumhari aankhein ab poori tarah se khul chuki hain! Narayana! Narayana!”, quips Narada, back in his disguise as the temple priest. (Good sleep? I daresay your eyes have truly ‘opened’.)

The disguise does not fool them. Aarti finally recognizes him as Narada Muni but the latter spiritedly denies, and while they recount their Experience insisting it was real, he asserts that both had a wondrous dream. And the mantra, that helped them go from place to place during the Experience, has conveniently escaped their memories!

Meanwhile, the police and their parents find them. The children insist that god himself saved them, and that the story could be corroborated by the “priest”, who has conveniently disappeared!

As Ajay and Aarti sit in the car, Aarti poses, “Bhaiya! Kya ye sapna tha?” (Was it all but a dream, Agraja?)

Ajay answers, “Pata nahi! Jo bhi ho, sach to dekh liya!” (I have no idea. At any rate, though, what we saw was the truth.)

The momentousness of this dialogue cannot be understated. Two children of the modern day having thus been enlightened, proceed in absolute contentment to their home, and life ahead. To the retrospective mind, this may well appear an analogy for shishyas at gurukuls departing the abode of their gurus, off to face the challenging world.

Narada nonetheless watches them go, satisfied, and returning to his true form, departs from Earth, as the camera zooms yet again into the Krishna idol of the abandoned temple illumined by a swift sunrise, showing us an eight-armed Vishnu, assuring us all thus:

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥

परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥

Whenever there is a decay of virtue, O Bharata
And there is exaltation of unrighteousness, I Manifest

For the protection of the righteous and the destruction of the unrighteous
And for the sake of establishing Dharma, I am born from age to age.

The film is an elegant expression of a hope; the hope of the ultimate triumph of Dharma over adharma, a hope much needed, but one not too much to harbour, for every era has a hero.

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.