Wow, so Neil Gaiman almost did the Ramayana for Dreamworks

About a year ago, we posted about the news that Dreamworks was working on an animated, Bollywood-style movie based on the Ramayana. The news had some folks a bit worried about how the film would treat Hinduism and the Ramayana, itself. There was reason for optimism, given some of the folks involved, but a musical from the monkeys point of view … well, you probably can see where that might go wrong.

We get a pretty steady stream of people looking at the post after having found it based on some Internet search along the lines of “Dreamworks Ramayana movie.”

There’s been a little uptick lately, so I thought I’d check in and see if I could figure out why.

Seems like the movie is on a pretty far back-burner; it may not ever be released. But what really shocked me was finding this at the online home of fantasy/comics writer Neil Gaiman:

I read you were originally offered the Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron Script before John Fusco. Is that correct? When was that? Why did you turn it down? Was it called Spirit then?

Not true. The animated movie Dreamworks asked me to do was the Ramayana, for which I did about five treatments before Dreamworks said that they were going to wait and see how Spirit did before seeing if they were doing more 2D (traditional) animation. I imagine Spirit must have disappointed them, for that was the last I heard from Dreamworks.

There doesn’t seem to be a date on that information, and it sounds like what he’s talking about was before the version of the film we mentioned last year. At the time, it was supposed to have a December 2015 release date. So it still could appear, but I am not sure I’d bet on it. The fact that “Turbo” tanked this summer certainly won’t help. (There seems to be zero mention at the Dreamworks website, although it does list that stallion film, but without any real links.)

Anyone want to comment on what a Gaiman Ramayana would be like?

On a separate front, Namarupa has linked over to this piece about the rebuilding efforts in Uttarakhand following June’s massive flooding.

Posted by Steve

‘Rama loves you twice as much as you love him’

Thursday is Hanuman’s birthday, Hanuman Jayanti. (We missed highlighting Ram’s birthday a couple days back. A bit of an oversight, admittedly.)

As we’ve mentioned, Tim Miller will be celebrating the birthday of his Ishta Devata with a puja and singing of the Hanuman Chalisa, with the help of Naren Schreiner from Sangita Yoga. It all begins at 6 p.m.

But before then, you can scoot on over to Tim’s blog and read his subtle and sweet summary of Hanuman’s role in the Ramayana. A taste:

A divine contract was negotiated in the heavens –Vishnu, the Preserver, would incarnate in human form as Rama, and Shiva would incarnate as Hanuman, born for the special purpose of serving Rama with unfailing strength, wisdom, and devotion in his quest to rescue Sita and kill the demon king, Ravana.

These stories are probably what won me over.

And, as promised, more from NPR’s coffee series this week. This time: Does that fair trade label mean anything?

With that, we seem to be back on our old two- or three-post-a-day schedule. We’ll try to back off unless something really earth-shattering — even more than People’s most beautiful list — happens today.

Posted by Steve

Here’s the Ramayana you ought to be reading

At one point a little less than half-way through our Indian yatra, our leader and guide Robert Moses passed a book back to me as we bumped our way along the Indian roads.

It was one part of the Ramayana. And actually a pretty good part: Hanuman’s leap to Lanka.

I read, I flip through some other pages, as our bus continued careening along. At one point, Robert made some comment about birds of a feather (or something similar): Right across the aisle from me, one of our Swamijis was absorbed in his own book.

Of course, he was reading Sanskrit. But the book I had included the Sanskrit as well as the translation.

It was the Clay Sanskrit Library version of the Ramayana. And while having the Sanskrit more or less corresponding to the translation — it’s pretty much page by page, so you can track the Sanskrit fairly well — is great, it was the translation itself that really caught my eye.

We’re fans of Ramesh Menon’s translations, no doubt. They tend to read that contemporary fantasy novels, which is the point. The Clay Sanskrit Library books try to capture the feel and style of the original, which means a lot of repetition — Rama’s the “tiger among men,” and you read that a lot — but also a certain flow and ebb to the story-telling that is, decidedly, not modern.

There are still two volumes (and three books total) yet to be published of this version of the Ramayana. But that shouldn’t stop you from taking a look at the ones that are out — or the other 50 or so books they have translated and published.

Posted by Steve


Dreamworks has Ramayana movie in the works and some a bit wary

Buried in its lengthy slate of movies through 2016, Dreamworks Animation announced earlier this month that it will release an animated movie based on the Ramayana — but told from the point of view of “the monkeys.”

If your eyebrows just arched, you aren’t alone. American Hindu groups already are urging the company and the famed director/producer to seek expert advice as they go about adapting one of Hinduism’s sacred texts.

Yes, I think it is the usual suspects who raise red flags. (We’ve discussed this groups before.)  So I won’t overemphasize that part, although I absolutely understand the concern. For me, focusing on “the monkeys” could send a movie down a problematic path. Are we getting hijinks-fueled monkeys or ones who rise to the stature of, oh, Hanuman?

Here’s from the Dreamworks’ release:

Mumbai Musical (working title), the studio’s first-ever Bollywood-style animated musical adventure inspired by the great Indian epic tale of The Ramayana but told from the point of view of the monkeys, will be released on December 19, 2015. Kevin Lima (Enchanted, Tarzan) is directing and Lisa Stewart (Turbo, Monsters vs. Aliens) and Chris Chase (Enchanted, Tarzan) are producing. Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Prince of Egypt, Enchanted) is writing the lyrics, A.R. Rahman (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire, Bombay Dreams) is writing the music, and both are executive producers on the film. It is being written by David Sussman.

A.R. Rahman jumps out, no? As does “Bollywood-style” film.

Another site — right here — quotes the Dreamworks official site as saying the movie “revolves around two common monkeys who become unlikely heroes in a last ditch effort to stop an ancient, thought-to-be-mythical demon from conquering the world.” (For the life of me, I can’t find that at the site.)

It sounds about like an animated movie plot, though, doesn’t it?

That same secondary source also lists a different set of writers: “Gurinder Chadha & Paul Berges (Bride & Prejudice, Bend It Like Beckham) are writing the feature project.” I’m not sure why the discrepancy — although such details are always fluid in Hollywood.

I have no doubt that the Ramayana would make for a great source for a Hollywood film — the story is so rich. (I suspect the semi-apocryphal ending in which Sita ends up being more the hero than Rama doesn’t make the final cut.) And, again, I understand folks’ balking — America does have a tendency to lump Hinduism’s gods and heroes in with those from the religions/myths of the ancient Greeks and Norse. And the “two common monkeys” description does sound potentially troubling; Dreamworks wouldn’t make an animated movie about Jesus from the point of view of a donkey and a fish, would it?

On second thought, don’t answer that.

Posted by Steve 

Confluence Homework–Suggested Readings

Ramesh Menon's 'The Ramayana'You might notice, looking at the schedule (or, for that matter, the Confluence website), that there’s a good deal of philosophy woven into the subject matter. The last day of the Confluence, Eddie and Tim will be discussing Patanjali’s Sutra II.44: “’Swadyaya Ishta Devata Samprayogaha’ – Union with the chosen deity comes from the study of self through the sacred texts.”

Although I’ve been pouring over the Yoga Sutras for years now, it wasn’t until Tim’s Mt. Shasta retreat last year that I found a real fire for the classics of Indian literature.

Tim closes every evening session with a story, and last year he read the first few chapters of The Mahabharata, translated by Ramesh Menon. I ordered it as soon as I got home, and could not put the it down. It was better than the best epic fiction I’d ever read, beautifully paced, with glamour, love, death, and redemption. I was hooked. That led me to Menon’s sensitive and elegant translation of The Ramayana. And of The Siva Purana. Then The Bhagavata Purana. I can’t stop reading the guy.

Let me give you an example of his style:

The Demon rode in Brahma’s flashing chariot, yoked to unearthly steeds; though Rama’s bow steamed fire, Ravana was never in one place so they could find their mark. Quick as wishes, his chariot bore the Lord of evil over land and though the air.

That’s some breathless prose! Steaming fire: a fantastic and impossible image, perfect for Rama’s bow!

There are many virtues to Menon’s method of translating, but the best part is its ease of reading. Menon subtitled The Mahabharata, “a modern rendering.” “Rendering” a great word for it—boiling it down to its essential elements. The Ramayana he subtitles, “a modern retelling.” Menon knows how to bring the action alive, as in this excerpt, while still keeping its symbolic meaning (which he leaves to the reader to discover). He keeps the ancient and epic flavor without alienating a contemporary reader.

His renditions of the important figures of each epic are sympathetic and also awesome. Rama is brave, but sorrow-struck. Hanuman’s devotion develops over time, and his humility is touching, a model for us all: “Forgive me,” he says to Rama, “I am a monkey and my curiosity gets the better of me.” In The Mahabharata, Menon fleshes out Krishna so well, The Bhagavad Gita will come alive for you, a moving conversation between God and his disciple (it’s at the start of volume two).

The act of a translator is never easy, and Menon knows when to translate, when to leave the original alone—his meaning is clear in context (sometimes it’s a “chariot,” sometimes a “ratha,” depending on his purpose). But both the Mahabharata and Ramayana come with glossaries in the back to help the reader with the Sanskrit, as well as the huge cast of characters and deities.

Like me, you may not be able to stop with these two epics. The Confluence will begin with a puja to Ganesh. Menon has a starkly beautiful account of Ganesh’s origins in his translation of The Siva Purana that explains Ganesh’s role as the Lord of Obstacles. There’s also the two-volume Bhagavata Purana, the complete story of Vishnu (which I’m reading now). And a translation of The Devi Bhagavatam waits for me on the shelf.

If you get started now, you may be done by the time Eddie and Tim discuss “Swadyaya Ishta Devata Samprayogaha.” And, boy, will you have studied the ancient texts!

Posted by Bobbie