In the profound words of the American poet James Tate, “Poetry is everywhere; it just needs editing.”
Backed with a degree in video direction from the Film and Television Institute of India, Shivam Sharma is making “visual poems” and sharing them on his YouTube channel called The Mansarovar Project. It began as an experiment for Sharma, who works as a business analyst at a company in Pune. “I enjoy reading and writing poetry and wanted to do something around it,” he said. “I have been told I have a good voice.” In August 2016, Sharma decided to convert his efforts into a visual narrative.
Sharma initially wanted to do podcasts of poem recitations. “I began researching and came across a lot of people who are actually doing something with the form – like Neelesh Misra does a radio show called Yaad Sheher, which is very famous for its mix of stories and poems,” Sharma said. The filmmaker dropped the idea of podcasts and instead started making short videos.
“The first small video I made was of me reciting a poem I wrote, Tu Kavita Ho Jaana,” Sharma said. “It was inspired by Uday Prakash’s poem Kuch Ban Jaate Hain.” Sharma posted the video on his Instagram profile, and his friends encouraged him to upload it on YouTube. “People asked me to make more of these, so that’s how it started”, he said.
Sharma created the YouTube channel The Mansarovar Project, which aims to bring forth Hindi and Urdu poetry and prose. The channel currently has five videos of Sharma reciting the poetry of Paash, Agyeya and Jan Nisar Akhtar. The videos display a fluid mix of visuals and audio, giving the poems a sensory retelling.
Another popular YouTube channel, Hindi Kavita, gets people to recite and discuss poems that have inspired them. Sharma has tried to reinvent the format by using a voiceover. In the black and white video Aakhiri Mulaqat, based on the poem by Jan Nisar Akhtar, ordinary scenes of daily life are mixed with music to create a mood piece. “What I try to do is tell a story by integrating visuals and poetry,” Sharma said. “So essentially I am making a short movie of the poem that I have recited along with the moving images.”
Sharma has collaborated with Anant Nath Sharma to shoot the videos. Anant Nath Sharma plays the guitar in the short films, where the emphasis is on simple settings with evocative riffs.
This is evident in Ghar. It is shot inside a house with minimal décor to create a sense of isolation. “It is something I connect with, about being away from home and being able to say all those things about homelessness,” Sharma said. “When I read the poem, I realised Agyeya had said all those things that I wanted to say, so we went ahead and made a video.”
Some of the poems have been pruned to ensure quick viewing. “We cut out one stanza in Aakhiri Mulaqat because the video was too long,” Sharma said. He compared the poem’s lucid style and imagery to the song Pichle Saat Dinon Mein (2008), written by Jan Nisar Akhtar’s son, lyricist Javed Akhtar.
Sharma wants to turn The Mansarovar Project into a bigger platform. He has plans to include new poets who wish to explore the audio-visual format to promote their poems. “We also want to turn The Mansarovar Project into a performance piece by making songs where poetry forms the lyrics and is backed by a music band,” he said.