“Birthday:” A Dagestani Folk Tale and Soviet Cartoon (1959)

Published: July 3, 2024

“Birthday” is a Soviet animated short film from 1959, based on a Dagestani folktale. The story follows a boy named Murat, who lives with his grandfather in a high mountain village. One day, Murat watches his grandfather record the birth of a lamb in the family book and is surprised to find that his own name is not in the book. His grandfather explains that, according to ancient customs, a person’s true birthday is not the day they are born weak like a lamb, but the day they show themselves to be strong members of their community. From the examples the grandfather names, it becomes clear that this means being fully involved in the economy or unique traditions of one’s village: harvesting a crop, becoming a master equestrian, or walking a tightrope.

To further illustrate the concept of “earning one’s birth,” the grandfather tells Murat a legend about two brothers in a mountain village. The elder brother tended sheep, while the younger one had no responsibilities yet. In those days, an evil monster called Ajdaha lived among the rocks, terrorizing everything in sight. One day, Ajdaha attacked the elder brother while he was herding sheep, but the shepherd managed to hide with his flock in a cave. Furious, Ajdaha blocked the cave entrance with a giant rock, which also stopped the flow of a mountain stream, causing the cave to slowly flood.

The younger brother sets out to find his missing brother. Along the way, he saves a trapped baby mountain goat. Pleased with his kind deed, the mother mountain goat tells him how to defeat Ajdaha, stealing his ring adorned with precious stones that contained Ajdaha’s strength and heart. Using this ring, the younger brother breaks the rock and frees his elder brother and the family’s flock from captivity. Thus, the young boy became a true man.

The story cleverly and faithfully adapts a Dagestani folktale complete with its memorable and somewhat unusual moral and philosophical outlook, emphasizing the individual’s role in protecting others and being an active and brave member of one’s community. It does so with a moving musical score, excellent voice acting, and hand-drawn animation that are characteristic for Soyzmultfilm. These production values have kept Soyzmultfilm well-loved within many post-Soviet cultures.

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About the author

Josh Wilson

Josh has lived in Moscow since 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian with SRAS. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Home and Abroad Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik. He has previously served as Communications Director to Bellerage Alinga and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

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