Animation is a stepchild of the Hindi film industry. How can we turn it into a money spinner?
This week, we’re returning to a conundrum that’s been plaguing the Hindi film industry for a long time – why aren’t animation films popular in India? Yet it is ironic that Hollywood animation franchises score at the box office in India, The Jungle Book being a recent case in point. So what can we do explore this underrated genre to its full potential?
A few years ago, we saw a handful of Indian animation films releasing with many corporate houses backing them. However, in the last year or so, the number has nosedived to a mere one or two films a year. And this year, despite the massive success of The Jungle Book in India, no Hindi animation film has been announced, apart from Motu Patlu and the sequel to Harry Baweja’s Chaar Sahibzaade. Earlier, only a few homegrown films like the Chhota Bheem series have done well.
Apart from theatrical revenue, animation also has huge merchandising opportunities along with impressive TRPs with their satellite release. So, what’s holding Indian animation back?
Many top Bollywood actors and actresses have supported animation films by lending their voice to these movies. Shah Rukh Khan dubbed for the Hindi version of The Incredibles; Nana Patekar, Om Puri, Irrfan, Priyanka Chopra and Shefali Shah dubbed for The Jungle Book while Chopra also dubbed for Planes. And Imran Khan and Sonakshi Sinha dubbed for Rio 2.
A few Bollywood actors have also promoted Hindi animation films. For instance, YRF’s animation film Roadside Romeo had Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan’s voices; Jumbo featured the voices of Akshay Kumar, Lara Dutta, Dimple Kapadia and Gulshan Grover; Mahabharat featured a voice cast that included Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Vidya Balan, Sunny Deol, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Manoj Bajpayee and Deepti Naval. Delhi Safary featured Akshaye Khanna, Govinda, Suniel Shetty, Boman Irani and Urmila Matondkar; while Ramayana: The Epic had voiceovers by Manoj Bajpayee, Juhi Chawla and Ashutosh Rana. Still, the genre failed to gain momentum.
India is one of the most flourishing film markets in the world, churning out more than a 1000 films a year, and this includes a mix of genres and languages. Yet animation barely figures on the radar of filmmakers and even the audience, especially when it comes to homegrown content. But the number of films that has stirred the imagination of the audience is so few that they have not made so much as a dent at ticket counters in India.
On the other hand, Hollywood has had much better luck in India, with animation releases such as the Kung Fu Panda series, Minions, Inside Out and the most successful The Jungle Book, booking handsome profits here, even weeks after its release in India.
All these arguments point to the huge potential for animation films in India; we simply haven’t been able to tap into it yet, locally. This week, we asked the experts why, in an age of experimentation and evolved audience sensibilities, Hindi animation films are still commercially unviable.
Jayantilal Gada, Producer
The reason animated films made in India don’t do well at the box office is because, let’s face it, the animation market here is television. We made Mahabharat and despite the support of all the actors in promoting the film, it didn’t do great business at the box office. In stark contrast, Hollywood animated films released in India, like The Jungle Book and Finding Nemo, do massive business.
The reason our animated films don’t do well is because, in spite of having the technology, talent and infrastructure, we don’t have the kind of budgets it takes to make a quality animated films. The Jungle Book was made on a budget of Rs 1,000 crore, which even our superstars’ films don’t recover. We need to wait for our market to grow, which has started to happen as our films are now opening in some new international markets.
We, at Pen, have made 13 animated films. We released 12 of these on television and they did good business. With Mahabharat, we tried experimenting with the theatrical but it didn’t work out in terms of money, whereas the film is still running on satellite. Since animated films don’t do much business here, no one wants to experiment with this genre.
With the zeal to make it big constantly driving us, we have produced four 2D animated features despite them not being very profitable, business-wise. Since 2D as an art form has not been giving us the right response, in 2017 we will be presenting to the world our first 3D animated film, Chhota Bheem – Kung Fu Dhamaka. While the Indian animation market might not be at its peak at the moment, it is just a matter of time before Indian studios cross this barrier.
I believe Indian animated films don’t do much business in cinemas because we don’t present them as we should. Most of our animated films have a mythological background because it is easy to promote them. One also needs to create a backdrop for the film or it will fail. Our filmmakers did make Roadside Romeo and Delhi Safary but the characters in these films were not famous. One needs to build up the characters, like Motu-Patlu, who started on television and are already a household hit among kids.
We have made more than 500 episodes, released 10 films on television so far. So the brand has been built and kids are aware of the characters. The same goes for parents too, who are therefore more likely to watch the film.
Why was The Jungle Book such a hit in India? Because the film catered to people across all ages, people who grew up in the ‘90s are parents today, so kids and adults alike saw the film. Hence one needs to create a base before one makes an animated film.
In India, the animation business is not at all impressive but we need to work towards this together. Our technology puts our animated films at par with the West, quality-wise, but our budgets are nowhere near those of Hollwyood.
Also, we cannot make animated films for kids only. Since children go to the movies with their parents, these films must appeal to adults as well.
It may not be entirely correct to say that the Indian film market hasn’t dared to make animation films, but it is true that there have not been many theatrical animated Indian releases. We have seen a few films on offer, but yes, most recent animated content in India has been targeted at
kids using characters from successful
One of the notable animated releases in recent years was Harry Baweja’s Chaar Sahibzaade (2014), which was targeted at a family audience of all ages. Towards the end of 2016, the audience will get to see the sequel, Chaar Sahibzaade: Rise of Banda Singh Bahadur. It’s a story of spirituality and valour, and we are confident that audiences will love it and that the movie will push the envelope for animation in the Indian film industry.
Prime Focus is delivering animation and 3D conversion services for this movie, and our intention is to bring top-class animation quality to audiences in India and abroad.
Also, I think that markets and products follow each other. With the release of more quality animation films like Chaar Sahibzaade: Rise of Banda Singh Bahadur, we’re hopeful that audiences will develop more of a liking for Indian animation, which will encourage more filmmakers to venture in this direction and expand the market.
The Indian film industry is evolving every passing day and so is the audience, which is receptive to new offerings, more so now than ever before. We are hopeful that animation films will also ride this change and soon become an integral part of it.
As far as trust in Indian animation is concerned, it shouldn’t even be a question! The rest of the world trusts Indian animation – the evidence of this lies in the fact that a lot of top quality films and TV series abroad have actually been animated right here in Indian studios by Indian artists. Animation artists in India are definitely on a par with the other animation artists across the globe.
It’s a fact that animation films typically take a long time to make. Top-class animation is a complicated business, which needs a lot of planning, conceptualization and a long production process. If I were to try to explain this in layman’s terms, imagine having to conceptualise a puppet, model it using clay, colour it and then manually move it frame-by-frame, pose-by-pose to create a 90-minute movie.
And every second of the movie has roughly 24 frames. Now multiply that by the number of characters in the movie, and lighting considerations, and creating the right look and feel, and I guess it doesn’t sound so simple any more!
To speed up the process, we have many animators working on the same character, but then aligning everyone’s execution to maintain the uniformity of the character’s actions is a challenge – and across the movie itself becomes a mammoth task which needs flawless alignment between the director and the artists.
Creating an animation movie in a way means doing all this and more, albeit in a virtual world, inside the computer with the help of software. And, of course, all of this needs time… and so does a quality animation film.
Animation in India is still considered a technique rather than a storytelling medium. When you consider it a technique, you won’t give it the right treatment in terms of writing and evolving the ideas into a film.
In our country, distributors and producers like to play safe when it comes animation feature films. Producers or distributors bet on films with mythological characters as they think are known to the audience. ‘If you are working on Hanuman or Krishna, at least there is recall value,’ they believe.
If I make a film on an animated character called ‘Suresh’, whether action or comedy, it will not be accepted by production companies immediately because there is a fear factor associated while attempting unknown characters as protagonists. They believe the audience may not go to watch the film.
After judging and attending many animation festivals in India and abroad, I have seen many young people with exceptional story ideas that can definitely work with our viewers but don’t have enough resources to create a film. My film Fisherwomen And Tuk Tuk won a National Award but still things didn’t change much for me in spite of that.