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Hanuman Vs Mahiravana producer Rajiv Chilaka reveals why Hollywood animated films are superior to the Indian ones

With the animation film Hanuman Vs Mahiravana releasing this week, producer Rajiv Chilaka, in conversation with Team Box Office India, sheds light on the risks involved in making an animated film for the Indian market, the process and more

What made you decide on the concept of Mahiravana for this film?

The writer Narayanan Vaidyanathan and director Ezhil Vendan came up with this concept when they were researching the Ramayana and the villains it had. In the process, they discovered Mahiravana and found that he hadn’t been mentioned much in our mythology. They brought it to us with the option of making it into a series or a feature film, and we thought that the latter was a better option. It does not necessarily target kids or the adult audience. It fits into the family audience section and will be liked by mythology lovers. That’s how the concept came about almost two years ago. We started working on the film after a lot of contemplation because the film fell into a difficult segment. It has mythology, animation and the story of a villain called Mahiravana.

But we also knew there was a bright side because the story is also about Hanuman, who saves Ram and Laxman while they are on the brink of being killed by Mahiravana. Without Hanuman, the Ramayana wouldn’t be the same, so we felt that this would be something for the audience to see as we have kept the story-telling style unique; it is more suited to the classical story-telling style.

Why do you think the combination of animation and mythology is well-received in India?

We also have another character of Chhota Bheem that is based on the Pandava prince Bheem and is a fictional character inspired by the Mahabharata. That gives one the flexibility to approach the story-telling in the way one wants. But that cannot be the case with Krishna or Hanuman Vs Mahiravana. These are mythological stories. We have to do thorough research for it even though the story is quite exciting. After that, it is up to the director and the production house to really make it into a classic, to make this film a larger-than-life experience. There are so many stories in the Indian mythological space that today’s kids need to know. To tell stories for Indian kids across the globe, we thought there was nothing better than those from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana for this.

Can you take us through the process of making a film like this?

The first thing we locked was the script and even after the film was made, there were some changes made to the script. Then we designed the locations and characters by pencil sketches, which we then developed into 3D characters. We created them using CGI technology and then we lit up the sets, told the story and recorded the sounds. All this was done beforehand, after which a brief storyboard was made depicting the storyline. Then came the post-production, which is the animation. Lighting, rendering, compositing and effects were all combined and the music along with the final effects were added in the end. Lastly, the dubbing was redone. We worked with studios in India, the US, Japan, Mexico and Australia.

What are the risks in making an Indian animation film?

There is a huge risk in the animation genre of filmmaking, especially in India, be it comedy or mythology. For an animation film, there is a 90 per cent risk for the makers. There are hardly any animation films that have worked with the audience or made money at the box office. Revenue is difficult to generate with selling the satellite rights too. I think the closest we have come to success is when the first Hanuman movie came out and some of the recent Chhota Bheem films. They did not make large sums of money. In Western countries, the entire family goes to watch an animated film but in India, that is not yet there. This cannot change overnight. We have to keep at it, make multiple films and create a market where it can work. I hope we get a blockbuster film in this sector soon.

Why is there so much difference in how animated movies are received in Hollywood versus in India?

The time spent on those films is far more than we do on our animation movies. They spend at least four years producing one film and we do it in one and half or two years. There is also the budget of the film which helps give the space for more time. Good visual directors are also needed, to reach a certain standard. For India to achieve great results like the recent film Incredibles 2, we need a strong combination of a good director and writer working with Indian studios. The technicians know their work but they are unaware of world class story-telling. It is just a matter of time before these formulae come together to make a good, Indian animation movie. In fact, a lot of Hollywood movies are being made out of India but the time, budget and creative aspect is from there.

You have Yash Raj Films on board for the distribution of this film.

We have had a long relationship. Our relationship started when we made Chhota Bheem together. We approached Yash Raj Films to help us with the distribution and they agreed. They were very encouraging. They understood IP and they understood the pain a producer has to go through in creating IP. They make great partners. We are excited and we want to continue that relationship. Hopefully, in future, we will be co-producing with them. Fingers crossed. (Laughs).

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