Director Shilpa Ranade and producer Narayan Parasuram of Goopi Gawaiyaa Bagha Bajaiyaa talk to Titas Chowdhury about their fantasy animation flick and the dearth of children’s films in India
The story Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (GGBB) is an integral part of Bengali literature. What made you want to pick it up and translate it on celluloid?
Shilpa Ranade (SR): It has been a natural trajectory. I grew up watching the film through film clubs and film societies. I am trained in the visual arts and animation. Before I made the film, I made a book that was written by Gulzarji. He had done a retelling of GGBB. While I was illustrating it, I thought it would be amazing material for an animation film. That is really how it happened. That is when the idea came to me. Since I am an illustrator and animator, it was a natural choice for me.
Both of you have collaborated on books previously. But this is the first time you have worked on a film together.
Narayan Parasuram (NP): Karadi Tales has been making picture books and audio books for children for 23 years. Shilpa is one of the foremost visual artistes in the country; she is an illustrator who is not just restricted to films. She has done several books for us like Monkeys On A Fast, Little Vinayak and Thukpa For All. The focus of Karadi Tales is the sights and sounds of India.
India is known for its rich collection of children’s literature. However, not many films are made for children here. Why do you think so?
NP: I have a funny take on this (Laughs). I think most of the commercial films made in India are for children. Let us take the example of Amar Akbar Anthony. It is not really boxed as a children’s film, but it is a phenomenal children’s film. We take our literature for granted. We have such a phenomenal tradition of storytelling, especially for children. We don’t necessarily feel the need to make something specifically for children.
The market precedents have not been very encouraging though. The moment you call a film a ‘children’s film’ or you do something for children, you are automatically expected to do some kind of social service. The perception that such films can do extraordinary business is not there. I had earlier worked on another children’s film, Jajantaram Mamantaram. It went on to become a massive success.
You are right; the thought that such films can become box office successes seems farfetched. As far as children’s publishing is concerned, our company has become a very commercially viable business through its 23 years and continues to be so. We are surviving and that is testimony to the fact that there is a market for children’s publishing.
SR: I think it is very unfortunate that we do not have enough content for children. It has got a lot to do with feeling invested in making content for children. People have not done enough of that. We haven’t gone out there and done our bit and the reasons are many. You see the big animation films from the West. That sort of thing does not happen here. People have not invested money, time, resources and people that are needed to make them.
We haven’t seen the value of taking what we have to newer platforms, which is an important thing to do. We have to make that shift. We have to make them pertinent for today’s children, else a lot of what we have will be lost. We have a very strong oral tradition. Our storytelling traditions have been passed down to the extent where they are told to kids. We tend to feel that a lot of these ideas are borrowed.
As a producer and as a part of Karadi Tales, how do you plan to increase the reach of children’s publishing?
NP: As she rightly said, first we have to focus on creating content with the intention that this can be done. We have to be invested in it. Second, we have to make that content available. Children’s content such as Chacha Chaudhary, Lotpot, Champak and Amar Chitra Katha are not enough. According to me, making the content available is also a big responsibility.
In the case of Goopi Gawaiyaa Bagha Bajaiyaa, the film was produced by the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI). Karadi Tales was not in the picture at the time. It was only after the film was made and we all saw the phenomenal possibility of what would happen if it went to the audience that we stepped in and decided to take the onus of taking it to the audience. But yes, it is an uphill task. The templates in the film are made for a certain kind of content, not for children specifically. The idea is that we need the support of the box office to let people know that a film like this has come.
Once it hits theatres, I am sure the film will work its magic. Our responsibility ends once people get to know of the film and go to theatres. After that, the magic of the film will take over. I don’t think people are going to like it because it is a chidlren’s film. Everyone who goes to watch it will have a ball.
You made the film in 2013. What took it so long to hit cinemas?
SR: 2013 is when we premiered the film at the Toronto International Film Festival. CFSI made the film. Their mandate is to make films, but they don’t have the mandate to release films. Ours was made for theatres. We tried to make it very complex; it had a lot of layers and details and the sound was huge. CFSI does have its own network. They have smaller networks, not necessarily theatres. They take their films to schools and festivals.
It is not easy to find a theatrical release for animation films. People here tend to release what comes from the West. Very little is made here, especially in animation. CFSI makes films. They are not always feature length and not always suitable for theatres. But this particular film was designed for theatres. Our vision was to bring it to a larger audience. There are not many people to back this sort of film. To convince people is very difficult. We had conviction in our own work and therefore, Narayan had stepped in.
NP: We have had a couple of screenings. We had the music launch with Gulzaar saab. He also saw the film. This is much more a big screen film than any other film which we think is a big screen film. When I watched it in the theatre, I felt like I was watching something else. Platforms like Netflix are wonderful platforms and they will always be there, but the destiny of this film is the big screen. To call this film stunning is an understatement. This is not my comment. People who have seen it have said so. Gulzar saab said this film looks like it belongs to another galaxy. It is not technology-dependent. Most of the characters have been drawn by Shilpa. You will see very few animators who are also directors, at least in India. In most cases, you see directors directing and there is a separate animation team.
SR: There are 80 characters in the film, and that is huge.
NP: Though there is technology used, the film is not driven by it.
SR: It is the storytelling that is the king.
The film has done the rounds of various film festivals. Do you think that will help its theatrical run?
SR: I hope so. We have put the names of the festivals in it. I hope people notice all that. But I believe the film goes beyond that. You might notice that and think it is a good film. Like Narayan said, it is a different film. It is not the regular animation that you get to see. The pace of the film and everything else is very different from what you normally see or expect. All of that, and not just festivals, will also attract people. I am glad that it went to some great festivals. We have got amazing responses from international audiences. We are hoping the same happens here.
NP: In the course of our journey, I realized that this is a film whose story and look transcends cultural boundaries. I think this film will do as well if not better in India than at the festivals. It is not just another wannabe film. It is steeped in our visual tradition and culture.
SR: None of it was based on any known formula. We did not go by the three-act structure. We wanted to make something that we loved. With that intensity, we made this piece of work. I hope it reaches people. We have shown it to audiences and they are excited (Smiles).
NP: A sufficient amount of people should know about it. That is why we need all the possible support. I am not at all nervous. People kept asking us why it was not coming to theatres. I would like to tell them that it is coming to theatres now, so please go watch it (Laughs)!