The animation industry is fast becoming an important player in India’s entertainment sector, with hundreds of animated TV shows and movies created every year by studios spread across Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai. Priya Singh writes about the coming of age of Indian animators.

 

Most people consider Hollywood to be the home of animated films. That is, of course, true to a large extent. Some of the classics of this genre—like Toy Story (1995), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004)—were created at various studios across Hollywood Hills. But the American monopoly on this form was broken long ago. Today, the emerging hubs of the global animation industry are to be found in countries such as China, South Korea and India.

In the early Noughties, the animation scene in India was virtually nonexistent. Over time, however, it has become among the more vibrant and lucrative adjuncts of the entertainment sector. Comprised of freelance animators as well as state-of-the-art studios, India’s animation industry now has a lot to offer both in terms of infrastructure and quality.

A recent report on India’s media and entertainment sector, compiled jointly by FICCI and Ernst & Young, has a whole section devoted to the rapid rise of the animation industry. “The animation sector in India has been growing at a steady pace over the past few years and reached Rs 17 billion in 2017, registering a growth of 13% over 2016. It is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11% till 2020,” the report, entitled Re-imagining India’s M&E Sector, states.

One indicator of this growth is the impressive list of made-in-India animated movies and TV shows, many of which are based on mythological tales and characters. The positive reception of films like Hanuman, Bal Ganesh and Krishna Aur Kans had set the precedent for the phenomenal success of the animated TV series Chhota Bheem, created by Green Gold Animation, which is headquartered
in Hyderabad.

“Mythology has a lot of evergreen stories,” Rajiv Chilaka, the CEO of Green Gold Animation, tells Guardian 20. “Indian mythological stories depict our culture and heritage, and many parents want their children to read and watch our stories. Green Gold Animation has in the past made movies about Krishna and other Indian mythological characters as well.”

Chilaka’s studio is now coming up with another animated movie along the same mythological lines, Hanuman vs Mahiravana, to be released on 6 July.

The age-old myth that most contemporary animators are trying to debunk is that this genre is meant to cater only to kids, and that animated movies are just an extension of
cartoon flicks.

Tejonidhi Bhandare, the Chief Operating Officer at Reliance Animation, which created the animated TV shows Little Krishna and Shakitmaan, believes that popular opinion still tends to confuse animated films with cartoons. “We need to create more awareness about animation in India,” he says. “In fact, animation is for all ages. Things will change as newer concepts are introduced in India. It is a gradual change and will take some time.”

Ashish S.K., chairman, FICCI for Animation, VFX, Gaming and Comics Forum, and founder of Punnaryug Artvision Pvt. Ltd., has first-hand experience of working on animated shows like Krishna Aur KansShaktimaan and Big Bees. According to him, it is important for animators in India to continue to take kids’ entertainment seriously. He says: “In India, kids’ content is scarce. Or let me state that it really doesn’t exist if one compares it to the kind of culture, history and heritage we have in this country. The need of the hour is to have an exclusive kids’ public broadcasting channel that will focus on original animated content for kids.”

In the past few years, several widely-watched home-grown animated TV shows, for both kids and adults, have been introduced in India. But there haven’t been as many made-in-India animated films. Soumitra Ranade, Chairman of Paperboat Design Studios in Mumbai, speaks to us about this disproportionate emphasis on TV shows: “Most films in India are primarily driven by the star system. And more often than not, these stars are the sons and daughters of yesteryear stars. So obviously, the primary focus of most film producers is to propell these stars and establish them as money-spinning engines. And once they are established thus, they try to maintain their position with the kind of cinema they are identified with. In this scenario therefore, animation has very little space in the film industry.”

The other challenge has to do with the lack of a sizeable audience for animated movies in India—a fact that drives most producers and financers away. As Rajiv Chilaka of Green Gold Animation says, “Since in India, animated films are perceived to be mainly meant for kids, very few adults go out to see such movies. Due to this, very few producers are willing to take the risk and put their money on animated movies.”

As far as the global animation industry is concerned, India accounts only for a fraction of the overall business. The FICCI-EY report estimates India’s share in this regard to be “less than 1%” of the global total. “However,” the report continues, “it is expected to increase in the coming years. Yet, international projects account for 70%-80% of the Indian industry revenues. Indian animation studios and companies are moving up the value chain and have started to create their own intellectual property rights.”

Ashish S.K. of Punnaryug Artvision agrees with this assessment. He says, “Most of Asia’s animation industry, since the 1960s, has been tied to foreign interests attracted by stable and inexpensive labour supplies. For nearly 40 years, Western studios have established and maintained production facilities, first in Japan, then South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and India. Today, 90% of all ‘American’ television content is produced in Asia.”

India certainly has the potential to do better in this field and take on its Asian competitors. But for that to happen, we need to develop a full-scale support infrastructure for animators, which begins at the level of education and ends with job security. “If we can’t guarantee jobs to animators then obviously we aren’t going to have too many educational institutes,” says Soumitra Ranade of Paperboat Design Studios. “Only when there is a big demand for animation professionals will we have more and more schools. As of now, we have only a handful of animation schools that really get into the aesthetics of animation as an art form. Most of the schools are training backend workforce, churning out students who have very little knowledge of the art. They are just trained in software and that limits their understanding of the larger picture.”

The demand for quality animated content no doubt exists. That’s why even OTT platforms, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have made room for exclusive animated films and TV shows in their India portfolios. Anish Mehta, the CEO of Cosmos Maya, an animation studio with offices in Mumbai and Singapore, says, “Selfie with Bajrangi has been the latest success for our studio. It did exceedingly well on Amazon and after its launch on Disney Hungama recently, it has come out with flying colours. Inspector Chingum, the first spin-off series of the massively popular show Motu Patlu, was also recently launched on Amazon Prime Video.”

India’s animation industry is just beginning to come of age. And it is sure to outperform its counterparts in South Korea, Japan and even Hollywood if some of the basic challenges faced by animators here are addressed. Let’s begin by drawing a clear distinction between animated movies and cartoons.

 

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