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India's Expanding Animation Horizons PART I

Ayanti Sen once again takes us inside the Indian animation industry to meet the growing number of companies producing animated television shows, commercials and feature films.

Gayeb Aya, or Gayeb Appears, is India's first animated television serial and features a friendly ghost. Courtesy of and © Doordarshan.

Indian animation has grown in size and production volume over the last few years. One of the most important trends that we see emerging is an effort toward making animation for adults rather than simply narrative fiction for children. India's young animators are creating thought-provoking, mature films on the state of the world around them. Animators are moving from animated shorts to full animation serials, plus a whole range of animated commercials is by now a very important part of the industry. An interesting phenomenon is also happening -- animation is being handed down from father to son as an art form, comparable, in the Indian tradition, to so many other art forms such as music and theatre. Indian animators, like Ishu Patel and Manick Sorcar, are working outside India as well. There are also various efforts being made to create full-length feature animation, another important way of expanding India's horizon to the world cinema. India's First Animation Serial and The Role of Television From 1960 onwards, Indian animation has been steadily growing in terms of production volume and International standing, but still, Indian animators restricted themselves to creating animated shorts. It took another thirty years for the first animation serial to be created by a young Bengali artist who had migrated to Delhi in search of a living in 1981. The man was Suddhasattwa Basu, and the serial was a 10 part animation series called Gayeb Aya or Gayeb Appears. Telecast first in 1990 on Doordarshan, India's official premier government TV channel, the serial became immediately popular with children of all ages and has had repeated telecasts ever since. Basu debunked the myth that India's Eastern Region could not produce world class animators. Before he had earned his name as an animator, Basu had already become one of the best illustrators in Delhi, creating illustrations for various newspapers and books. But after rigorous training in formal art from the Government Art College in Calcutta, this young boy, hailing from the then French occupied Chandannagar region, decided to take a step that would change his entire life. Along with two friends from the Art College, he took a big risk and plunged into being a painter in Delhi. Delhi, along with Bombay, has always been a good market for Indian painters. To keep himself going he had to join an ad agency. However he felt the ad culture had its own bindings on his artistic freedom, so he moved on to a large newspaper publishing group, The Delhi Press. From there he moved to Thomson Press to work on the children's magazine, Target. It was here while working as an illustrator for Target that Basu decided to become an animator. The then editor of Target the late Rosalind Wilson, gave him much encouragement. While Basu did not have an institute like NID to teach him animation, books on animation were of course readily available, and he made full use of them. With his consummate knowledge of drawing and extreme skill as a painter/illustrator, animation came almost naturally to him. In an exclusive interview with this writer he reveals, "You will, if you study the series of Gayeb, practically watch my own animation skill developing from episode to episode, so the last episode of Gayeb, the tenth part of the ten piece series, is much better animated than the first. One book that has particularly helped me in my own animation training is John Halas' Timing In Animation, to which I keep going back." The making of Gayeb also makes for a great story. Working with just two assistants and an antiquated 16mm camera, Basu designed his own animation stand. The series was completed on a budget that could not even be classified as "shoe-string" - "no budget" would frankly be more accurate. Based on short stories published in Target, Gayeb is the story of a friendly little spook, who can appear and disappear at will, hence his name, which means "vanish" in Hindi. This spook is always nice to children and helps them out, but for the naughty he is there to teach a lesson. Each action-packed adventure story of 12 1/2 minutes has very little dialogue written by Bijoya Ghosh and others, and music by Shyam and Sudip Banerjee. Work started for the serial when Basu found two interested friends Bizeth and Ashok Talwar. When the trio joined to create this series, Raikhik Films, Basu's production company, was born. Although made under difficult conditions, this serial earned national and international acclaim immediately after it was telecast. Now Basu's name is there to be found as India's first animation serial director in the Limca Book of Records and TV's own list of achievements book. The show's bright, beautiful colour and movement attracted the attention of even international companies. Finally, Basu was commissioned to direct a 12 minute short Rakhi And Mausi, encouraging the education of an older child who is always deprived of social and legal opportunities. The film was produced by the Sakura Motion Picture Company, and the Japanese Organisation for International Cooperation and Family Planning. There has been no stopping Basu since.

His latest film, One Day In MD's Office,is reminiscent of Mrinal Sen's Bhuban Shome, and is the story of a boss who imagines his office is a playground when a balloonaccidentally floats in through a window. When the balloon suddenly bursts, so do his dreams, as he is back to the mundane realities of the office and his workload. The film's inherent social satire somehow reminds us of Chaplin's famous sequence of Hitler's ball game with the globe in Modern Times. The director probably never intended to involve these classic comparisons, but a workof art if it is of the best quality will always bring its own associations to the collective conscious. This film was widely acclaimed and screened as part of the competition at MIFF '98, as part of theIndian animation showcase at Hiroshima '98, and also as the Indianentrant at the Melmon Film Festival in France. Basu has now created innumerable ad spots, works for other filmmakers on their films'animated sequences and so on. His next film, The Cage, has already been made into a wonderful 2 1/2 minute pilot which he presented at Hiroshima. We will now have to wait with baited breath for the completed film! Already marked as one of the best illustrators inthe country by art historians, Indian illustration has also been immensely enriched by his work. Furthermore, throughout all of histrials, he has been greatly inspired by another wonderful illustrator who is also well known outside of Delhi -- Kalyani Basu, Basu's artistic wife. Basu admitted to me, that without her constant and patient support, he feels he would never have achieved what he has. An important result of Gayeb's success,was that it made Doordarshan realise the importance of telecasting animation serials. Hence later Bhimsain's serial Vartaman and Lokgatha were telecast, and foreign animation series were televised dubbed into local languages. In this context, we must acknowledge the role of Doordarshan, which commissioned the series and many other animatedfilms, thereby playing a huge role in the propagation of animation in India. Animation serials, foreign animation serials dubbed into Hindi, short animated feelers, and animated fiction is all being telecast in dedicated afternoon children's slots and in a regularSunday morning slot. So despite the popularity of Cartoon Network, Doordarshan is an able competitor as it is a television channel which can be viewed by poor and rich alike, i.e. anyone who possesses a television set. Even Ram Mohan, frequently called the father of Indian animation, hails Doordarshan's role. "It is very important that our kids are getting a taste of such excellent foreign animationlike Jungle Book," he explains. Now Mohan's famous UNICEF series on the girl child, Meena, is being telecast. We welcome these good efforts by Doordarshan.India's First Animation Feature India is now making its own animated features at Silverline Industries, which is headed by V.G. Samant, a veteran animator who retired as chief animator from the government's Films Division to join a software export company Seepz, and then to head the animation department at Silvertoon. In the making is Hanuman, which will be released in London by Karma Productions. The film is being made in both Hindiand English and is tentatively set to be released in October. ZICA graduates are working on the film. With the paper work complete, production is going full steam ahead using TICTAC TOON for the sound mixing, colouring and compositing. In-betweening is being done by hand to maintain the elegance of motion. Hanuman is important because the work is being done entirely in India by Indian talent.

Sayoko Kinoshita's Visit

The month of March, 1998 was an important one for Indian animation, because Ms. Sayoko Kinoshita, Festival Director of Hiroshima '98, decided to visit India to select films for her "India Special" programme. This decision was a critical one for us because for the first time all animators, young and old, were getting a chance to show our work to the huge gathering at a festival as important as Hiroshima. India made her mark in the live-action arena years ago but in the world of animation we needed this opportunity. The time of the visit was also significant, as the all-important Mumbai InternationalFestival was being held then, showcasing the best in Indian animation.

On her visit, Sayoko went to all of the major animation producing cities --Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Hyderabad -- and selected 50 films to be screened in two consecutive sessions on the opening days of Hiroshima '98. Being one of the most important animation festivals, it was a great opportunity for the three younger animators who attended -- Suddhasattwa Basu, Prakash Moorthy and myself. Ram Mohan also graced the occasion with his presence. For us it was a fantastic situation -- dazzling, exciting and inspiring. For the first time we realised, Indian animation does not have a face onthe world map, and we have now firmly vowed to work toward that goal. Another important offshoot of attending this festival wasthe decision to form ASIFA India. Moreover, now I am dedicated to organizing the first animation festival in Calcutta in the coming Millenium. We are all deeply grateful to Sayoko Kinoshita for giving us this all-important exposure to the animation world. Animating Generations Just as in music and other performing arts, we are seeing an interesting trend emerging in Indian animation, which is an integral part of Indian culture. Following the teacher-disciple tradition is known as the "Guru-shisya" parampara, and the tradition of animationis also being handed down from father to son in more than one case. Two of the most important examples of this is R.L. Mistry, Dipu Ramambhai Mistry and Bhimsain-Kireet Khurana. Both R.L. and Bhimsain belong to the oldest generation of animators now working in India.R.L. Mistry is an animator and professor at NID, which was the only place in India to gain animation training for a long time. Bhimsain was among the first generation of animators, along with Ram Mohan and others, trained by Clare Weeks at the Films Division in Mumbai.Both of them have achieved a very high national and international status as animators and they have handed over their mantles to their sons. This is a very good sign for Indian animation as a whole.

R.L. Mistry began his formal art background as a graduate in painting from M.S. University, Baroda, Gujarat, in 1966, joining NID for a post graduate degree in Graphic Design between 1967 to 1970. In the meantime, animation activities started at NID with even international animators visiting. Mistry refined his skills in animation which included not only various aspects of conventional animation but later, in keeping with the times, he trained himself in computer aided animation in 1992 through self generated special programmes. By then he had won the National Award for his film National Highway in 1985. Today he has made films which include Two Point Perspective, Little Fire, Genesis A and Genesis B for the Trade Fair Authorities of India, Din Pratidin for the Indian government's Directorate General for Adult Education, and The Story Of Tails and Why The Crows Call Caw Caw for the "Discovery of India" Festival in Russia, 1987-1988. He designed several animated signature images for India TV, and the National Drinking Water Mission among others. As an animator, R.L. has remained prolific, constantly experimenting with new ideas and methodology. For more than a decade, he has remained faithful to his role as an animation guide and teacher at NID. A duty he still continues, greatly contributing to Indian animation. He trained his son Dipu Mistry who decided to concentrate more on computer aided animation at the Bureau of Information Technologies and Studies, Ahmedabad. Later he set up his own studio, Deep Associates. Today, both Kireet and Dipu are running their own studios. Dipu has created many successful films for NID using computer graphics from PRAXIS and NGO, three animation films for Channel V and Star TV Network, plus he designs web sites for various clients. He also conducted a traditional animation workshop and is involved in teaching animation at NID and other institutions. His studio is continuously working to design animation programmes to create more visually interesting animation images and films. In fact, Deep Associates has become a resource for NID students to make their own diploma projects, something we never had. As an animator, Bhimsain needs no introduction. Graduating in Music from Benaras Hindu University, and starting as a young animator at the Films Division's Cartoon Film Unit, he remained with the Films Division up until 1969 creating interesting animation films on social issues. But in the early `70s he went on to create his own studio Climb Films named after his first award-winning animation short The Climb. Under this banner he went on to create some of his best films which are innumerable including Munni, The Fire, Locked, Ek Anek Ekta, and others. He has collaborated with the National Film Board of Calcutta to make a number of films. Among his films one has gone somewhat unnoticed by critics; Munni, a story of a mother-daughter relationship, portrayed with sensitivity. His capacity to touch and move the heart is an art in itself. From Munni's traditional cel animation he has moved with equal ease to the claustrophobia of Locked, created on the computer. In addition to his films, he has remained equally busy creating advertisements. In the '90s he created two animation serials, Vartmaan and Lokgatha based on Indian folk tales. Airing on Indian TV they have gained immense popularity. Another important task Bhimsain undertakes every year ever since the Bombay Festival started is to organise an animators' meeting at every festival where animators from various parts of the world meet and extend ideas. This is something that Bhimsain must be congratulated upon because by doing so, he is serving an important function for Indian animation as a whole. His son Kireet Khurana is a man who decided from the very beginning not to be just a famous father's son. Before he became known as a filmmaker, he was actively involved in his father's projects, doing animation design, concept design, assisting and animating. He later opened his own studio 2NZ. He has retained his interest in computer aided animation so that 2NZ can work on both 2D and 3D animation projects. Kireet decided to receive formal animation training from Sheridan College in Canada. While there, and since, he has made a number of films: O, his diploma film at Sheridan; Mahagiri, a deeply human story of a kind elephant; Trade, a satirical computer-aided animation which caustically remarks on the worst facets of business; Alphacat; Seema; and Encore. He has won various national and international awards in India and abroad, but his style of animation is very different from Bhimsain. Kireet has more of a Western element in his filmmaking, probably due to his training so he tends to move toward the abstract and symbolic. This feeling could also be attributed to the fact that many of these films were shot abroad as well. But his films' sense of graphic design, interesting character design and elegant flow of movement leave a lingering impression on the viewer. To be continued... Jayanti Sen has been working as a freelance journalist for various English and Bengali journals in India and abroad for the last seventeen years writing on subjects such as cinema, theatre, art, music, science, puppetry, advertising and animation. She is also an animation filmmaker who has had several of her films screened in International film festivals.