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India's Expanding Animation Horizons: PART II

Ayanti Sen continues her piece on India's hopeful animation future by profiling a few up and coming Indian animators.

A shot from Jayanti Sen's film Hunchback Woman's Tale. Courtesy of and © Jayanti Sen.

A shot from Jayanti Sen's film Hunchback Woman's Tale. Courtesy of and © Jayanti Sen.

Facing The East Today

We have seen how animation filmmaking began in the hands of Mandar Mullick and grew steadily in the hands of later animators in Part I. We must now learn about today's situation and what factors are contributing to its present state. After Mandar Mullick, the man who came to take up the cause of animation was Raghunath Goswami, who knew about Mandar Mullick's work and, driven by his own zeal for animation, located him by advertising in the newspaper! By then, Mandar was waiting aimlessly in front of a now defunct Calcutta TV studio with his last exposed negative reel in his pocket, hoping that they would be kind enough to buy it. The name of the film was probably Lagdom, Kalo Beral, or Black Cat, and was bought out of pity by the West Bengal State Government at a mere pittance of 25,000 Rupees, or approximately US$700, which no one would work for today. Mandar Mullick then collaborated with Raghunath Goswami on an ad-film, proving what a consummate artist he was by knowing how to exploit the Indian erotic sensuality of a woman's figure without being vulgar in the least. Mandar as an artist stands out in a separate niche among Indian animators; a man whose value we must try and re-evaluate more than 20 years after his death. His team used to work at a hectic speed creating 200-300 drawings per day and once, when cels were not available, Mandar even created his drawings on acetate sheets. He also experimented with other forms of animation like cut-outs and puppets, but financial constraints, his struggle with poverty and clients' indifferent response destroyed this highly talented animator. Like his unfinished storyboard Dreamers, Mandar died, his dreams of creating a proper animation industry in Calcutta unfulfilled. His death left such a great impact on his favourite student Ganesh Pyne, that Ganesh never created another frame of animation again, though he constantly paints. However his love and hankering for animation is still very much alive -- even today if he meets a young animator like us, his eyes become moist and shiny as he re-lives those days with loving nostalgia. Another animator, who worked in Delhi even before the days of Indian TV, was Harinarayan Bhattacharya who created an animation short Daduri Bhatta, which earned the respect of even Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak. However, not much is known about him today and more research will probably unearth material on him later. Another animator from the Eastern Region who distinguished himself as one of the best puppet animators in Bombay, in the tradition of Jiri Trnka and others, was Ajoy Chakraborty. His film Nanhe Munnhe Sitare won a National Award. His other films Raju And Tinku in 1982 and Mr. Shortcut were all made for CFSI.

Jirí Trnka's The Good Soldier Schweik, like all his films, have inspired artists all over the globe. © Kratky Film.

Jirí Trnka's The Good Soldier Schweik, like all his films, have inspired artists all over the globe. © Kratky Film.

Born in 1931, Goswami started life as a graphicdesigner and commercial artist in the post of art director at the famous firm J. Walter Thompson. But his formal art background soonprodded him to explore folk art, puppetry, theatre, music and animation. By the time he became associated with the National Institute of Design as consultant designer, he had already made a puppet film Hattogol Bijoy, which won a national award, The Prime Minister's Gold Medal as the Best Children's Puppet Film, in 1961. His interest in animation and the study of its different techniques, speciallylow cost animation, was helped further by his own association withNID where he found a lot of animation being done. Hence Goswamimade some animated advertisements -- "Fan Fancy" for GEC, "Important People" for Bata India, "The Black Cat"for Union Carbide and others. He also created many films for Satellite TV, India's official TV channel, and Calcutta TV. But his most important role in the Eastern Region's animation scene was as an animation instructor, because he timely noted that although the Eastern Region was full of raw talent, lack of proper training and equipment was a major problem. NID had by then opened a Calcutta Cell, or school, with Goswami as its leader. As a result, a 16mm animation camera rostrum was built and an animation workshop lasting four months was organized in January 1985. This workshop showed the work of two students, Gautam Benegal and Anjan Ghosh, who later became animators. Cut-out animation or animation using stick-figures like that ofEmil Cohl was stressed. Goswami arranged screenings of great animation films from Lotte Reiniger and others to enhance his students' vision. Later through NID a full year long animation training programme was specially designed for the Calcutta Cell, Eastern Region. Anolder NID animation student Chitra Sarathi was helping Goswami with the Calcutta Cell then. The programme was really the brain child of Ashok Chatterjee, an old NID veteran and designer, who convincedNID to carry it out, with Goswami also constantly urging NID to do something for the Eastern Region. Ultimately Anjan Ghosh, bythen a veteran animator, Dilip Goswami and myself were chosen for this training programme in 1986-87 and literally "packed off" to NID by Goswami to make full use of the animation facilities there. This training programme can be called successful because myself, along with two of my NID associates, made a film which has gone to Hiroshima'98 as part of a special program of Indian animation. Prior to that, the film was screened at MIFF in 1994. However, the saddest part of the whole situation is that Goswami suddenly left us inJanuary 1993 just as the rough cut of this film was being edited. He did not live to see his students' success but he will remainever immortal in the hearts of thousands of his students and friends due to his sensitivity, the beauty of his creations and his completededication to design, animation and puppetry. He is no longer here, but we are strictly bound in our promise to our guru to continue animation and develop it as an industry in the Eastern Region.

Another contemporary of Raghunath Goswami, Chandi Lahiri was born in 1929, and started life as a journalist, but later joined Hindus than Standard, an English daily from the now famous Ananda Bazar Group, as staff cartoonist in 1961 after a formal art education. He then went on to serve as staff cartoonist for both the English and Bengali daily Ananda Bazar. Until 1990, he created an immense number of political cartoons which made him famous in India. But he soon became interested in animation and started creating flip books and comic strips. Then Lahiri, totally self-taught, managed to build an animation stand and buy a Pelliard Bolex 16mm camera to make animation films. These include The Biggest Egg, Be A Mouse Again and Under The Blue Moon, which was later bought and telecast by Indian Television. They were of course colour films and in one of them we see an anti-war messege of flowers emerging instead of bullets from a machine gun. However, financial woes forced him to shut down his set-up. But as luck would have it, Juthika Dutta of Calcutta TV took him to Delhi to use the paint box at CPC to create a very interesting film Tinni, the story of a little girl which became very popular.

By broadcasting series like Suddhasattwa Basu's Ghayab Appears, television stations in India have been crucial in increasing awareness of animation in the country. Courtesy of Jayanti Sen. © Doordarshan.

By broadcasting series like Suddhasattwa Basu's Ghayab Appears, television stations in India have been crucial in increasing awareness of animation in the country. Courtesy of Jayanti Sen. © Doordarshan.

Anjan Ghosh, disciple of Raghunath Goswami, became an extremely accomplished animator himself, and created with Chitra Sarathi the first animation based on Satyajit Ray's famous father Sukumar's nonsense poems Khuror Kol. In 1986 at NID, Anjan completed a two minute film The Green Story based on Leo Lionni's book. He has been working constantly not only as a graphic designer but also creating innumerable storyboards. One of his important later projects with Goswami was an ad-spot for CESC. Then he joined a computer-aided animation workshop on AIDS at Chitrabani, Calcutta led by internationally famous animator Robi Engler. His animation received special mention by Robi in an interview that I completed for the famous Bengali daily Ananda Bazar Patrika. Anjan's background-layout design for my film Hunchback Woman's Tale has earned him universal international acclaim. He later created some TV spots on AIDS for German television. Gautam Benegal had already made his mark as an animator, creating a music animation, The King Of Burigulla, shot in Calcutta in black-&-white at the studio of Mahendra Kumar, an animation technology enthusiast and close associate of Ritwik Ghatak. Kumar is a famous still photographer and cinematographer. Then Gautam migrated to Bombay to create films for the CFSI such as Tapatop. He then made a number of films for UDC educational projects. Now he is busy working on a film for the government Films Division. He had in between worked as an animator for other non-governmental channels.

Dilip Goswami, the other trainee, has turned into a very successful interior designer and is a wonderful animator, animating a pre-designed character to a set sound-track chosen by him at NID, and later making a very interesting film, The Human Dilemma. The story is of a man who tries to take a fresh look at the universe but gets shell-shocked when he discovers the degraded and decayed state of things due to human beings misusing advanced technology and science. He tries to change the situation by eradicating greed or aggression, the root of all evils, with his computer, but fails. This interesting film was never shown and the lack of interested producers has lost an excellent animator in Dilip Goswami.

A powerful scene from Nuzhat Shahzadi and Ram Mohan's Sare, Daughter of the Lioness. Courtesy of Jayanti Sen. © Ram Mohan & Nuzhat Shahzadi.

A powerful scene from Nuzhat Shahzadi and Ram Mohan's Sare, Daughter of the Lioness. Courtesy of Jayanti Sen. © Ram Mohan & Nuzhat Shahzadi.

During my training at NID, I concentrated primarily on cut-out animation as I was inspired by my first cinema guru Satyajit Ray under whom I received my first cinema training during the last 10 years of his life. Later, with my NID training, I created Hunchback Woman's Tale as an independent production for Calcutta TV. Financing was a great problem, but two ex-veterans of Calcutta TV, Bibhas Chakraborty and Abhijit Dasgupta, producer of the first animation ever at Calcutta TV,Chor Palale Buddhi Bare (Intelligence Comes After The Thief Is Done), and animator Samir Chakraborty, helped me with all their resources to make this film possible. But as this film was using cut-out animation, and in 16mm at that, arranging a place to shoot was very hard to find. Finally, Ram Mohan from Bombay came forward and arranged for me to shoot at Cine Magic, introducing me to Suresh S. Naik. He forever has my gratitude. That Hunchback Women's Tale has brought back India's focus to Calcutta owes credit to Ram Mohan and Abhijit Dasgupta as much as the entire film units in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. With a wonderful original score by music director Dipak Chowdhury, this 12 minute cut-out animation features, for the first time in Bengali animation, lip-synchronisation with a full voice track using eminent film and theatre personalities. This film tells the story of a hunchback woman who on her way to her granddaughter's house is threatened by various beasts of prey. Ultimately though, her intelligence saves her life as she is able to fool her enemies. The film went to the Bangladesh Short Film Festival in Dhaka and other places like Hiroshima recieving an excellent response.

The etherial quality of Ram Mohan's The Tree. Courtesy of Jayanti Sen. © Ram Mohan.

The etherial quality of Ram Mohan's The Tree. Courtesy of Jayanti Sen. © Ram Mohan.

From the next generation, Shekhar Mukherjee trained in NID's two-and-a-half year APE course and is doing excellent work, however even he is yet to produce his own film due to lack of funds. A brilliant product of NID, Shekharis is equally conversant in 2D and 3D animation so he is able to serve independent filmmakers, non-governmental organizations, etc. for animated fillers, title design and other tasks. His films at NID include Sadyantra (1994) and Can You Hear Them Crying (1995). Our latest animation star is Sharna Das, who has just had her first film Arabian Nights screened, not only in the special Indian program at Hiroshima '98, but at the prestigious Hamburg International Short Film Festival. Sharna received her animation training in Worthing, U.K. At Worthing she created the storyboard for Arabian Nights, the fantasy of a young boy who imagines the raindrops of the sea turning into little princesses. This was later completed in Calcutta and won international acclaim.

A scene from the acclaimed film The Arabian Nights by Sharna Das. Courtesy of Jayanti Sen. © Sharna Das.

A scene from the acclaimed film The Arabian Nights by Sharna Das. Courtesy of Jayanti Sen. © Sharna Das.

While I am trying to find funding for my own animation series, Grandma's Bag Of Tales, for the International market, I have found that the Eastern region has in actuality contributed a lot toward Indian animation, apart from fiction, educational films based on science subjects, social awareness programs and others have all been created here. Animation awareness is on the rise but we still need governmental support and cooperation, especially at the state level to continue working. Animators at the national level like Bhimsain, Ram Mohan or other international animators like Sayoko Kinoshita are all trying their best to encourage and support us, but at the local level such support is still lacking.

But with dedicated animators like Chandi Lahiri, Shekhar Mukherjee, Sharna Das and myself working full steam to find producers, and my active plans to hold a festival fully dedicated to animation in Calcutta in the next millenium, animation in the Eastern region is bound to pick up speed and make its presence felt. 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.

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