India's Expanding Animation Horizons

by Jayanti Sen


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.

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