Now streaming on Netflix, Munjal Shroff’s colorful new music-driven animated series, Mattel Television’s first original series, follows a young girl and her half-ton color-changing baby elephant best friend, self-appointed ‘concierges of fun’ at the Mango Manor bed and breakfast.
For acclaimed Bollywood animator Munjal Shroff, producing a successful animated kids’ series means creating characters and a story that appeal to a group of viewers who are as generous with their fandom as they are their critiques.
“Kids are a brutally honest audience and, at the same time, will be fiercely loyal to shows that they love,” says Shroff, known for his previous kids’ animation, Krish Trish and Baltiboy: Face Your Fears. “For me, the opportunity to create a show and characters that kids will fall in love with and shower with all their love and adulation is such a joy, and deeply satisfying. I believe children are the most precious audience in the world and, as creators, it’s a huge responsibility to create shows that are engaging, fun, safe, and wholesome.”
Those are four words that serve as the foundation of Shroff’s new Netflix kids’ series, Deepa & Anoop, which premiered yesterday, August 15. The colorful, music-driven world of Deepa & Anoop is Mattel Television’s first original series, created by Shroff with Dragon Tales writer Lisa Goldman and award-winning producer Heather Kenyon, known for producing Doki Adventures.
Shroff’s show follows the adventures of seven-year-old Deepa and her best friend Anoop, a half-ton color-changing baby elephant. The dynamic duo, self-appointed “concierges of fun,” makes everything bigger, grander, and more wonderful for guests at Mango Manor, the bed and breakfast run by Deepa’s multigenerational family.
“I think the key aspects that we hope audiences will pick up on are friendship, respecting others' feelings, caring for others, being there for your friends when they need you, and loving your family and appreciating and accepting them just the way they are,” says Shroff. “Another important aspect is that, through this show, the audience would also get to learn a bit about Indian culture, food, traditions, language, and colorful festivals.”
With a strong focus on the authenticity of Deepa’s Indian heritage and a Bollywood number in every episode, she creates music, merriment and mischief while working with the rambunctious Anoop to solve the simplest of problems with the most imaginative of solutions. Though the show released yesterday, Deepa & Anoop’s journey began back in 2006.
“The late Mr. Ram Mohan, Chairman of Graphiti Studio and my mentor, had invited my dear friend and co-creator of the show, Lisa Goldman, to India to do a workshop for animation writing,” remembers Shroff. “It was Lisa’s first visit to Mumbai. She just fell in love with India. She was like a kid in a candy store. She loved the food, the culture, the people and, of course, Bollywood! We then started discussing creating a show together, an idea that featured an Indian girl, her pet, and her fun Indian family. We decided to call this girl Dimple (now she is Deepa) as she has the sweetest smile with lovely dimples.”
He adds, “One of our earliest loglines for the show was ‘If you lose your smile, it’s Dimple’s mission to bring it back — Bollywood style!’”
While the leading lady’s name did change, the idea for her 200-pound partner in crime stayed exactly as Shroff imagined it 16 years ago.
“When you think of India, elephants definitely come to everyone’s mind,” says Shroff. “Deepa and Anoop have a wonderful and innocent friendship. Anoop always has Deepa’s back no matter what and even though he is often at the receiving end of Deepa’s overtly enthusiastic schemes that start off with Deepa saying, ‘I know just what to do,’ Deepa is always the first to say sorry and accept her mistake and she always wants to make things right with Anoop because she really cares for him. There are so many sweet moments in the show where you see their special bond.”
In addition to the tangible tenderness of Deepa and Anoop’s friendship, the show’s visuals are equally captivating, mixing 3D/CG graphics with 2D art styles that utilize every shade and hue variant of the rainbow.
“India is a riot of colors,” notes Shroff. “I wanted to capture this in our visual style, but I did not want the colors to be garish. I wanted the color palette to be soothing and hence we went for a pastel-like look.”
And the colors, as well as the designs, all pay homage to different parts of Indian culture.
“Anoop has beautiful body paint on him, and I drew inspiration from the Jaipur Elephant Festival,” explains Shroff. “And Mango Manor has so many beautiful Indian design elements all throughout. I had put together a lot of visual references, including photographs of some charming hotels in India that exuded a distinct Indian design aesthetic. The dresses that our characters wear are also rich, especially when they are celebrating festivals like Diwali and Holi. All these had to be nicely balanced and yet allow each design element to breathe.”
Sweetness is the name of the game for Deepa & Anoop–sweetness in character nature and physical construction. In addition to the popping pinks and luminous oranges, the bubbly shapes of Deepa, Anoop and their friends and family add to the show’s fun, approachable, and–Shroff hopes–memorable nature.
“We wanted to create a sweet show featuring two adorable characters and I can’t wait to see the reaction of the kids,” says Shroff. “I hope they relish watching the show, that they learn to value friendship and how it's important to accept our friends and love them for who they are, that this will fan their curiosity about Indian culture and that Deepa and Anoop get to be a part of their wonderful childhood memories.”
Creating kids’ shows that stand the test of time is not an unfamiliar challenge for Shroff, who recently learned of Krish Trish and Baltiboy’s long-lasting effect on viewers five years after its release.
“Just two weeks back, my teenage son Yohann and his friends were talking about their favorite kids shows and one of his friends was talking about her favorite show Krish Trish and Baltiboy and how she absolutely fell in love with the beautiful art and the wonderful folk stories from India and how she loved the Baltiboy character who is a goofball donkey,” recalls Shroff. “As she finished sharing this, Yohann told her, ‘My father has created the show,’ and she was so thrilled.”
He continues, “I am sure as adults, even today, we would remember our favorite storybook, comic, or show from our childhood. Our creations get to be an integral part of wonderful childhood memories for millions of kids around the world that they relish all their lives. Not many people get an opportunity like that.”