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The Neglected Queen Of Indian Animation

by Jayanti Sen

While overall the future of Indian animation is bright, I'd like to address a sensitive issue in our Indian animation scene -- the Eastern region of India. I justifiably and whole-heartedly call our regional animation "the neglected queen" and for strong reason. Any animator coming from this part of the world has to fight very hard to gain national, let alone international, recognition. How many of our animators know that the first animated film to be officially released in an Indian cinema was made in Calcutta? Even Italy's Giannalberto Bendazzi's Cartoons: 100 Years Of Cinema Animation uses Feroz Rangoonwallah's 75 Years Of Indian Cinema as a source to attribute the film On A Moonlit Night, released by New Theatres, to R.C. Boral, a well known music director, who had no connections with animation in the directing sense. This mis-information has even got into a recent documentary on Indian animation made by a Governmental agency. No proper research on the animation of the Eastern region has ever been undertaken, so wrong information circulates around the world.

Be A Mouse Again by Prafulla Chandra Lahiri. © Prafulla Chandra Lahiri.

The real situation is that the first animation film to be released in India was made by a man named Gunamoy Banerjee. Banerjee was an excellent artist and cartoonist. The film, The Pea Brothers, produced by New Theatres, was released at Chitra Cinema in North Calcutta in 1934. The film got a rave review in a journal called Filmland, which is now extinct. I have attained this information from Banerjee's nephew Chinmoy Banerjee, who as a young boy of 14 was present at the film's first screening. Chinmoy also works in film and is associated with one of the leading laboratories in Calcutta, the India Film Laboratory. He explained that the film was financed by Bharatlakshmi Studios and shot jointly at MP Studios and Bharatlakshmi, which has now been converted into a cinema house called Naveena. The film used drawn images in black & white, and was between 3 to 4 minutes in duration. It shows a peapod which opens up to release 5 peas, and from these peas emerge five small toy-like figures which play with one another. With no proper storyline this was basically an experimental attempt at creating animation for the screen, just for the fun of it. The film is very much in the tradition of Disney and other foreign animators, whose films were quite frequently released in Calcutta at that time. Calcutta's early introduction to animation grew from seeing these films. Gunamoy Banerjee had another artist working with him, Prafulla Chandra Lahiri, who later became intensely popular throughout India as a cartoonist by the name of PCL. Unfortunately, Banerjee had no financial backing, and the lukewarm response to Pea Brothers discouraged him. He went on to become a very famous live-action director, whose feature films are still regarded as classics today. Animation lost a good filmmaker there. The film's music was probably created by R.C. Boral and hence the impression that he made the first film.

Deepa & Rupa: A Fairy Tale from India
by Manick Sorcar.
© Manick Sorcar Productions.

Another film was then released by New Theatres called Michke Potash. Interestingly enough, this was first published as a comic strip in a contemporary journal, Sachitra Bharat. Michke Potash was made into an animation directed by Bhaktaram Mitra. The animators were Shaila Chakraborty and Rebati Bhushan. The Eastern region has many firsts to its credit -- from the first animation film to the first animated Indian serial. The serial was made by another Calcuttan Subdhasattwa Basu, and the name of the series was Gayeb Aya. Later abroad Manick Sarkar made the first feature length live-action and animation mixed film Deepa And Rupa.

Mandar Mullick. Courtesy of Mrs. Uma Goswami.

The next animator who really decided to carry on animation seriously, in spite of extreme monetary problems and other troubles such as a lack of proper equipment, was Mandar Mullick. Mandar belonged to one of the richest families in Calcutta, but he escaped from his illustrious family's business background to learn more about animation. It is not known under whom he received his training, but he returned to Calcutta to work from 1962 to the mid-'70s, dying later in abject poverty in 1977, unnoticed and unsung by the world. But this hero of Calcutta animation had the temerity to build a wooden animation stand with the help of a local carpenter, and buy a Michel camera with his own money as it had the essential stop-motion capabilities that he needed. For his own education Mandar bought a lot of books on animation from America, and unlike these days, releases of famous animation films were a regular feature in cinema houses. These films inspired Mandar greatly.

Another important credit that no one gives to the Eastern region is the fact that we were the first to hold an international festival of short films, SHORTS - I, in 1985.

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.

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.