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India's Growing Might

by Jayanti Sen

Early Animators: The Films Division and Governmental Support
When we think of what is happening in Indian animation today and try to take a critical look at it throughout the country, our first attempt must be a look back at the past. It is ultimately the past which creates the present, so to understand the present let us go back to its roots, way back to the dawn of Indian Cinema. As early as the beginning of the 20th century, a first attempt at animation was made by one of the founders of Indian Cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke, who used match sticks and a stop-motion camera to create a short film which was never released.

In a book published by the Directorate of Film Festivals, New Delhi in 1981, edited by Rani Day Burra, an animation script writer and film-maker in later years herself, we hear Phalke speaking out as early as 1917, "I was well up in all the arts and crafts that go toward making a motion picture -- drawing, painting, architecture, photography, drama, magic -- I was fully convinced that it can be done!" Finally, after a lot of effort and struggle, he did make his first film, The Growth Of A Pea Plant, and again it was using stop-motion, i.e. time-lapse photography. So, did anyone realize that 1912 officially marked the beginning of Indian animation using the animation technique of time-lapse photography? (Interestingly enough, the first Indian animation released in theatres on June 23, 1934 by New Theatres Limited, was directed by Gunamoy Banerjee, and was called The Pea Brothers -- were our forefathers in some way possessed and fascinated by the pea plant?!) Then there is a gap, until finally another film, coming from Bombay, was released by Ranjit Movietone called Jumbo The Fox, and later another animation from New Theatres, Michke Potash, directed by Bhaktaram Mitra which was released on April 6, 1951.

Jehangir Bhownagary. Courtesy of the India Films Division.

After this, we see it is mainly the Indian government who took up the cause of animation in India. Where Indian animation is concerned, it would be very difficult to deny that whatever may or may not be its other achievements, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting played a very important role in shaping today's industry through its film production unit, The Films Division in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). As early as 1945, a Cartoon Film Unit had already been set up with Jehangir Bhownagary serving as the script-writer. From an extremely important document published by the government called The Panorama of Indian Cinema, with a preface by Harish Khanna and an editorial article by B.D. Garga, we can glean a lot of information. Garga in his editorial article writes, "Between 1931 and the outbreak of World War II, the industry expanded rapidly. Several outstanding films were made during this period. Innovations like colour, cartoon films and dubbing in English were attempted. The period of the Second World War witnessed an increase in the number of cinemas to 2,090 though production declined owing to shortage of raw film."

One of the most important animations, Radha And Krishna, was produced in 1956, in Eastmancolour. The 22-minute film was directed by J.S. Bhownagary, with music by Vishnudas Shirali, Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. The animation was photographed by K.B. Godbole, H.R. Doreswami, V. Murthi and P. Bharadwaj, with commentary supplied by Zul Vellani. This was a cel animated film using miniature paintings of Indian art, which were used as the animation material. As far as we can guess, the animation was created using mainly camera movements over the paintings to create the illusion of animation. Significantly enough, in 1948 a film called Kalpana was released, directed by the dance maestro Uday Shankar, with the same music director Vishnudas Shirali, composing music for the film. Although the film was made using live-action, the use of movement, film-language, and synchronization of rhythm and melody, was a lesson to all Indian filmmakers. Filmmakers Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray saw the film 12 and 13 times respectively. This film had a great impact not only on animation, but the entire Indian Cinema.

Radha And Krishna. Courtesy of the India Films Division.

Animators like Kantilal Rathore, Pramod Pati, G.K. Godbole, and V.G. Samant, along with Ram Mohan, Bhimsain, Satam, Suresh Nayek and others, joined the Films Division slightly later. However, the film Radha And Krishna had already won international acclaim for the Films Division, establishing it as an important animation producer. In fact, in 1959 Radha And Krishna won both the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, and a prize at the International Film Festival of Documentary and Experimental Films in Santiago, Chile. Several other international festivals in Japan, Canada and Australia also recognized the film.

This Indian sensibility was somehow lacking in the next film The Banyan Deer, which was released in 1959, and based on a Hindu Jataka tale. It combined the Ajanta fresco and Disney drawing styles. Between 1956 and 1957, the Films Division, with the financial help of UNESCO and the US Technical Aid Programme, brought Clair Weeks, an animator from the Disney Studio, to India for an intensive training period, which resulted in some of India's best animators such as Ram Mohan, Bhimsain, Satam, Ezra Mir and Pramod Pati.

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