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"Indian kids have Harry Potter or Disney as options"

Filmmaker Soumitra Ranade talks about his new project Kabuliwala, which is one among six scripts selected for the NFDC's first Children's Screenwriters Lab

Filmmaker Soumitra Ranade has been selected for a screenwriting lab by NFDC for a genre that is nearly absent in the country according to him — cinema for children. His project, Kabuliwala, an animation inspired by a short story of Rabindranath Tagore, is among the six selected projects for its first Children’s Screenwriter’s Lab.

A work-in-progress frame from the animation film Kabuliwala by Soumitra Ranade
A work-in-progress frame from the animation film Kabuliwala by Soumitra Ranade.

The Mumbai-based director is excited about the project but not so much about the scenario of children’s cinema in India. He, however, looks at Kabuliwala as a work for a wider audience and the lab having mentors respected internationally, he believes, would give script the right kind of pruning.

“I am not a scriptwriter by training. I did a course in direction from FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) but eventually became a screenwriter with Jajantaram Mamantaram. (2003 release, based on Gulliver’s Travels.) So, I believe it is a good opportunity to sit with experts and get feedback,” he explains.

Filmmaker Soumitra Ranade. Pic /Tushar Satam
Filmmaker Soumitra Ranade. Pic /Tushar Satam

The lab culminates with a workshop in Goa along with the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in November where directors get a chance to pitch their projects to international producers. “Animation is an expensive medium and if an international producer is interested, it goes a long way,” he says.

Beyond Potter?
However currently, the director does not see much encouragement for cinema of this kind in the country. “The only options for children in India are Harry Potter and Disney-Pixar. It is a shame that our fairytales and stories would be lost eventually as generation after generation of Indians are growing up only with Western cinema,” he rues.

A poster of Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai
A poster of Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai

He considers himself privileged to be born in a family where his parents took him to movies like Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and Sonar Kella by Satyajit Ray. Even then, he says, Ray was possibly the only filmmaker in India so engaged with children's cinema.

Dhimant Vyas's painting
Dhimant Vyas's painting

And now, he considers the situation worse with children consuming movies with item numbers. “We, as a community, are not sensitive to the needs and expectations of a child. Actually, sensitivity is something we lack. We are insensitive to the old, to women and to children. Most of our cinema is for the 18-35-year-old male,” he says. He puts it in context mentioning how a movie like Piku or English Vinglish is considered fresh just because it is out of the box.

Kabuliwala for all
Ranade sees the story of Kabuliwala, which is about a tender relationship of a little girl in Kolkata with an Afghan moneylender, as something that could become a fantastic tale.

“It works because it is so impossible and endearing at the same time, almost going to the level of a fairy tale. Every child has a Kabuliwala in his or her life, sometimes, as a grandmother and sometimes, as an uncle. The title now works as a metaphor. In the animation, Kabuliwala is the medium through which the girl can go to another world.”

The director had earlier written an animation Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya inspired by Ray’s movie Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and his latest work, which is partly crowdfunded, is Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai. When asked if the time had now come when cinema inspires cinema the way literature did, he says. “The truth is that people only want to see something that they have already seen.

I have some original animation, which I am proud of, but has no takers. It is too risky for the producers. So, I take known novels, stories and movies and make my movie within them.” With Albert Pinto..., he said he wanted to tell the story of anger in our society. “The title is a catchphrase of our times,” he reasons.

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