Animation for kids: Where are the original stories?

Published: Nov 20, 2013, 07:48 IST | Kanika Sharma |

As the curtains come down on the 18th International Children's Film Festival India popularly known as The Golden Elephant, Kanika Sharma eavesdrops in one of the most pivotal discussions that took centre stage at this cinematic spectacle � animation films. It's time your child chose to watch Goopy over Shin Chan and co.

‘Yeh anek kya hai, didi?’ is a line that the generation that was fed on Doordarshan in India might be able to relate to. Recalling the voice of five-year-old Sadhna Sargam: the didi answers, ‘bahut saare’ — in the Ek Anek aur Ekta animation, possibly the third animated film in the country. One wonders what happened to India’s proliferation in original animation like many other artistic endeavours. The probe in this direction gains a greater urgency when one comes upon the fact during our background check that the film had even won a National Award in 1974.

Arjun: The Warrior Prince gives a holistic view on the Pandava

Shilpa Ranade who has broken the revenue-induced stupor of the industry with her accolade-winning film, Goopi Gawaiiya Bagha Bajaiiya, informs, “The kind of animation that was brought in India, was brought in by Disney animators many years ago. Post Independence, when we started our own animation units here, we borrowed from there and somehow, kept on regurgitating that kind of animation. But to me it is important to look at your own context and draw from that.”

Her opinion gained scope at the 18th Golden Elephant as the Upendrakishore Raychowdhuri adaptation was the opening film at the festival. More so, as this journalist attended an Open House Forum that engaged filmmakers including Ranade, Arnab Chaudhuri (director of Arjun), Jiri Barta (a renowned Czech filmmaker) and Fauzia Minallah (a Pakistani activist, author and artist).

Just like the earlier one
The idea that most animation films have to sap from the rich repertoire of Hindu mythology is a double-edged sword. From Ramayana: The Epic, to Chhota Bheem, there is the danger of tilting the secular axis of the country amongst the future generations. More than that, Chaudhuri feels that the ‘Bal’s and the ‘Chhota’s are more of caricatures of the actual mythologies of these characters. Looking at the larger forces at play, he voices, “You’ve nailed it when you say every film looks like the last one and every piece of music sounds like the last one. It’s just not animation; it’s all of cinema. However, there’s hope. With technology being what it is today, we are being able to tell our stories with low budgets, in a smaller time frame, and for smaller audiences.”

Garnering accolades is Shilpa Ranade’s Goopi Gawaiiya Bagha Bajaiiya 

Interestingly, Chaudhuri feels that smaller audiences hold the key to greater artistic freedom. He reasons, “the local folk form or the local idiom will work and talk to the audiences,” only in the slated scenario. Arjun: The Warrior Prince, however, produced by UTV Software Communications and Ronnie Screwvala had a foot in the door when it came to ensuring that the film will tap into a large distribution network. A scenario, several scripts in India are unable to meet and mirror a worldwide phenomenon.

Imbalanced ideas?
Jiri Barta, who has a 40-year-old connect with the Czech animation industry, feels that it’s important to zero in on one’s target audience. He recalls his own challenges, “I’ve had to go back to the story of our animated studios. After the world war, our famous illustrator Jirí Trnka founded a studio. The source of everything at that time was art design as he was an illustrator. My work was around this style.” As Czechoslovakia has transitioned through the Communist regime towards private-sponsored films, the quality and scouting of producers has suffered. Concentrating on the festival circuit, Barta stresses that in terms of creative treatment, “It’s important to be in balance between script, storyboard, animation and art design.”

Movie still of In the Attic by Jiri Barta

T for Twin Towers
Fauzia Minallah, the Pakistani activist gives immense importance to content, on the flip side. Using basic Adobe, Mac and Moviemaker software, Minallah takes a leaf out of her own life, “It may sound very cliché but it was really after 9/11, I saw the world changing for my own surroundings and I felt that as someone who loves art, I should use it for children.” Speaking of her work she introduced a character called Amai, “a word from Balochistan which means mother which I used to call my own mother,” Minallah explains.

The fact that Minallah doesn’t deter from speaking of the Twin Towers and how the world is rupturing into many schisms, she asserts, “I wanted to tell my children how to live in this world, which will be very difficult for them. Amai turns into a bird and takes them to meet people from all over: It was my way of opening the world for them.”

Wanted: An original
Ranade employed a team of hardly 20 artists and completed her film in two years while Chaudhuri was able to hold his turf when it came to key decisions and nuanced representation of mythology. It’s fodder for the mind about the kind of choices we wish for future generations to make. Will Despicable Me’s minions, Shin Chan, Woody (from Toy Story), Boo (from Monsters Inc) — lose out to the Anek Chidhiyas, the Goopys and the Baghas of our centuries-old culture? Also, how about penning stories for the video-obsessed generation to help them cope with the teeming pressures of living in an urban city, nowadays? Watch this space.

From the eye of the cine-kid
Sannette Naeye, Director of Cinekid Festival, one of the largest festivals in the world, shares that in terms of funding one needs to have institutions that route public funding to independent filmmakers by giving them a freehand in creative decisions. “There should be a division between the state and the production which happens in most Eastern European countries. Once the government enters the equation, you think of pleasing the second / third eye. Otherwise films have a finger pointing towards children”, making them didactic, is Naeye’s insight into industry norms. Speaking on the importance of children’s films, she says, “In The Netherlands, children are most active in media than anywhere else on a daily basis. In Holland, 90% of children have access to interactive media. So their social or cognitive and emotional development is totally related to the world of media. To raise the society, especially the future generation, quality in key media is a key factor.”    

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