INDIAN ANIMATION - MISSED OPPORTUNITIES...
by Kireet Khurana (CEO ~ 2NZ Interactive)
India has the world's largest Film Industry where more than 700 feature films and 100 documentaries are produced each year. This huge industry supports thousands of technicians, artists, skilled and unskilled labour.
However, amidst this vastness of the Film Industry, the qualitative and quantitative output of the animation segment is abysmally low. Awareness and recognition of animation as a medium of effective communication is almost absent.
INDIAN ANIMATION IN SLUMBER
In 1935, when Disney had released its first feature film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", Indian animation was still at its infancy stage. Late Dadasaheb Phalke - the founder of Indian film Industry was attempting to make the first animation short film with matchsticks. The film was never screened.
And though several independent animators made futile attempts thereafter, the real start for Indian animation wasn't to come for the next two decades- until the late 50s.
In the late 50s Clair Weeks, an animator at Disney Studios, came to Bombay and trained a core group of animators, the principles of classical animation at Films Division, a governmental organization, under the ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This was the time that Indian short animation films actually got started and was exposed in the theaters.
And although Clair Weeks' trip did improve the animators' lot immensely, the animators opted for the UPA -limited animation style which was simpler in execution. Among the graduates from the Clair Weeks' program were Ram Mohan himself, one of the pioneer's of Indian animation today and the president of RM-USL, India's only global presence in commercial animation today.
The late 50s and early sixties saw the production of some good animation shorts. Some of the films won International awards. All these films were essentially produced by the government organisation - Films Division, which had Indian stalwart animation film-makers like Pramod Pati, Ram Mohan, Bhimsain, Gokhale, Satam and others. There was a virtual non-existence of private animation studios (which were not to come into existence till the early seventies). It looked as if Indian animation was poised for a leap. However, despite the promise, the quantity rarely exceeded more than 4-5 shorts or more than 30 minutes of animation each year.
And this output too started declining towards the end of the decade due to bureaucratic delays and lack of governmental funds. Promotional films on governmental policies, family planning, birth control, hygiene etc. started constituting a major bulk of these films. Indian animation really started struggling to gasp for breath once again.
THE INDEPENDENT STUDIOS
Came the 70's and a whole group of people trained under Clair Weeks deserted the ailing Films Division and started Independent Animation Studios of their own. Among them were the two pioneers of Indian animation Bhimsain - who heads Climb Films and Ram Mohan started Ram Mohan Biographics.
Some really good films were made during this time and some International recognition came in. Again this was merely compensating for the decline in production of films at Films Division and in no manner represented a boom.
The new found enthusiasm of the Independent studios soon waned due to total lack of marketing and governmental support for these personal short films. Indian governments paucity of funds didn't allow it afford an organization like the National Film Board of Canada. Soon the independent animators started looking out for various other means to generate income to keep their studios running.
By 1976, the independent studios were doing commercial work with little or no funds for animation shorts. Bhimsain diversified into Feature films production and Ram Mohan immersed himself almost totally in ad films.
The 80s saw a virtual cessation of animation films. This lull became even more conspicuous as all possible avenues for the Independent animators ceased to exist. There were no new entrants in this unviable field. A few ad films were the only productions to show in the name of animation and that couldn't have sustained more studios or harnessed new talent.
However, with T.V. growing at a tremendous rate, the possibilities of producing animation films could be seen in the horizon once again. Bhimsain submitted a proposal and got approval for a 26 episode animated series in 1989. Animation of this vast quantity was unheard of being attempted in India.
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES OF THE 90S...
The 90s has seen a relatively unprecedented boom for the Indian animation Industry.
Ram Mohan ventured into a Indo-Japanese collaboration animated feature based on Indian epic Ramayana. After about 10 years of labour, the film was finally released in 1997 amidst bad publicity and virtual non-awareness among the general media and people and didn't do well commercially in India. He is currently producing an animated series called "MEENA" and "ZARA" for UNICEF.
Bhimsain completed the country's first 13 episode animated series "LOK GATHA" (based on Indian Folk Tales) in 1992. Bhimsain also produced a 26 episode animated series VARTMAAN. Bhimsain is also co-producing a collaboration film "LOCKED" with the National Film Board of Canada.
The future of Indian animation seems bright. A new crop of animators have come in and over 100 computer animation studios have opened up.
On the pro side of it, TV is here to stay. Channels are looking for Indian programs. This virgin field has a colossal potential for growth. And although Indian animation programs stand greatly disadvantaged in comparison with the slicker and cheaper re-run foreign animated programs, the foreign programs cannot be as identifiable as the Indian programs. Film Festivals in India are focussing increasingly on animation films.
However, Indian animation has a long way to go. Barring the National Institute of Design(NID), there is no dedicated animation institute in India. Even though NID has produced good animators in the past (Ishu Patel of the National Film Board of Canada being one of students in the 70s), the animation course has yet to realise its full potential due to lack of governmental funds. There is an urgent need to revamp the training side of animation in India if more aspirants have to be trained in animation.
Besides this cheap re-run foreign programs are nibbling into the animation segment on T.V. before Indian animation can get a fair chance to stand up and assert itself.
And that is the challenge that Indian animators now have to stand up to.