Take a Spunky Sikh Add loads of talent Sprinkle a dashful of humor and chant…
‘DHADAM TE DHADOOM!’
Lo and behold you have …. Uttam Pal Singh Chawla.
Recently Animation ‘xpress’ Anand Gurnani touched base with Uttam and spoke to him about a whole gamut of topics ranging from his short films to NID to the state of the Indian animation industry.
90 minutes spent with UPSC and one feels that the moment Indian artists working across the country begin to open up and express their personalities in their work, (may be by doing their own short films in spare time) Indian animation will never be the same.
The animation film maker whose short films & series (Channel V’s Santa Banta created with Manish and short film Bheeru No1 with Mehul & Parag) have appealed immensely to the youth, believes that good humor makes simple stories great fun to watch and that Indian animation needs a lot more energy.
When did you get into animation?
Exact date I can’t say but during childhood I used to do flip books which I had learnt while watching one of the UGC programs on Doordarshan. I used a torch under my glass table to project light through the flip book. It was just an experiment, it never occurred to me that this was how animation was done.
That was my early flirtation with animation, though as a school boy I did not go beyond that.
Years later when I was in college pursuing my degree in architecture, I did a story of a guy who wants to jump from a spring board but every attempt of his is a faliure. That was completely hand drawn and animated by me.
I am a small town guy from Saharanpur, where people don’t know much about animation and there are very few career options that parents generally aspire for their children and I was in architecture.
The study of Architecture gave me lateral thinking in terms of design, later on when I got into Animation, it gave me the chance to break all the rules I had learnt in architecture. However I would like to mention that one can break those rules only after knowing them well enough.
While studying architecture I participated in lot of festivals and competitions like NASA (National Association of Schools of Architecture). I was always appreciated for my cartooning skills, but I was enlightened about animation film making and Design at the National Institute Of Design (NID).
“For me the quality of in betweens can be sacrificed but story, sound, character need be in sync. Because that is 50% strength added to your animation.”
Santa Banta Channel [V]
So when did NID happen and how come the switch to animation?
That’s the question I was asked by the NID people when I went for my admissions. I showed them my flipbook and told them of how I was always interested and inclined towards story telling and cartooning and they bought my story.
From the time I joined the PG course at NID I saw the beauty and magic of animation and design. The potential of animation was revealed to me then and there.
So did you have to unlearn a lot of fundas?
Yes. There was a lot of unlearning. Architecture makes you fall on a lot of stiff parameters. Animation gives you the strength to break those laws, and the way you do it is your style. While I did have to unlearn stuff, I also retained some of the basic strengths that I had imbibed in Architecture.
Which are the animators that you are inspired and Influenced by?
I was inspired by many of my seniors at NID, I mean the ex alumni who used to come for workshops. Vaibhav Kumaresh, Prakash Moorthy, Nina Sabnani, Shamak Majumdar, Manish Sehrawat, Sheetal Sudhir.
My recent years as a professional animator have provided me the chance to collaborate and work along with most of them and it feels great.
In terms of Influence there’s so many that I admire. John Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy) because of his wild style of drawing and over the top humor. South Park and The Simpsons was an inspiration for Santa Banta in terms of the masti and naughty humor.
Then who can not be inspired by the amazing Bill Plympton. There’s Cordell Barker (‘When the cat came back’),and Richard Condie (‘The Big snit) In fact most of the NFBC people were great. Also Michael Dudock de vit, Nick Park, Peter Lord.. Norman Mc Laren Mc Laren’s films were most widely seen in NID.
Friz Flenz, Chuck Jones, and all those involved with Warner Bros Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (Tom and Jerry)
While Disney characters catered to the family, these catered to the naughty kids. Then one looks around and you have The Simpsons which is yet another style. Simpsons highlights that content and writing is so important.
So what’s your style as an animation film maker?
Now that is a bit difficult to answer, if you look at my work, they are all visually different from each other, and I am comfortable working with new and different styles. It keeps me on the edge, and not monotonous. I don’t want to get typecast. Humor is a common element, be it perky gags, situational, ridiculous or outright laughter. I was once told by a great person a ‘guiding light’ I admire, ‘that you have a sense of the non-sense!. I guess that reflects as a style in my films and work. However, if I were to use this opportunity and categorise my work then I would call it the ‘E-shtyle’. ‘E’ stands for energy.(ha! ha!).
But there is a long way to go, many more stories, many more films, and many more awards till I mature to a particular style. I am just a fresher right now!
Your comments on the 30 second short and the short film making?
Short films are very close to the film maker’s heart. They explore variety of flavors and subjects which a commercial cinema can’t venture due to various reasons. It expands film viewing experience of the audience which sometimes gets saturated by the repetition of same old stories. It can be made in little or no budget; all you need is a beautiful mind, passion, and the generosity of friends and relatives.
Outside, Short films have a great market and a mass appeal. There is a business model especially for short films. Here that market is still underdeveloped and can be tapped upon. There are Short Film Festivals which support and promote them. And a few Film Clubs but normally one has to market ones film and network a lot. Masses want ‘paisa wasool stuff’, If a short film can deliver that entertainment value then Cinemas and multiplexes will open their doors for short films and that I think will be a big step in India, something tells me that is not far ahead.
“Masses want ‘paisa wasool stuff’, If a short film can deliver that entertainment value then Cinemas and multiplexes will open their doors for short films”
Santa Banta Channel [V]
Please elaborate on some of your projects?
Bheeru No.1 was our (Uttam, Parag, Mehul) first film and was made as a part of our two months training with Ram Mohan, while we were still students at NID ( 2002). It was made as a pitch project for a television series based on the same characters, stories revolving around the different genres of bollywood. The film is inspired from the typical structure of film making in Bollywood. It comprises of a range of emotions, action, romance, tragedy, comedy and miracle, popularly known as the ‘masala mix’. It has won many national and international awards since then and is still a great hit among the college students.
The script is very fast paced and so is the film with quick cuts, peppy dialogues and situational humor. It leaves no room for the audience to drift away but keeps them constantly engaged. The characters have funny names and the audience loves to improvise them again and again. The characters were hand drawn later scanned and modified on Macromedia Flash (The software we used to animate).
Animation as a medium is very expensive and Mr Ram Mohan was looking at new methods which would reduce the budget of a production process substantially. A great idea, a small and talented team with adequate infrastructure, can result in a winning formula and Bheeru No.1 proved just that!
“A great idea, a small and talented team with adequate infrastructure, can result in a winning formula and Bheeru No.1 proved just that!”
Bheeru No1Â© Ram Mohan Biographics
This was followed by Ram Rahim, an NID project made after and influenced from the Gujrat Riots. After the riots (2003) there was this deep urge in us (Uttam, Parag, Mehul) to do something for the victims and the hatred ridden society, especially the children affected by the riots, so we set out, with no prior motive. For two months we met with children in the relief camps, we talked to them, played with them, had drawing workshops, storytelling workshops, we showed them animation films, it was an enriching and moving experience. The children conveyed a lot through those drawings, about the riots, about their friends who passed away in the riots, about brotherhood and patriotism. We felt we could use our skills to voice the concerns of the children and the message they want to convey. So we decided to put everything together and this resulted in Ram Rahim. We scanned those drawings for the characters in our film and that set the style statement, which was different and communicated a lot.
“Ram Rahim was a very enriching experience!”
Ram Rahim Â© National Institute of Design
Next came Santa Banta(2004) which was created by myself and Manish. Santa Banta is a lethal combination of wit, humor and unintelligence. Two dear friends, two dear foes and the whole world to take on! (do pakke dost- do pakke dushman aur duniya ki aesee ki tesee!) Dhadaam te Dhadoom!
They are synonyms to good laugh. Traditionally they are stand up comics who have an opinion about any day to day activity around this world or the planet and the brains to justify them. They are like daily reporters with a front headline ‘Laughter the best medicine’.
It was part of my Diploma Project with Channel [V], which sponsors a lot of young talents and filmmakers and is a great platform to show case ones work. Its was also my first stint in television, ‘I want 30sec of animation by tomorrow morning!’ phrases like this are not uncommon, and I totally freaked. Generally one would have spent months to make a 30sec short film but in television the time table squeezes and deadlines become deadlines!
The solution is in the form of simple yet catchy characters, with whom audience can associate instantly, simple design, limited animation and a great script. And the result is
“South Park and The Simpsons was an inspiration for Santa Banta in terms of the masti and naughty humor”
Santa Banta Â© Channel [V]
This year we (Uttam and Shamik) did a new series Vgyaan, the light of the Brain! It’s a series of short films, 60sec each, which promotes and talks about some path breaking rocket-science products invented by Channel [v], which when used will make our world a better place to live in. Products range from beauty products (ex. Kesh Krypton) to cloth accessory (ex. Fart-silencer) to self-help-moral-boosters (ex. Pressure Pati, Seedha-Sirplus). Its Channel [V] humor, based on the art of the Obvious!
The drawing style is inspired form the Instructional art (Airline Graphic, krpiya kursi ke peti baandh leejiye aur kursi ki peti is terhe baandhi jaati hai), Limited animation, drawings are graphical representations of live figures and purposely kept flat.
Santa Banta has really caught on with the youth. Please tell us some more about the characters?
Well, Santa is the hot-headed guy. Santa is ‘Santa Caluse’ by profession and appearance, foreign returned, western influenced, slang speaking fat oldie and Banta’s very dear friend.very dear foe. By nature he is more excited, loud and impulsive personality. He is buffaloed by Banta’s cool attitude and is always scheming against him. He speaks slang English flavoured with Punjabi.
Banta on the other hand is the ‘cool guy’. Young intellectual, cunning and innocently notorious by nature. The Presenter, the Star of sector-17, he is our ‘Punjab da puttar’. Sarcasm is one of the services he offers. And is always picking on Santa’s pseudo-western influence with his very own version of flavoured one liners. He sees a bit of nonsense in a world that somehow makes sense, who grasps incongruities in a more comprehensive congruity. He loves to talk about Channel [V]’s achievements. He speaks Hindi-Punjabi mix and on occasions a dab of English to make his point.
Santa-Banta have a common area of interest ‘beautiful women’ and are always on a look-out for the hottest models on television. They are Bad Boys with a soft heart. Ocassionally they have a verbal disagreement with each other but eventually patch-up and remain ‘Bestest-friends’.
And by the way check out the latest Santa Banta on ‘How to be Sexy’
I am thinking of doing 1 minute mobisodes. When I got into doing Broadcast (Channel V promos) I realized the power of a 30 second film. Can be done fast, the feedback is fast and you can always keep doing more stories.
I am also trying to conceive a mini series for TV, a mix and match of rough art styles, something like MAD comics for which I am looking to collaborate with other producers. Animation is an Intellectual Property which can be rewarding even 50 years down the line. It perpetually keeps earning you money. I am looking out for a passionate producer with long term thinking who can understand the fact that Indian animation is coming around. Look at Ram Mohan, he has been producing and supporting the making of so many short films.
“Channel [V] sponsors a lot of young talents and filmmakers and is
a great platform to showcase ones work”
VgyaanÂ© Channel [V]
What do you have to say about the way Indian animation is currently?
Jo ho raha hai wo bhee acha hai aur jo aagey hoga who bhee Sahee hai Hanuman has been accepted by people, they have liked it and that’s a good sign.
I think there’s so much we can do with Indian animation and I don’t only mean mythology. One great thing is that it’s the same youth that goes to watch The Incredibles that enjoys watching Santa Banta and Simpoo.
I wish David Dhawan was in animation. Animation would Rock. Dekha Jaye to All bollywood scripts are fantastic enough to be made into animated movies..ha ha
India’s contribution to the world has been as of a service provider but it has to orient towards knowledge and ideas. Our soft infrastructure (creativity and ideas) have to be focused on too. I would urge all fellow animators to jot down ideas in their diaries on a regular basis and work on them as and when they get a chance to.
At this year’s International Animation Day the studio & animation institute execs spoke about the need for artists to come forth and share knowledge. Would you participate in knowledge sharing sessions?
I would love to spare some time for sharing skills with students but the workshops would have to be focused on pre production and design.
With special thanks to Uttam Pal Singh Chawla for his energy, enthusiasm and ideas at the Animation ‘xpress photoshoot and for his creative collaboration and work on the cover image.