Exclusive: “Hotstar Specials ‘The Legend of Hanuman’ is a fresh take on the myth and is about discovering a god within”: Sharad Devarajan

The Legend of Hanuman (Image shared exclusively with Animation Xpress)

Last week, Disney+ Hotstar announced the launch of an untold story of the mighty Hanuman’s journey from warrior to God in an animated series, Hotstar Specials presents The Legend of Hanuman.

Produced by Graphic India and created by Sharad Devarajan, Jeevan J. Kang and Charuvi P. Singhal, the mythological animation series uses superior quality visuals, CG, animation mounted on a global scale, the first-of-its-kind in India.

Sharad Devarajan

In an exclusive chat, Animation Xpress spoke to Graphic India co-founder Sharad Devarajan about the show and how this animated series explores the untapped story of the Indian mythological superhero. Read on: 

What’s different about this 3D animated show from so much content around Hanuman – animated or otherwise?

Hotstar Specials presents The Legend of Hanuman is a series that we hope will inspire audiences with a fresh new take on the myth both visually and narratively for a whole new generation.  

Hanuman is the quintessential Indian superhero, whose legends and stories are treasured by over a billion people. However, most previous live action film/TV versions have all been limited in their production ability on being able to show the vast visual world of mythical beings, demons, forest creatures, spirits and anthropomorphic clans, which Legend of Hanuman will be able to portray through animation for the first time.  

Visually, through high quality, immersive animation, this wondrous world will finally be able to be experienced in a way that no previous version of Hanuman has ever been able to achieve.  Hanuman’s quest will take him through a vast world of characters, demons, lost cities, cultures and forest beings with their rivalries, alliances and wars. At each stage he and his companions must overcome unthinkable challenges to save all existence.

Lord Ram, Lakshman and Hanuman in The Legend of Hanuman (Image shared exclusively with Animation Xpress)

Narratively, we will also be dealing with a new perspective on Hanuman mythology. Previous versions of Hanuman have told one of two basic stories; either tales of a mischievous young Hanuman as a boy; or fully grown up, as a god with his victories and full powers as depicted in the Ramayana.

But there is another story of Hanuman that we are exploring. When Hanuman’s power was taken from him as a child, he needed to go on a journey of self-discovery to evoke and discover the god inside him. Legend of Hanuman is the story of Hanuman’s journey from an ordinary ‘vaanar’ to an immortal god and the universal lessons he must learn in order to embrace his immortality and vast powers. Through these early adventures, Legend of Hanuman will inspire audiences to learn that the true measure of a hero is not defined from power, but from faith, courage, hope and compassion.

Lord Vishnu with baby Hanuman and his mother in The legend of Hanuman (Image shared exclusively with Animation Xpress)

What are the reference points/ research materials that were taken into consideration while creating this show?

We did a ton of research, both on the story and on the visual designs of the characters and environments. We also were fortunate enough to work with leading mythology advisors who really helped and guided us. The heroism of Hanuman means so much to the world and so much to all of the people who worked on this project. It is a very personal mission we have all been on to due justice to this hero and the billions who hold his story in their hearts. Above all we all remain reverent and respectful to the original myth and characters. 

Tell us about the animation team who has conceptualised and created the project?

None of this would have ever been possible without the brilliance and unbounded creativity of my co-creators on the show, Jeevan [Kang] and Charuvi [Singhal] , who continuously pushed the visual aesthetics of the design of the characters and world – as well as the look and feel of this series to new heights. Along with Navin John, who was the series director with Kang, and the dedication and pure genius of our executive producers, Shaik Maqbool Basha, Roopa De Choudhury, and Shivanghi Singh – we all together aimed to set a new high bar for Indian television animation. 

Hanuman and Jambavana in The Legend of Hanuman (Image exclusively shared with Animation Xpress)

We were also fortunate to have the stellar team at ReDefine, led by Greg Gavanski and John Harvey work with us to scale that vision into an aggressive production pipeline. At every stage of this series we have tried to push the boundaries of what was possible in Indian series animation and reinvent new ways of working to create something new for OTT audiences in the country. Those thousands of hours of collective work will hopefully provide an experience that does justice to this incredible hero that means so much to all of us. 

What’s the nature of the partnership with Disney+ Hotstar? What’s your comment on the streaming service now focusing on Indian homegrown animated original content?

To have this be the first ever Indian animated Hotstar Specials series is an amazing responsibility and honour we have all taken very seriously. The amazing team at Disney+ Hotstar have been exceptional partners and collaborators and really stood by our vision of wanting to create the first high-quality 3D animated series that resonates with audiences of all ages and featured more complex narratives and stories. 

We see Legend of Hanuman as a groundbreaking series that has the potential to usher in a new type of storytelling for the country. This is the first 3D Indian animated series on the platform intended for audiences beyond just kids. In the same way countries like Japan and Korea have always looked at animation as a medium and not a genre, Graphic India’s mission has always been to create stories that resonate with a wide audience from eight to 80 and does justice to the complex subject matter of stories like the Hanuman myths. 

The sophistication in the writing and visuals portray the animated series with reverence, complexity, drama and heart that allows us to hopefully move a generation of audiences in India to look at animation in a whole new way and help usher in a golden age of Indian animated projects that appeal to the masses.

Hanuman in The Legend of Hanuman (Image shared exclusively with Animation Xpress)

Do you have any further expansion plans for the franchise?

Hotstar Specials presents The Legend of Hanuman is a story with a rich world to explore and we see it having numerous expansions across media. In addition to these first 13 episodes that will release on 29 January exclusively on Disney+ Hotstar VIP we are already deep in production on an additional 13 episodes, which will continue the journey of Hanuman even further. Beyond animation, Graphic India is also aggressively exploring publishing, gaming and virtual reality opportunities around the characters. 

(Image shared exclusively with Animation Xpress)

Plans and Outlook for 2021? What’s upcoming for Graphic India?

2020 has been an exciting year and we have some great new projects we will be announcing soon. In animation, we recently launched our fifth season (a total of 71 episodes) of Baahubali: The Lost Legends last year, which Graphic India created with our partners Arka Mediaworks, and we have some exciting new plans for that franchise planned as well for this year. Separately we have two other animated shows we hope to make announcements on soon which will also take some very new and groundbreaking leaps for the Indian market.   

Beyond animation, we are also aggressively moving into the live action space and have a series of live-action film projects we are working on. We recently announced a multi-film slate with Reliance Entertainment and prolific filmmaker, Timur Bekmambetov to create a series of Hindi language live-action films leveraging Timur’s groundbreaking Screenlife technology. 

We are also working on two other Bollywood film projects which too we will be announcing soon as well as a big live action Hollywood TV series based on Indian mythology.   

In the same way that America created superheroes and Japan created anime, Graphic is tapping into the creativity of India to launch a new wave of enduring characters and mythic heroes to captivate the imaginations of youths in India and around the world. 

We believe the next Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, Stan Lee or Miyazaki exists somewhere in India – ready to change the world through their stories. Graphic will find these breakthrough talents and give them the training, resources and platform to share their creativity with the world – transforming the perception of India in comics and animation from an “outsourcer” to the “source.”