Following the star of Indian animation and comics with its 3 wise men

The views expressed in this feature, belong solely to the speaker to whom attributed. Animation ‘xpress may or may not subscribe to the same.

That flash of light…. That indication…. Good Times are around…. Let’s follow the star…. With the three wise men! Animation ‘xpress wishes all its readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2005 Nearly 5 decades ago, India was a newly formed nation…. it already had a legacy in terms of cinematic excellence…. Animation, for the exception of the renowned Dadasaheb Phalke or the Hunnar productions team was not existent in India. Today, There might be people who would still argue about existence of original animation in the country… but there’s certainly a great number of Indian hands and minds at work, working towards doing better animation… When it comes to animation, these 5 decades have their high points as well as low points. The industry has had its davids and goliaths too…. Chronicling the history of Indian animation is an exciting prospect and there have been institutions and organizations who have worked towards it….. we at Animation ‘xpress, thought that it would be wonderful to get together some of the industry’s veterans, all 3 of whom have more than or around 50 years of experience!! and we let the ink flow even as they mingled and reminisced… Presenting to our readers, an informal, casual conversation with veterans Ram Mohan (Chairman – Graphiti Multimedia), Bhimsain Khurana (President – Climb Media) and Anant Pai (Founder and Editor – Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle) …. in this special Animation ‘xpress Christmas feature, ‘Three wise men of Indian animation and comics’…

…over a special lunch in their honor at Mumbai’s ‘Jewel of India’.

Animation has so much to give for those who are sensitive to it.

For those who coined ‘Life begins at 40!’, here’s food for thought, while coordinating the special meeting with the three wise men of Indian animation and comics, it came as a pleasant surprise that though all the 3 esteemed guests were beyond 75, they were as busy and perhaps more so, than the regular professional. A few reschedulings and CO-ordinations later… Animation ‘xpress finally managed to get a date, time and location that would suit all the three! Over to the three wise men now, without any more jottings… presenting to you the conversation as it took place. Ram Mohan: I will complete 50 years in animation in 2006. I started out by doing character design and story boards. I remember it was for “This Our India”, an animated film adapted from a book by Minoo Masani. Actually I used to do cartoons as a hobby, I was a chemistry student, I took the giant leap from chemistry to animation after meeting Clair weeks from Disney, who served a 2 year stint at Films Division as head of the cartoon films unit. He asked me to join him as a trainee in the Cartoon Film Unit at Films Division. Bhimsain also joined in films division – we were here together for 10 yrs. Bhimsain Khurana: I was fresh from Arts college in Lucknow, I used to get excited to watch drawings move. Back then I never thought I would be in animation. Anant Pai: – I was working with the Times of India and I remember we had special graveure printing machines, Palatia machines. These were used to print calendars. P K Roy my boss called and told me that, “Anant our machines are busy during season but they are not in use during off season. Let’s take some licenses to comics and use our printing equipment” He then asked me if Superman would be a good license to buy and I conducted a small survey for the same. I found out that kids preferred Phantom to Superman. Animation ‘xpress : So you have been in comics from even before A.C.K? When did A.C.K begin?
Amar Chitra Katha
Anant Pai: In 1967 Television had just begun in India on an experimental basis. One fine evening in Delhi, I happened to pass by a shop which had a television on display. I stopped to watch out of curiosity, a quiz was on, the question asked was “Who is the mother of Ram?” none of the 5 participants knew the answer. The next question on the Greek god Olympus was answered by all. This stuck me. I realized that there was a need for informing the youth of India of our own culture. On returning to Bombay, the thought still persisted in my mind. My nephews used to publish a small magazine called the family magazine, they used to be crazy about comics, Archies were unheard of then. There was a comic book I had read about an English boy who wanted to go to the big city of London. Like a flash of lightning, it stuck me that here was a way in which to inform the children of India about their own culture. Besides I was also aware of the craze thanks to my job at Times’ Indrajal comics. I took my idea to many publishers but in vain. Animation ‘xpress : Why did you not publish with Indrajal comics where you were working? Anant Pai: TOI is and was a mighty organization, it would have taken a lot of persuasion and meetings before which I could even speak to the people in charge .It was headed by R N Shukla then. I left a very good job at the TOI to pursue my interest in Indian comics. Finally I met G L Mirchandani and H G Mirchandani who showed some interest(1970). They were however cautious and to begin with, asked me to work on some fairy tales that they had rights for the Indian region to. The first 10 issues of the Amar Chitra Katha were therefore not Indian culture or mythology but tales like Red Riding Hood and Jack & the Beanstalk. Animation ‘xpress : What kind of characters were popular or memorable in animation out then besides the Disney ones of course? Bhimsain Khurana: I remember 1 character – Mauji Ram- It was Ram Mohan’s character. I was learning as an animator and was doing backgrounds for it. Rammohan do you remember that stint at Prasad? Ram Mohan: Yes I do, we were together at Prasad too. I think it was between 1968 and 1971, I was with Prasad productions and then I started my own studio in 1971. Prasad had a nice place in filmcenter at Tardeo. They had an oxberry animation camera. It was surprising to see that Prasad which was into live action, had invested a lakh and a a half rupees in an animation camera. The funny thing is that they didn’t know that animators were needed to make animation from that camera and it wouldn’t do things on its own. When they got in the machine and realized that they would need animators to use it, they were suggested my name. They contacted me and asked me whether I was interested in shifting base to Chennai where they were set up. I told I would love to use the camera but they would have to set it up in mumbai. That’s how when I moved from Films Division after being there for 12 years. I was with Prasad Productions for 3 years and then set up my own independent unit in 1971. Animation ‘xpress : So were you one of the first animators in the country? Ram Mohan: We were one of the first few, but animation was in India since quite a while, on a small scale though. There was Hunnar films which had 2 partners, Baptista and Vijaykar, then there was Kantilal Rathod who had a small studio. Then there was Dadasaheb Phalke earlier on. Actually the story of how Dadasaheb Phalke did some animation is interesting. He was a multi talented personality and was also a very good magician. During the first world war, import of raw stock was shut down. Dadasaheb had a little stock left with him and he possibly couldn’t shoot much of live action with it. So using his resourceful and creative mind, he animated simple objects, like match sticks and coins, pushing them around under his hand cranked camera , and photographing them, one frame at a time Dadasaheb also did a lot SFX using animation for Harishchandra and other mythologicals he produced. Animation ‘xpress : If you were to start your careers, given today’s times and opportunities would you still like to get into animation? Does that which attracted you to animation 5 decades ago, still exist in animation? Does that which got them into animation still exist in it? Bhimsain Khurana: See those times were different, there was a lot of challenge. We were actually like tapasvis, working in the dark studio, drawing and painting each frame, shooting it and then waiting for the processing in labs after which we could see the results. Then we would have our corrections. It demanded a lot of patience… I think even today though the tools have very much changed, animation is as exciting and interesting. Ram Mohan:I have worked in conventional animation for 4 decades. Since the past 4 years or so I have been doing computer animation and I have got fascinated by it. The challenge has been to create characters using computer animation and to see if it is possible to get the same level of flexibility as 2d on computer, that’s the challenge and it is becoming very much possible with the software getting to be more and more versatile with each version. Computer animation has made me feel fresh and excited all over again. Bhimsain Khurana: Today the art has grown, the tools have changed, the results are more fascinating. Regardless of all this it is the story that has to be well told and that will never go. Anant Pai: I would like to add my own bit to this, I feel that there is a lot of violence in animation today. I am releasing an animated VCD this 19th. It is full of universal values for kids told in simple yet engaging story format. The old woman and the beast has an animated uncle Pai and I have sung for it too. It is flash animation and looks very appealing. The animation has been done in Kolkatta. I have of course supplied my own storyboards and key illustrations. A snapshot from UNICEF’s Meena web page Animation ‘xpress : What work done in the past 5 decades has given you the most satisfaction? Ram Mohan: – When I joined Films Division, the kind of films we did then were purposeful. After that I went into doing commercials for the next 25 years. I do not remember much from those 25 years. I returned to social communication with an initiative called Meena. Meena was a project for the South Asia Regional Office of UNICEF. It was one of the most satisfying things I did in my career. UNICEF gave me a lot of creative freedom. When I went to Bangladesh, I realized how popular the character had become. Meena had become a cult figure in Bangladesh and that was one of the most personally rewarding projects for me. Anant Pai: Krishna is one of my favorites and I must say that the Amar Chitra Katha that I did on Krishna is one of the most satisfying ones in my career. I also got a lot of satisfaction from doing The Gita. I am satisfied with whatever I have done, because I believe that one must do one’s best and move on. Till last year the Amar Chitra Katha had sold 86 million copies worldwide and have been printed in 38 languages. The largest single bulk order for any title has been for 50,000 copies of Jesus Christ (92 pages bumper issue) that too in a local language called Ibaan by an organisation in Africa. Still from Bhimsain’s -Ek Anek Ekta Bhimsain Khurana: For me its different, whenever I do something, I feel dissatisfied at the end of it. There are so many flaws and errors that I want to rectify. I though am very happy with the kind of success that Ek Anek Ekta met with. I did it for an organization called NCERT.I wasn’t asked to come up with a social message, I was given complete freedom and I just came up with this and it became very very well known. Thanks to Doordarshan which might have aired it thousands of times. Anant Pai: Besides Amar Chitra Katha, I get a lot of recognition for Tinkle too… Animation ‘xpress : So Life begins at 75? Life begins at 75 ! Ram Mohan: For me it has just begun,and I have just moved into the exciting field of computer animation. When we speak of film making we consider 4 elements: Narrative – Design – Sound – Performance Animation ‘xpress : What about creating animation for Indian Television?How feasible and possible is it? Ram Mohan: When we talk of Indian animation content, the source is from mythology, and folklore, but beyond that we should also think of the great visually rich Design culture that India has. There is such a rich treasure house that we posses. It has been hardly used in Animation. I remember one of Bhimsain’s movies which was done on Warli paintings, it was so beautiful. Let’s do Indian designs and evolve our own style of animation. The style of animation,in terms of its pace,fluidity, performance etc. is dictated by the design. One approach we could use is of using lesser frames, limited number of drawings,with greater emphasis on design and sound. That would help in getting down costs, Today if we approach a TV Channel demanding RS 20 labs per episode, they are going to turn it down. Animation is about narrative and about style, we can surely work out cost effective alternatives to come up with very interesting original Indian fare for the TV channels. We can try Flash, or maybe simple cutouts, simple techniques work within the limitations and extensions of the technology you have and still come up with interesting animation films (episodes). “Today if we approach a TV Channel demanding RS 20 lacs per episode, they are going to turn it down. Animation is about narrative and about style, we can surely work out cost effective alternatives to come up with very interesting original Indian fare for the TV channels” Ram Mohan speaks Bhimsain Khurana: – Whatever the technique, it is finally about story telling. Ram Mohan: To convert the vast treasury of stories and design heritage into animated content we require a good deal of money, just as the Japanese developed anime we need to have our Indian ethos. Bhimsain Khurana: Actually Ram Mohan, we did those kinds of things earlier on didn’t we? But we never got enough government support. I made 26 half hour episodes of Vartamaan for Doordarshan, following which I made Lok Gatha which never made it to the screen thanks to the erratic and bureaucratic functioning at the concerned houses. Anant Pai: While you people are talking about Indian flavors,designs and stories for making animated content, I would like to share my view. I started with Indian mythology in Amar Chitra Katha but gradually as ACK became famous and popular across the world, I started publishing titles on world personalities and cultures across different lands. I think given today’s markets and global culture, we ought to teach the child the right values of life when he is young and ready to imbibe. Simple essential values like- There is joy in sharing Everyone in his place is important There are so many simple values that make life better, these values when conveyed through animation or comics are such that whether the child is in India or Russia or France or US, the values are universal, making content which such universal messages makes the entire world an audience. “There are so many simple values that make life better, these values when conveyed through animation or comics are such that whether the child is in India or Russia or France or US, the values are universal, making content with such universal messages makes the entire world an audience” Anant Pai speaks Ram Mohan: It is not easy to introduce different styles of animation because the world has been so dominated by Disney and Hollywood. People are not aware of the kind of animation done by eastern Europe. People used to jeer at Japanese anime, but today anime has become a cult in the US too. We have to find a way of popularizing different types of animation, There have to be shows about animation films. We should do an animation film show where different styles and stories in animation are shown to the audience and each theme and concept is explained by Uncle Pai who has his own way with kids and they love him. What do you say Pai? Anant Pai: Of course that would be wonderful Bhimsain Khurana: We need good film makers, exhibitors and sponsors to come ahead and volunteer I was thinking of a serial in which I start demonstrating and teaching children about what animation is. We need to imbibe an animation culture in our children. The attack has to be on all fronts. It will take yet another generation of children, because the current generation has already got its tastes and likes. Anant Pai: Today the IQ in children is quite high but EQ is low. Animation ‘xpress : What about contemporarising our content, why dig into the past texts and content for coming up with Indian fare, why the dhoti clad pandits and apsaras in every Indian fare? Ram Mohan: Disney made a film called Mulan which had Chinese clothes, Chinese fare yet people over the world liked it. Alladin was Arabic in its look. As long as the story connects, I don’t think there is need to contemporise the look. In trying to ape the westerners we have degraded our values We need to revive our values I feel sorry for Indian Kids. Anant Pai: We have such a treasury of stories which are about values. Kids, when exposed to those stories can grow mentally as well as mature evolve emotionally. Did you know that the Panchatantra has gone all over the world in ACK. Ram Mohan: Panchatantra is but one small part of the Katha Sarit Sagar Comic Publishing does have a future in India! Animation ‘xpress : What about Comics – do you see any future in them in India? Ram Mohan: Of course yes. We are doing work for the Johns Hopkins University, they are making comics for adolescents in Bangladesh related to health issues. Comics always have an appeal. Even food and agriculture related organizations come out with comics to educate the rural. Anant Pai : Till today I am amazed and overwhelmed by the kind of love and warmth I receive wherever I go in the world. The kind of fascination that children the world over have for tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha is amazing. Animation ‘xpress : What do you think is essential to the growth of animation culture in India? Ram Mohan: the training and academic approach to animation is lacking. A lot of people have taken to animation as a vocation . Animation is seen here as skilled labour. The animator is looked upon as either a technician or a craftsman, he is not looked upon as an artist. Animation ‘xpress : Do you blame the sweatshop culture for that? Ram Mohan: I dont say that it is wrong ,the foreign exchange that flows into the country is welcome and that is a separate track altogether. The better it does the better for animation, but additionally we have to go beyond that and see animation as an art form. Animation is film making in its totality. Music, choreography, story telling, histrionics in the animating of characters. We actually need to have an IIT for animation. Call it IIA. I would like to talk about it to officials. But there is another problem. Where is the faculty? We need to get the teachers to come in and teach from abroad. Bhimsain Khurana: An animator requires to be of a different mettle. At least an animation film maker. It is a very personal thing, it also requires commitment to society, a high intellect, values and a frame of mind. Animation ‘xpress : Do you think that most of the workforce working in Indian studios today on International projects could be described in the above terms? Ram Mohan: There’s no harm in work for hire, they will boost the economy, but the bar of animation will not be raised by it. It is not contributing anything to the Indian animation culture. Bhimsain Khurana: There is money being put into animation out here. But where is that money coming in from? It is the businessmen who invest and their objective is single to make more money. They look at animation as one thing – Business. Animation ‘xpress : What are your ambitions today? Ram Mohan: – Animation education – Today the only source from where I can get good talent is the NID. I have been sponsoring students from the NID for the past 3 years in their diploma projects. I hope to continue to do that. I look upon the Films Division as my Alma Mater and it makes me sad to see that it is going to seed. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to see them get in digital technology finally this year. I have also encouraged the NID students to approach the CFSI and Films Division. I liasoned between them. I have also advised the films division not to depend on their staff of 10-15 people who are all set to retire. Get freelancers and put your digital equipment to use is what I tell them. Bhimsain Khurana: It is too early but there is something on my mind, I will talk about it when I make up my mind. When I cam to Mumbai from Lucknow, I had nothing. Ram Mohan has in a way been my teacher, he’s taught me a lot. Animation ‘xpress : I was with some very bright youngsters from the industry yesterday,they were talking about collaborating and sharing knowledge. What do you have to say about that? Ram Mohan: See, As individuals we Indians are all very creative and talented, but when we are put together, things don’t work out well. Animation ‘xpress : But sir, the same creative and talented Indians when put together in Live action come up with so much of great stuff like for e.g. Lagaan Ram Mohan & Bhimsain Khurana in unision: Lagaan had great individuals like Ashutosh and Aamir at the helm. You need strong individuals to drive and bind teams. Animation ‘xpress : Which animation coming out of India has been impressive lately? Ram Mohan: The Deewana music video surely comes to mind. Shrirang and Suhel have done some amazing animation. I loved it and was very amazed to see the kind of applause that this Indian entry got from the audience at the Annecy Festival this year. It won an award there as the best commissioned film of the year! Yet another animation that comes to mind are the elf commercials. I think Chetan Sharma(Animagic) has done them. The commercials are very very impressive.When I see great work coming out of people who have worked with me, started their career in animation with me, I get a lot of satisfaction, I loved Simi’s work in Ice Age too. She too started her animation career at Ram Mohan Biographics. Animation ‘xpress : You and Bhimsainji must be having quite a few anecdotes to share? -That was funny! – Rammohan shares a joke with Bhimsain and Animation ‘xpress Bhimsain Khurana: Oh yes, Rammohan do you remember the Andaman episode? Ram Mohan (Laughing): Oh yes, see besides doing character animation, there was a lot of maps and documentaries that we did while at Films division. During the China war, we were doing a map of India. The map was included in a short film There were about 6 levels of screening before a film finally got the screening certificate. This particular film was at the final screening in front of the review committee and someone suddenly noticed that there was no Andaman and nicobar in the map of India. This was after 5 screening commitees had passed it. Bhimsain Khurana: And you know who was blamed? The poor artist who animated the map.(Laughs) Animation ‘xpress : In 5 decades you must have worked with quite a few people – some remarkable people whom you’d like to talk to us about? Anant Pai : The notable illustrators who breathed life into the ACKs were Ram Waeerkar, Dilip Kadam , Souren Roy and Pratap Mullick. Artists like Ram Waeerkar and Pratap Mullick did a lot of research work on their own and this used to show in their work. Dilip Kadam has his own art unit at Pune called Trishul Comico Art. Together with his son Omkar they supervise a team of around 10 artists, doing illustrations for comics and also animation work. Ram Mohan: G.S.Saraiya – He was the officer in charge of the cartoon film unit at Films Division in the early 60’s (He is the maker of one of India’s biggest and highly acclaimed movies -Saraswatichandra) Pramod Pati – Pramod wasn’t an animator, but he had received some training from Jiri Trnka from Czechoslovakia. He brought in a lot of sensibilities in terms of design. Claire had inculcated in us a Disney sensibility while Pramod brought in his exposure and experience from Eastern Europe. Jahangir Bhavnagary – Before deputing at Films Division for a couple of years, Jahngir had been head of UNESCO at Paris. He made the remarkable films RADHA_KRISHNA and AKBAR where he shot miniature paintings with a rostrum camera and the films were very beautiful. His miniature film RadhaKrishna got an award at the Berlin film festival among many others. James Beveridge: James was an ace documentary film maker and he had a lot of views and comments to share on our animation projects. Ram Mohan: – Once we moved to Prasad Productions, we had a lot of contact with mainstream film makers. We did an animated song for BR Chopra’s Pati Patni aur Woh, then there was the opening sequence in Satyajit ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi. The animated opening sequence was a political cartoon, and was done in the typical east India company kind of drawings. We did an animated sequence for Mrinal Sen’s hindi film, Bhuvan Shome, for Raj Kapoor’s Biwi O Biwi, then there was this interesting thing we did for Do aur Do Paanch. Very often though we never got our remuneration from some of these film makers. Another interesting thing that happened recently was when I met Rakesh Roshan for Jadoo. I had done an animation for his film Kaamchor long ago and he instantly recollected that. Animation ‘xpress : What International animation has impressed you lately? Ram Mohan: TV cartoons are sometimes innovative: Samurai Jack was refreshingly different when it started. The designing was beautiful. But they soon begin to pall because the story ideas are so repetitious. Then there are a lot of lovely shows being made for pre schoolers. One of the best ones according to me is Kipper. Then there is Jungle Book. Talking about opportunities and where we could have evolved, it would be necessary to understand that most of the years that we were in animation, it was not this glamorized and high end profession that it is portrayed as today. 50% of the work I did was commercials. You know what, Animation has so much to give for those who are sensitive to it. I remember while working on Meena for UNICEF, Meera aghi who was in charge of testing the Meena films across the south asian countries was very skeptical about animation working well with the rural people of 3rd world countries. She took the films to a tour of across the Indian sub continent visiting countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh etc. On returning she came to me and said,”I take back my words, animation works very well with them. It is so fascinating to observe them identify with these drawn characters, responding to them as if they were real people” Bhimsain Khurana: I must say one thing that how much so ever we talk about animation training or animation education. A man is a born animator. Look at Ram Mohan or myself, we never knew we were going to get into animation, we just sort of glided into it. Look at Mr Pai, he is a science student he just got into story telling. There is an X amount which can be taught but it is best to evolve by following your own instincts and observing and learning from the work of the greats. “The most uncorrupted way to learn animation is to follow one’s own instincts. Best artists never come out of art schools. Animation will always remain a very personal art”
Bhimsain Khurana speaks

The most uncorrupted way to learn animation is to follow one’s own instincts. Best artists never come out of art schools. Animation was, is and will always remain a very personal art.

Much as we would love to go on… our esteemed guests had their schedules and meetings to follow. The 3 hours alloted to us were coming to an end…. but the story doesn’t end here… it goes on… keep reading Animation ‘xpress