The Business of Indian Animated Features

nullA record of sorts was set in 2008 (quantitatively) with five Indian animated features gracing the Silver Screen. (Shemaroo‘s Ghatotkach, Phoebus‘ Dashavtar, Elecom Fiesta‘s Cheenti Cheenti Bang Bang, Walt Disney & Yash Raj Films Roadside Romeo and Percept‘s Jumbo). None of these films set the box office registers ringing. Although the audiences were glad to get Indian animation content, they felt that in some movies, the animation quality lacked, while the story and its telling was lacking in most. 2008 has seen the making of Indian animation content and it‘s reaching windows accessible by the audience. Audiences are yet to discover that content, but the studios have begun their process of trying to reach them. Looking forward, one expects the content to evolve in terms of cinematic experience, story-telling and characters that connect. Also amongst the challenges is that of reaching the audiences by garnering support and collaboration from the distribution and exhibition trade. Be it marketing, distribution, or even the strategy for recoupment of revenues, animation needs to be handled with a different pair of gloves. It has tremendous potential, the realization of which is not too far away now. On the number count as well in qualitative terms, 2009 has a stronger line up of Indian animated movies including Eros‘ Toonpur Ka Superhero, Contiloe Films Mahayoddha Rama, Dreams Kutty Chetan and Friends, MEL‘s Ramayana, Dharma Productions‘ Koochie Koochie Hota Hai, UTV‘s Ali Baba, Ocher Studios Sultan, BIG Animation‘s Krishna and RVML‘s Luva Kusa. These movies definitely look poised to pull in the audiences to the movie halls, while at the same time also build a large, loyal, and ever expanding audience base across platforms. Analyzing Indian Animated Features@2008 The best thing about the features last year was the animation production quality benchmarks that Tata Elxsi set with their work in Walt Disney & YRF‘s Roadside Romeo. The film is also nominated alongside Dreamworks‘ Kung Fu Panda, Pixar‘s Wall.E and Disney‘s Bolt at the Visual Effects Society Awards in Hollywood. In terms of marketing, Percept‘s use of Akshay Kumar to publicize Jumbo was the highpoint. Ghatotkach too was marketed well by Shemaroo. Regardless of their box office numbers, none of the animated films released last year have been losing propositions for their makers because theatrical forms just a part of the revenues accrued out of an animation feature. Satellite and home entertainment rights sales contribute substantially and quite often much more than the theatrical revenues. Shemaroo released 2 animated features Bal Ganesh & Ghatotkach in the past twenty months. Bal Ganesh which released earlier has sold around 200,000 units on DVD and Ghatotkach which released last May has sold around a 100,000. Producer Smita Maroo shares, “Counting the overall business that it has done across platforms, Bal Ganesh is a profitable venture for us. Ghatotkach too has covered costs and would have already been profitable had it not been for the current market dynamics.” She also opines that be it in number of prints, or in the quality of production, the industry has witnessed growth and evolution with every subsequent release. “They may be baby steps, but are very important at this juncture” Percept has released 3 animated features in the past 3 years and will be producing and releasing another 6 in the next 3 years. Last year, the company acquired a Thai animated feature Khan Kluay, localized it, and released it as Jumbo. Besides the huge cost of Akshay Kumar‘s voice as well as endorsement of the movie, the company spent a staggering INR 45 Million on marketing the film. Navin Shah, CEO of Percept Picture Company & P9 shares, “We have built a brand. Unlike live action, where it‘s a lot about right here, right now, in animation it‘s about creating a franchise and a consumer brand which goes through its own phase of introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. This phase could be anywhere between 5 to 50 years. Its only myopic when people say Percept lost money on x or YRF lost so much money on z, we are clearly seeing long lasting properties” As the Licensing & Merchandising ecosystem and culture picks up in India, it too shall contribute to revenues, and maybe in the long term, even lead them. The Hanuman L&M portfolio included 18 different product lines and Jumbo has 26 product lines including stationery and toys which are the best selling categories. Roadside Romeo has been leveraged by Disney across different lines of businesses. “It went on TV and then to Internet and Mobile though the WDIG(Walt Disney Internet Group). Next was comics and books followed by consumer products right from footwear to clothing to jewellery, to schoolbags.” States the Disney Spokesperson. The Box Office, The Trade & Building the Value Proposition for the Rs150 ticket Considering the box office results of animated films released last year, the distribution & exhibition trade does not fancy animation too much. However, animation studios claim that the support needs to come from the trade to help build this category. Phoebus‘ Dashavtar released on June 13 last year with 41 prints, producer Rahul Bakshi feels that had the trade given him a better deal, his film would have got to more viewers. “There has to be different approach to distributing an animation movie. There is no point in taking a product and not giving it decent exposure. Be it my film or any other, if it is not showcased at the right time then I feel the box office registers will not ring. Can a 9.15 am slot in the first week do justice to any film? Also, my film was a mythological and I believe that it would have found an audience in the interiors, somehow my distributors thought otherwise. I still get calls from people in Nashik and other towns asking me when the movie will release?” Dashavtar is just one case in point, the film at least had a release, and as a commercial venture is on its way to covering costs thanks to the other revenue streams. For quite a few of the smaller studios who do not hail from the entertainment business background, selling their animated feature product is tough indeed. But those hailing from the film business feel that the trade-bashing tirade has no logic. Sidhartha Jain of Irock Entertainment shares, “We should stop segregating films as “animation” when we produce them and expect special treatment. We should treat them as films that audiences will decide whether to see or not, or distributors whether they should bet their money or not. Also let‘s not have unrealistic expectations from the “trade”. It‘s business. They will use their judgment and take a bet. If they don‘t have confidence in a product, then film makers should do introspection and try to figure the reasons and learn.” Pulling in the audiences to watch animation movies is going to be an interesting challenge to meet. Navin Shah points out that, “Barring the 1st Hanuman, no other animated movie has been commercially successful at the box office and the results have been disappointing. The audience is not seeing the value proposition in paying Rs150 for a ticket to come and watch an animated movie” The same audience that gladly shells out the bucks for watching a Ghajini or a Jaane Tu being reluctant to go watch an animation film in the theaters? Is that about the audience not liking animation, or is it about ‘those‘ animation movies not being liked? Looking Ahead: The promise of 2009 and beyond One would have expected their spirits to be dampened by the Box Office showing in 2008, but they are as ‘excited‘ as much as the animated feature line up for 2009 is ‘exciting‘. The makers of these films are rather gung ho and can‘t wait for their films to show up on the Silver screen. Maya Entertainment‘s Ramayana is slated for a mid 2009 release. Sharing his conviction, the company‘s CEO Ronald D‘mello states, “Success or failure of few films can not define the future of a genre. In a country like India where more than half the population comprises of people below 30 years of age, this genre has to take off one day. As proven in even live action form of film making it takes “one” film in a genre to tickle the audience irrespective of how many duds one has seen before that in that genre.” One of the most eagerly anticipated live action cum animated movies this year is Toonpur Ka Superhero. This Ajay Devgan, Kajol and lots of toons starrer is produced by Eros and BIG Screen Entertainment, distribution and marketing plans for the movie are obviously very strong. Helming the project is director Kireet Khurana, the pre production is by 2nz, and Animation production by MEL, 2nz and Pixion. Compared to some of the big animation releases last year, a strong positive for Toonpur… is that its target audience is clearly defined, it is an out and out kids centric family film with Toons and super heroes and visual development to match the theme. Kireet Khurana very confidently shares, “With Toonpur…. we hope to build a constituency of children‘s audience for Ajay.” Another animated kid centric family film lined up for summer is Kutti Chetan and Friends. Produced by Hyderabad based DREAMS and budgeted at a modest INR 85 Million, the producers are confident of recouping their monies. “Not only that, we are very sure that Kutti Chetan is going to become an Indian animation Icon to reckon with” shares producer-director Deepak Jadhav. Talking about the animation features scenario, he shares, “When 5-6 animation movies release in a year the theater owners as well as the audience will get used to this trend and very soon we can see not only kids but everybody waiting for animation movies to release” If the first half of the year has a strong set of animation films lined up, the second half is as exciting if not more. Contiloe Pictures Mahayoddha Rama, Ocher Studios Rajnikanth starrer Sultan, Percept‘s Jumbo 2 are all lined up to give the audience a taste of and addiction to the Indian animated movie. Contiloe Films Abhimanyu Singh shares, “Good films will always have a market, and we are very happy and confident about Mahayoddha Rama. We are doing a full 360 branding exercise around the film. The experience, whether it is the animation, or the story, is going to be fresh, new and fantastic.” UTV Motion Pictures is making Arjun The Warrior Prince and Alibaba Aur 41 Chor. Production for these films will be completed in 2009, but the release strategy could put them in theaters in 2009 or 2010. UTV Motion Pictures, VP Development and Production, Aditya Krishna shares “We have been keeping a close watch on the dynamics of this market and are excited for both these films. These projects have been developed like any of our high content live action films and the medium of animation has only served to accentuate the storytelling experience. However, in marketing and exploitation we will be looking to innovate into the multitude of avenues available that have made animation one of the biggest forms of entertainment in the international markets.” Putting Things into Perspective On being asked to give his analysis of the animation feature films performance in 2008, Aditya Krishna opines, “The animation industry for feature films is in its formative years and like any industry there is a gestation period before which one can judge the success of this medium of storytelling. There have been learnings from the releases of 2008 such as the technical advances in animation quality, plots and sub plots that worked and didn‘t work. Also, marketing strategies that were well received by the audiences and those that were mismatched with expectations and final product and lastly, the quantification of revenue potential across various streams of exploitation. These are insights into the future of this industry and cannot be ignored by anyone who has an animation film under production.” He further adds, “At the same time, The sample size is not representative enough to provide conclusive results to this analysis. The perceptive value of this medium of entertainment and story telling is still forming in the minds of the audiences and will be defined in the near future. So a constant pulse on the market is necessary at this time and all efforts should endeavor to create a property that can be an actual success and set a benchmark for the true potential of this medium.”

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