‘Sholay Adventures’ can be enjoyed by fathers and sons alike: Sharad Devarajan

1975 gave birth to one of the biggest cult Hindi feature film of all time in Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay. When first released, Sholay received negative critical reviews and a tepid commercial response, but favourable word-of-mouth publicity helped it to become a box office success. It broke records for continuous showings in many theatres across India, and ran for more than five years at Mumbai’s Minerva theatre. By some accounts, Sholay is also the highest grossing Indian film of all time, adjusted for inflation.  One would think that’s reason enough for anyone to even think twice before recreating a cult film, many tried and perished along the way, but come Monday on 26 January also being Republic Day, Pogo will be telecasting one of the four planned ‘Sholay Adventures’ animated tele-features created by Graphic India along with Sholay Media and Entertainment, who own the rights to the Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra starrer epic adventure.  Speaking exclusively to AnimationXpress.com’s Niyati Handa; Graphic India, co-founder and CEO & also the producer of ‘Sholay Adventures’, Sharad Devarajan explains the need for recreating Sholay, his collaboration with Sascha Sippy and Turner India on the tele-features and much more.
Excerpts:- How did the association with Pogo and Sholay Media and Entertainment come about? The project started as a mutual idea that came from a meeting I had with Sascha Sippy, chairman of Sholay Media and Entertainment, the rights holders of the film. I presented the idea of reinventing this iconic film story into the world of comic books and animation. Sascha was a real supporter of using mediums like comics and animation as ways to expand the storylines around the beloved characters from the film, he really understood the power that comics and animation have to convey a unique visual form of storytelling reaching out to new audiences. Once we had finalised the deal with Sholay Media and Entertainment, I worked closely with our amazing SVP – Creative, Jeevan J. Kang, to create the visual look and feel of the animated look for the show and the story bible. I immediately took the project to Krishna Desai at Turner, who I have known for years and have tremendous respect for. Krishna is one of the most forward thinking people in the animation industry in India and willing to take risks to build out the Indian animation industry. Fortunately, Krishna saw the same potential we did and we finalised a deal with Turner to make four films. For me Sholay is a film that has captured the hearts and minds of an entire nation for generations. The idea of creating original comics and animation based on Sholay was a perfect fit for our mission at Graphic India to help elevate and push the boundaries of comics and animation in India. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-imagine these iconic characters and for a new audience of kids. I grew up watching Sholay and the characters and story has stayed with me for my entire life. You have already done a graphic novel on Sholay, what prompted you to make a carton series on it? A great story is a great story, regardless of when it was made. The original film, speaks of themes that are universal and timeless – fun, loyalty, friendship, heroism, teamwork. The graphic novels we produced based on Sholay are very different as they focus on expanding the story of the original film, such as revealing the back story of Gabbar for the first time. Those graphic novels target fans of the existing film franchise, who are older and looking to go deeper into the characters and the world of the movie. The new animated Sholay Adventures version is a complete reinvention targeting kids between 6-12 years of age, with a whole new story that they will enjoy even if they have never heard of the original movie. Adapting successful stories from one medium to another is fairly a common practice in other parts of the world, whether that’s animation to film or film stories into comics and animation, but that trend has been picking up a lot of interest here in India recently as well, which is great to see. For example animation based on the popular film franchise, Star Wars has been successful over the years – allowing fans of the original franchise and a whole new generation of new fans to experience the characters. We see the potential for Sholay based animation and comics as a way to reach a much wider, passionate fan base of people who are connected to the film’s characters and stories. Now, for the first time, through this fun kids’ animation, both fathers and sons will be able to experience Sholay in a whole new way together. Which animation studio helped you to execute the first feature? All character designs and the overall look and feel for the show were developed by Graphic India and overseen by our SVP – Creative, Jeevan J. Kang. We then worked closely on this first film with Dreams Animation as a production partner. Do you really feel the characters of Jai and Veeru will be able to strike a chord with kids who are unaware of the legend that ‘Sholay’ is? There are few characters in cinema that are simply known by millions with one single name, and in Bollywood, “Gabbar”, “Jai” and “Veeru” arguably top the list. They are characters literally known by hundreds of millions of people in this country. We were certainly mindful of the great responsibility and passionate fans that Sholay has and want to do justice for them. However, we also had the challenge of finding a way to re-invent these characters and story to make them appealing and accessible to a whole new generation of kids ages 6 to 12 who had likely not seen the film and would be experiencing the adventures of Jai and Veeru for the first time. So the main challenge was how to make sure we were honoring the original film and all those characters represented, while making a fresh new interpretation that would play well to this new audience. Fortunately the core essence of the characters in the original movie allowed us to remain authentic to what they stood for in this new animation – themes like friendship, loyalty, fun and overcoming great obstacles to do the right thing, remain at the heart of everything we have done. While the new animated versions of Veeru and Jai may have some mischievous qualities, as they did in the film, at their heart they are good kids that represent great values for kids. Some of the values they stand for include: friendship, teamwork, fun, creativity, curiosity, respect for elders and family, responsibility, open-mindedness and overcoming differences to work together and solve problems. What is the story line of the series? How many Tele-features can viewers expect to see? This is a complete reinvention and not tied to the original Sholay story. We have re-imagined, Sholay to be a much more fantastical action/adventure world, where Veeru and Jai are kids working for Thakur Uncle’s secret Sholay police agency. Gabbar Singh leads a villainous group of supernatural monsters and criminals known as the Fright Force! Our heroes must use cool gadgets, science and most importantly their wits to stop Gabbar and his monsters. The plot for the animation has been designed to allow for numerous adventures as Jai and Veeru work as secret agents to stop Gabbar’s attempts to control the world.  We were fortunate to work with a talented animation writer, Alok Sharma who developed the screenplay for the first feature with us. We are releasing 4 animated films each approximately 70 minutes in length, with the first one coming out this Monday (Republic Day) on Pogo. And work has already begun on the production of the second feature. How has the association with Turner/Pogo been? Turner/Pogo has been a partner in every sense of the word, working closely with us at every stage to take this concept to reality. Krishna Desai, Uttam Singh, Ashutosh Parekh, Meera Latkar and Bhavna Rastogi are some of the best people working in the television animation space today and the support we had from all of them throughout this project could not have been stronger. They were the perfect partners.