Animated short, ‘KPL (Kurukshetra Premier League)’ depicts the Kurukshetra war as a game of cricket!

There’s possibly nothing that brings Indians together like cricket and films. Both these genres are like religion and hold a special place in our hearts. When both come together, it’s sure to create a stir, and more so if it’s animated.  Animated films and shorts are still niche in India, but is making its presence felt through some great work being made almost everyday. And KPL (Kurukshetra Premier League) from independent creator of original Indian entertainment, Chikuliba Media, promises to add to this thriving genre. With the IPL fever soaring high, KPL gives a new spin to the mythic battle from the Indian epic, The Mahabharata, as a game of cricket. It’s a self-financed, action packed project, that’s darkly funny with a rousing chenda melam score and great sound design. KPL is also a breezy watch for animation and mythology admirers with a runtime of just over four minutes. The synopsis goes like this : Boom Boom Bheem is in excellent form as the Pandavas look to clinch a historic win. The Kauravas have one last trick up their sleeve. If it doesn’t work, only a miracle can save them. Here’s cricket, before it became a gentleman’s game!
Ujwal Nair
Speaking to AnimationXpress, Chikuliba co-founder and animator Ujwal Nair revealed the idea behind this unique short, “As a kid I used to play cricket on the streets and it was far from ideal unlike international cricket on TV, where batsmen allowed the smallest things to bother them. Like movement in front of the sidescreen or a tiny sliver of wood chipping off their bat. To me it seemed like they were being fussy! Then about a year and a half ago, I came up with a scenario where in the heat of battle [Kurukshetra], Bheem got upset about a scratch on his ‘gada’ and demanded a new one. That got me thinking about other similarities between the Kurukshetra war and cricket. The former began to look more and more like an 18-day test match! Every day, the fight began and ended with the sun rising and setting. The battle was divided into phases in which different warriors dominated, much like an impressive lineup of batsmen. Also, while the Kurukshetra war is more bloody and gruesome than anything we’ve seen on a cricket field, there is an element of violence in the gentleman’s game. The cricket ball can do serious harm and batsmen are forced to wear all this protective gear just like the battle armour. Once these parallels became evident, I got excited about telling a story in which the mythic war resembled a game of cricket.” Working in the animation industry since 2012, Nair’s first job was at Animagic, Mumbai, where he worked as an animatic editor. Currently, he’s  working as an animatic supervisor at Graphic India, Bengaluru and worked on KPL in his free time over the last year and a half. KPL was created to test the limits of low-budget action film, being made in 2D animation. Nair’s goal had been to tell the story of this short in an exciting, funny and the most dynamic way possible. Though he preferred medium of 2D hand-drawn animation, animating the backgrounds and tracking camera movements, was challenging in 2D. He mentioned, “To make things a little easier, I decided to do simple flat coloured backgrounds, designed characters without clothes or jewellery and avoided light and shadow for the most part. I worked almost exclusively in Adobe Flash. I story-boarded, designed, animated and did the backgrounds in Flash. I worked on each shot separately, then put them together in Adobe Premiere. I played with the shapes and proportions of the characters to make them look interesting.” Financed by Nair himself and his wife, Indou Theagrajan, the background score and sounds in KPL casts a lingering spell. The sound artists took about a month to complete their work on the film. It has a very soothing earthly yet energetic feel, that sets the mood of the film from the very beginning. Given a silence animated short, the sounds play a very important role in engaging the audience.   “The sound artists have weaved their magic by combining Foley work with a library of sounds they had previously collected. We decided to use realistic sound design to elevate the sense of scale and create the feeling of being in a packed cricket stadium. The music came from a half hour recording of a chenda melam performance by a sound designer based in Kerala. I thought this type of music was appropriate because it was tribal, rhythmic and energetic. It suited the stripped down visual style of the film. I chose sections of the music that matched the pace of the film,” commented Nair. The team that composed such a wonderful music comprised of : Sound Design and Mix – Adharsh Kalyanakumar and Bhuvanesh Manivannan Sound Effects Editing – A. Sathish Kumar Dubbing Studio – Sound Parti Studios Dubbing Engineer – Sudharsan Lingam Live Music Recording – Arun Rama Varma Thampuran. Apart from these talented people, Nair was always backed by his wife Theagrajan throughout the filmmaking process who also helped plan the promotion, release of the film and was the test audience. Both of them started Chikuliba Media that’s named after an Indian version of rock, paper, scissors, with the goal of making original Indian entertainment. What stands out about KPL, is its ending, which you can’t miss! Without giving away too much about it, the ending is loosely based on the story of Jayadratha, a character from The Mahabharata who had a peculiar boon – whoever kills him will have their head explode. Due to a series of events, Arjuna vowed to kill Jayadratha before sunset on the 14th day of the Kurukshetra war, which Nair cleverly adapted in the climax the film. Now that KPL is out for the world to see, Nair is presently working on a podcast called The Odds in which he along with his creative collaborator, Thomas Manuel, talk to Indian artists about art, compromise and creative labour. The series explores themes relevant to Indian artists with excerpts from their conversations with some of them. Manuel is writing and hosting the podcast while Nair co-producing and animating certain inspiring quotes by artists they spoke to. It’s slated to come out later this year. Apart from that, he has also written a pilot for an animated series and is ideating for their next animated short film. Animated short film as a medium is a great format to test original concepts and develop one’s technical and creative skills. And Indian animation industry is moving towards that, with steady steps. It’s a storytelling medium that doesn’t require as much time and money as a feature film. Nair further added, “If more artists around the country make short films, I think Indian animation can really find its voice. That said, short film-making is not a viable career yet, and it can be challenging to get an audience for your film without name recognition.”  KPL has attempted to do its bit to take the industry ahead, and we hope too witness more interesting projects in this genre in the days to come. Amen to that!