Exclusive: “With ‘Tokri’, people now know that India is capable of doing world class stop-motion animation” – Suresh Eriyat

E Suresh
An ode to the city of dreams, animated short Tokri captures the real essence of the fast-paced and overwhelming Mumbai. Tokri boasts of being present in over 100 official selections and winning 31 awards apart from other screenings around the world. Eeksaurus founder Suresh Eriyat in a candid chat with AnimationXpress talked about the emotional eight year-ride of the very successful and loved animated short, Tokri. The film was conceived with a reason to create a landmark film, done like never before in the Indian stop-motion animation scenario. Eriyat thought that since the clay animated characters have dimension and realism, it is closest to live action which people absolutely relate with in our country. So he felt this could be a good medium to powerfully tell a short story. “The hard work of eight long years has definitely paid off and people now know that India is capable of doing world class stop-motion animation,” Eriyat said. The story came to Eriyat as a guilt trip while his travel from his home in Bandra to Famous Studios in Mahalaxmi. At one signal in Mahim (which is replicated in the film) a little girl with baskets came knocking at his window. After ignoring her a few times and missing to get a pass with the green light, he took his frustration on that girl by snarling and shouting at her. She just withdrew in shock. Rest of his drive to Mahalaxmi that lasted for half an hour was disturbing with varied thoughts in his mind about that girl. With many thoughts and questions in mind, Eriyat decided to make a film that would sensitise people of their own insensitivity when it comes to taking others for granted. “The film had to be real, emotional and impactful. And that’s exactly what we tried to create,” added Eriyat. What made you create a film, so real and emotional? I wanted to make a film which is easily digestible by regular movie watchers of the country. Didn’t want to make it too artistic as a storyline/ film treatment which would have made it way niche for an Indian audience for who animation already is a niche medium. Was very clear from the onset that it should be relatable, understandable and people should feel an emotional connect for the characters in the film. With his experience and success with stop-motion animation films in the advertising including Amaron, MTV Poga, ICICI Chintamani, Cadbury Dairymilk 2-in-1 and many others, Eriyat figured out that somehow people click with clay animation and miniature more than 2D animation. How did you manage to create such a realistic environment? The environment design was a meticulous process, which included intense study of real spaces by way of sketching and photographing first. With the spearheading of Sandeep Shelar, Ashok Lokare, it took us close to six months to design the sets. What are the varied experiences you had while creating the film? It was a fun filled yet emotional roller coaster ride. At one point we even thought of shelving the project. Since there was no monetary return for a project like this, there were many of our business advisers who suggested to drop it in the middle when the team that we started the film with abandoned the project after five years into the project. By then we had finished around nine minutes of animation. After multiple failed attempts to recreate a team and pipeline, finally it happened.  It took us another 2.5 years to finish the balance five minutes of the project. When we finally sat down and did an accounting exercise of the finances that went into this project, we ourselves were shocked as we could’ve pulled off a feature film with that sort of funds!! Though the visual line-up took eight years to get created, the music was cracked by music director Rajat Dholakia in a single day! How do you feel now, when the work has paid off and the film is gaining huge accolades across the globe? I feel very happy that the efforts and our perseverance have been rewarded. More than that, this film has inspired many young filmmakers to take up stop motion animation as a profession and also start working on their own self funded short films in animation. I think the latter is a better reward. How did you manage the finance while working on such a time consuming project? We work on adverts with live action and animation continuously at Eeksaurus. This is the resource that we use to finance our own ventures. So sometimes one has to keep the short film production in the background, considering the investments involved in advertising . That also results in the sluggishness in production. My learning from this experience is to go ahead with a short only after blocking a budget and a team for a stipulated time. How many team members did you have working on the film on an average day? For the interior section our own in-house team members were working on it on a regular basis. A total of six members worked for almost five years. But once they left and we started working on the exterior sections, we had at least 10 key members working on a daily basis for a year or more on an average we could shoot a maximum of 3 seconds. But with the master animator Adam Wyrwas joining us towards the end, some days we could even finish 20 seconds! One person who was continuously involved from the very beginning of the project apart from me and Nilima would be the director of photography Srinivas Reddy. Hats off to that man for his patience and dedication! “When we went to film festivals with the film, we got a lot of respect and people were also happily surprised to know that Indian animation has come of age and are capable of telling stories using this medium. People always used to think that in India, we are just capable of doing the back end work for great international animation content. We managed to change the scenario,” Eriyat concluded.