The Indian animation industry has come of age and has certainly made its way up in the value chain. There has been a clear shift from the traditional outsourcing model to one that creates and owns intellectual property. Typically, the Indian studios were believed to bring in manpower and infrastructure to develop animated content with the international production partner looking after the marketing, distribution and finance. But, now the industry is evolving into exploring co-production models than simply providing piece-meal outsourcing services. And also some studios have been focusing on creating characters that have durability.
One of the trendsetters that comes to mind is the Hyderabad based studio, Green Gold Animation. Ever since it started out in 2001, under the leadership of Rajiv Chilaka – the founder and MD – it has created some popular intellectual properties (IPs) like Bongo, Vikram Betal, Krishna, Chhota Bheem and finally now Mighty Raju.
“After decades of unparalleled dominance by international characters, it is the Indian animated characters like Chhota Bheem, Roll no 21, Little Krishna, Mighty Raju, Motu Patlu etc. which are dominating the Indian television space,” Green Gold Animation founder and MD Rajiv Chilaka exults. “But it’s a different story for Indian animation movies at the Bollywood box office. Most local animated movies have failed to make an impact. What India needs is consistent efforts in this space.”
Green Gold Animation is ready with its third animation feature for theatrical release and is confident of striking the right chord with its target group. But, we at AnimationXpress.com wanted to take a closer look at what could be the ‘Mighty Challenge’ ahead of the release of Mighty Raju: Rio Calling for Chilaka.
It’s common knowledge that Indian animation films have never really done well amongst Indian audiences, though it’s not as if animation films don’t do well. When we take a dekko at some of the major money spinners over the years for Hollywood’s big studios Warner Bros, Walt Disney, DreamWorks, Blue Sky Studios and Pixar, these include names such as Ice Age franchise, Shrekfranchise, Puss In Boots, Wall-E, Bolt, Frozen,amongst several others.
Over the years there have been many Indian animation features which have bombed at the box-office. The first big release that paved the way for other animation flicks was Hanuman (2005) that managed to rake in about Rs 7-8 crore at the BO, which led to a sequel Hanuman Returns (2007) that didn’t do as well.
Yash Raj too forayed into animation with Roadside Romeo, the production and marketing costing a whopping Rs 35 crore. The major cost was the voices of Bollywood stars Saif Ali Khan and Karisma Kappor being used for lead characters; but even that couldn’t save the film from tanking at the BO with its collections raking in a scanty Rs 11 crore.
The year 2013 witnessed the release of probably the most expensive Indian animated movie Mahabharat which cost around Rs 50 crore (according to the FICCI Frames KPMG report 2014), which also saw the highest opening day collection for an animated movie in India. With voices lent by Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Sunny Deol, Vidya Balan, Kajol, Anil Kapoor, Anupam Kher for the mythological epic, it still managed to recover a meager Rs 14 crore.
Green Gold Animation’s first theatrical release Chhota Bheem (2012) was made at a budget of Rs 4 crore and recovered Rs 3.3 crore; whereas the second feature Chhota Bheem and The Throne of Bali (2013) raked in only Rs 4.3 crore from its nearly Rs 8 crore investment.(Figures sourced from the FICCI Frames KPMG report 2014)
Chilaka expounds: “It’s all about keeping the costs minimalistic, as the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) is an expensive affair. The addressable audience is niche, but the idea is to create content that has an Indian essence but universal appeal.”
The challenge ahead of ‘Mighty Raju: Rio Calling’
He is leaving no stone unturned in an effort to push his latest offering Mighty Raju: Rio Calling. But he is however faced with the daunting task of ensuring that the studio at least breaks even – if not ends up making profits – from what he calls ‘Green Gold Animation’s best product thus far’.
The feature has been in making for nearly a year now with over 250 animation artists working on the project. Another army of about 60 members have been vociferously pushing the property and getting clients on board.
“We are still awaiting a go ahead from the Central Board of Film Certification, to get a fix on either a 16 May or 23 May release,” reveals Chilaka. “We wanted to actually release the film closer to the FIFA World Cup dates, keeping in mind the theme of the film. But we also don’t want to miss out on the summer holidays going on currently.”
With this film Green Gold Animation is also venturing into unchartered territories, as it will be distributing the film independently. Its first feature Chhota Bheem had used the services of PVR for distribution and the distribution of its follow-up was handled by Yash Raj Films.
Says Chilaka: “It’s not an easy task to not only produce the film, but to also look for proper visibility. It’s a challenge we have taken up, by this move we also want our peers to know that we want the industry to grow and are willing to go that extra mile for not only our own IP but even look at collaborating with them in the future.”
The 96-minute 2D flick, made with a production budget of Rs 4 crore, is targeted at the two to nine year age group, and will be released across 300 multiplex screens in India, followed by releases in West Asia, UK, US and Southeast Asia in a phased manner.
“We haven’t gone for dubbing this time around as it didn’t really help with Chhota Bheem, so the movie will only be in Hindi,” says he.
The plot of the movie revolves around Mighty Raju, the four-year old kid with super powers, who travels to Brazil with his father who is on a special assignment for the Indian government.
The theme of the film is very much on the lines of its tagline: ‘Soccer, Samba and Samosas’. The movie is completely based in the scenic Rio De Janerio, Brazil and the story has soccer as its backdrop.
“The music, scenes and the complete feel to the movie is very international, with Latino and Brazilian artists contributing to the music. We also have Sunidhi Chauhan singing a jazz track and Bali Brahmbhatt belting out a rap song with football jargon,” beams Chilaka.
On the promotions front, Chilaka has thought out things pretty well. The team will be carrying out on-ground activities in major cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata to create awareness and push the movie release.
“We are currently working on a few teaser promos as well, to air across various channels in the coming week, we have a highly developed marketing strategy and are confident of getting the necessary visibility,” says Chilaka. “We are also depending on our digital and social media push.”
In terms of roping in partners for the release, Chilaka and his team have managed to get quite a few clients on board. Pogo is the television partner, Sony Music and EveryMedia are the digital partners, PVR is on board as the multiplex partner, Adidas is the sports partner, Green Gold Stores as merchandise retail partner, Hansaplast as the healing partner, Naaptol as its e-commerce partner, Qube as its digital cinema partner and Reliance Trendz as the apparel partner among others.
Chilaka reveals that the animated film is amongst the first to feature product placement by brands such as Adidas, ITC and OLX.
Says he: “We have spent nearly Rs 1.5 crore on marketing and felt that getting in a few more brands will only benefit our product, thus we wanted to try out this innovative way of associating with brands, but kids would love the movie nevertheless.”
Green Gold Animation is confident of raking in revenues of nearly Rs 1 crore through merchandise like action figures of Mighty Raju, T-shirts, roller skates, comics, stationery, soft toys, caps, among other products.
Chilaka is confident of his product and is expecting to see returns in the range of Rs 10 crore. But, he will have serious competition in Godzilla releasing on 16 May and X-Men: Days of Future Past releasing on 23 May.
Animation veteran Ram Mohan says: “I wish Rajiv all the luck, but I have my doubts about the returns as the average Indian audience has always given animation films a pass. The market is not as evolved as in the West, where a DreamWorks, Pixar, Walt Disney spend nearly 50 per cent of their budgets on promotions.”
“It’s a bold venture but I would say that it’s a little ambitious to expect good returns as historical data has proved that Indian animation films have all been loss making ventures. But, I am sure if like Chhota Bheem, Mighty Raju has managed to woo the children then it might just turn out well,” he ends.
Chilaka is more confident. Says he: “We have learnt from our earlier two outings on the big screen and have ensured that we do not repeat the mistakes. What we lacked in the earlier two films was the element of humour, we got a feedback that kids got a little uneasy at the sight of monsters. Thus, we have kept this movie fairly light-hearted and at the end of the day it’s a product made from the heart and I am confident that it will be liked by one and all.”
It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by former Reliance Animation big boss Ashish Kulkarni who released an animated feature called Krishna Aur Kans a couple of years ago. Says the bearded Kulkarni who has shed some weight in recent times: “He knows how to tackle things. He is ready with licensing and merchandising. He has the right threads going with football as the FIFA World Cup is nearing; although we are in shadows of IPL, people world over like football. The timing is perfect, with a large number of school kids being hooked into football courtesy the FIFA action and the vacations; and then there is the Indian Super League which is close on the heels.”
“We should not look at the film as will he be able to make it at the box office alone, as there is always the chance to recover his investment with TV revenues. I feel he will not lose money. The advantage with animation is that you continue making money from it over the years thanks to sales to broadcasters in newer territories,” he ends.
If things work out as Chilaka sees them, we might well end up naming him ‘Mighty Rajiv’.