Future of Indian Animation – Can the industry be salvaged?

Hindi films have not ventured into the field of animation films too often.There are a few exceptions such as My Friend Ganesha and Hanuman, but apart from mythological subjects there have been very few attempts to make animated films based on other topics.

"Hanuman animation"
"Hanuman" was a runaway hit.

With the release of ‘Toonpur ka Superhero’ and ‘Ra.1’, can we expect things to change?  Will the SRK animation turn the game around or will it be the same old story?

Mythological Animation has the audience’s blessing:

One of the first Indian animation movies which gained popularity was ‘Hanuman’. Till date the only indigenously produced animation movies that have gained sufficient eyeballs are ‘Hanuman’, ‘Ramaa – The Savior’ and ‘My Friend Ganesha’. Can we recollect any other movies of this genre? Guess not.  Apart from mythology based films, few other animated films have achieved even a modicum of success at the Box Office.

Some of the reasons why these films have not succeeded at the Box Office:

The emphasis has been on the voice-over and not on the animated character:

Akshay was the real face behind Jumbo

‘Roadside Romeo’ was an animated movie made on the typical lines of a Bollywood masala movie production, directed by Jugal Hansraj, the movie had voice-overs from Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor. In spite of the buzz surrounding the movie, it was a disaster from the word go. Despite the fact that the director had hoped to catch the eyeballs with an age-old story depicted in animation form, the film did not succeed. Banking upon big stars to provide the buzz for any movie is the in-thing. The star powers can provide an initial interest in the movie but if they do not add to the value of the film, they also become redundant.

The still-to-be- released  ‘Toonpur ka Superhero’ looks fun and certainly sounds promising, but once again the hero is a real life star –  Ajay Devgan. It is rumored that ‘Ra.1’ also has a similar storyline. To their credit, at least these movies have an integrated need for animation. ‘Ra.1’ is said to have followed international standards, but whether these movies actually succeed or just add another nail in the Indian animation coffin, is yet to be seen.

They have not been able to match international standards:

In sharp contrast to Bollywood, Hollywood animation movies are of much higher quality with better stories, excellent animation and higher technological innovations. Movies like ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘Shrek’, ‘Narnia’, ‘Toy Story’, ‘Wall-E’, ‘Ice Age’ …  are pieces of art. These films generally cater to children, but with their superb craftsmanship and storytelling abilities, they appeal to viewers of all ages. Unlike Indian animation films, the focus is not on the voice-overs but on the main film itself.

International collaborations have not produced any results:

Some time ago, big production houses of India like UTV, Yash Raj Films and Reliance Big Entertainment had announced a series of collaborations with Dreamworks, Walt Disney and Pixar. There were some 100 plus computer-animated feature films being planned. What happened to them? Some of them like ‘Toonpur Ka Superhero’ are nearing release, not much is known about the others. A typical animation film can cost up to $20 million. There are many such films in the pipeline, and there is a large amount of money being invested in this field. What remains to be seen is whether our filmmakers and our technology can live up to the expectations.

Soon to be release movies - Toonpur ka superhero_EKEH2.0_Sultan
Soon to be released animation movies (L to R) Toonpur ka superhero, EKEH2.0, Sultan

Good storylines, the latest technological advances and great direction are still missing:

The latest technology is still missing. When we speak of high quality animation and cutting edge tools, we are sadly referring to what is available at Pixar – not at UTV. The know-how and expertise of the Indian animator is limited and is at best capable of producing small budget animation movies or government funded short tele-films. So, the bitter truth is that unless we collaborate with the biggest animation houses we are not going to be able to produce movies of international quality – the quality that the audience is beginning to expect and demand.

Unless, our animation movies are made of the same quality as in other countries they will remain at the fringes of mainstream Bollywood.  We also have to pay greater attention to the storyline, since that is the mainstay of any animation film. A great story backed up with excellent technology and good direction are among the chief ingredients of a successful film.

Producers are wary because of a lack of return on their investment:

McDonald's have collaborated with many animated films to sell their merchandise

One of the major reasons why the animation industry not picking up is because  the producers and financers are not able to make any profit on these films. In many cases even recovering their initial investment becomes difficult. Combine this with a lack of interest on the part of the audience, and you begin to understand the wariness of the producers.

Marketing of the movie merchandise is one of the ways in which the producers earn some profits. Toys, figurines of the movie characters, T-shirts, Rucksacks, and tie-ups with children-centric brands like McDonalds, pizza companies, biscuits etc. are some of the simplest and most common items which are marketed.  Often, these can recover a good part of the money and create a buzz around the movie. In actuality, marketing of the movie merchandise can kill two birds with one stone. Not only does it earn revenue for the company, every product that goes out acts as an advertisement.

India as a single market is never enough to recover the initial investment of the producer. The movies need to be exhibited internationally, and in order to be successful, abroad, the standards need to match international standards.

Quality and entertainment are the requirements of any good movie – animated or otherwise.

The improvements required are not only in the technological aspect but also in the overall treatment of the movie, which includes the story-line, direction, voice-overs.  The audience today is not looking only for big stars. Success of some of the small budget movies in recent times re-emphasizes the importance of quality and entertainment value over star power.

Today the time is ripe for great animated movies, since the audience is beginning to look for them and enjoy them. The industry can look forward to a revival only if they satisfy the aspirations of the viewers, and if they raise the standard to a much higher level.

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