Hanuman, one of the heroes of the Ramayana, and one among the many gods in the Hindu pantheon, has emerged the god in the making for the Indian animation industry. V.G. Samant’s feature film, Hanuman, grossed Rs15 crore in revenues, giving a return of more than 25% to its producers, Sahara India Pariwar, Percept Pictures Company (PPC) and Silvertoons.
Now, Hanuman is ready for a makeover. No longer will he be swinging from trees like Mowgli, the hero of Jungle Book; instead, he is poised to become a superhero in his next avatar. Two sequels, Hanuman Returns (releasing in November) and Hanuman 3 (slated for 2009), will project him as an action hero. “We want Hanuman to be a global superhero like a Spiderman or Superman,” says Preet Bedi, CEO, PPC.
Lined up along with the Hanuman sequels are more than a dozen animation films that will be produced by Indian companies over the next two years. Companies that once operated mainly as workshops serving international customers have transformed into full-fledged production houses post-Han-uman. A host of international production houses are tying up with Indian producers to co-produce films, where the copyrights, costs and profits are split equally. And, much of the production work is done in India.
Take, for instance, the deal Compact Disc India Ltd (CDI), a Chennai-based media production firm, signed with Motion Pixel Corp. (MPC), a Hollywood production house, last month. For the 90-minute 3D animation film, GoaaaaaL!, CDI will get to spend 80% of the $20.15 million production budget. “We are doing the animation production and post-production work for the film,” says Suresh Kumar, chairman, CDI. The script, voice-overs, music and distribution will be done by MPC. The film, which centres around football, will be released in 2009, in time for the following year’s FIFA World Cup.
Similarly, Pritish Nandy Communications has signed a five-film deal with MPC. The deal between the two companies includes five 3D-animated Bollywood films.
“Co-production of animation films is a growing trend because, one, the quality of Indian companies is world-class, and two, it is much more cost-effective,” said a spokesperson for UTV Software Communications Ltd. UTV is working on three animation movies for the domestic market, and is co-producing two more with international firms, one with PorchLight Productions and the other, a $20 million movie, with Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment.
Adlabs Films Ltd also has two domestic projects on the drawing board. “The whole multiplex boom has resulted in more family outings, making animation films a perfect option,” said Siddharth Jain, head of animation, Adlabs. With a Rs15-20 crore film production budget, Adlabs is taking the brand mascots of ‘Gini n Jony’, a children’s clothing line in which the company’s parent Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group owns 22% stake, to make an animation film. The second Adlab animation film, featuring south Indian star Rajnikanth, is tentatively called Superstar. “We will see a lot more occupancy of this space in the next few years,” says Jain.
There are some reservations on the returns on investment though. In the West, an animation film is backed by aggressive merchandizing, but Indian companies seek to recover their investment through the film itself. “Western countries are making most of their money through merchandizing, and we still have to get into that,” says Sandeep Bhargava, CEO, Studio 18, the entertainment unit of Network 18 Fincap Ltd, which is considering an international co-production. Some merchandizing initiatives are already in the pipeline. “Hanuman Returns will be released around Diwali, in five languages, and its marketing will include mobile and Internet gaming, merchandizing, comic books, and music,” said PPC’s Bedi.
Animation has not been restricted to films alone. Many television advertisements are using 3D animation. Pixion Studios, a subsidiary of the entertainment services company, Century Communications Ltd, has completed more than 1,000 projects for leading brands. “These include Coke, Sony Ericsson, Ford, Tavera, Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Compaq, ICICI, Nestle, Cadbury’s, Dettol and Dabur,” says a Pixion spokesperson.
Software industry lobby group Nasscom puts the industry’s revenues at $354 million in 2006, a growth of 24% over 2005. Exports accounted for more than 70% of this. There are around 300 animation companies in India, employing 12,000 people, and another 3,000 freelancers. The industry is expected to touch $869 million in revenue by 2010. “Factors driving this growth include a cost advantage, a pool of English-speaking manpower, growing maturity of animation studios, development of intellectual property and an attractive domestic market opportunity, says Nasscom Animation and Gaming Report 2007.
The report, however, talks of the need to upgrade animation technology. “For Friends Forever, we had to go to Malaysia to use their multimedia park,” says CDI’s Kumar. “What took six months in Malaysia would have taken us 15 months in India due to the lack of improved technology,” he adds.
Despite these reservations, industry executives believe that animation will take off in a big way. PPC’s Bedi sums it up: “India has the world’s richest storehouse of mythology and stories, yet we had no superheroes on celluloid. This was an imbalance waiting to be corrected.”