New Delhi: After nearly two decades, the gods are back on Indian television, but they are no longer the staid, overdressed avatars of Doordarshan’s Mahabharat and Ramayan.
Click here to view a slideshow of popular cartoons based on Indian mythology
Hindu mythology grabbed the attention of viewers in the 1980s, now mythological cartoons have snagged their children.
Television’s new animated gods play ice-hockey and travel on snowboards and jazzy bicycles, that is, when they’re not fighting demons that resemble Jurassic Park-style monsters.
Mythological cartoons such as Krishna, a central figure in the Mahabharat; Hanuman, the monkey god, who helped Lord Ram invade Lanka to rescue Sita; Ganesha, the elephant god; and Bheem, the Mahabharat’s mighty warrior prince, are driving growth in the children’s genre and outranking traditional favourites such as Tom and Jerry and Popeye.
Leading the kids pack for several months now has been Chhota Bheem, a show that runs on Pogo, one of the two children’s channels run by Turner International, a unit of Time Warner Inc. According to TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, a television audience measurement firm, the show is ranked No. 2 for the week ended 7 November.
Of the other channels in the space, Nick shows Little Krishna in Hindi and English while Kids Media India Pvt. Ltd’s Spacetoon channel is planning a slew of mythological cartoons next year.
They’re all seeking to appeal to viewers like Vinayak Swaroop, who, until recently, counted Spiderman and Tom and Jerry as his favourite cartoon characters. Now the six-year-old is a bigger fan of Lord Ram, thanks to the animated movies he watches on Pogo. “I like Ramji because he kills Ravana,” Swaroop says.
Like Swaroop, an increasing number of Indian children are getting hooked to a host of animated characters drawn from the pantheons of Hindu mythological warriors.
When Nick decided to suspend the airing of Little Krishna to prevent viewer fatigue, Joshua Gaikwad’s father tried shopping for a DVD to help with his three-year-old son’s mealtimes. “My son got used to eating his meals while watching Little Krishna on TV, so when the channel stopped showing it, it became a tough job for my wife and me to get him to eat because he was hooked,” says Joshua’s father Pramod Gaikwad.
Eventually, public pressure from people like Gaikwad forced Nick to put the serial back on the air less then two months after it had been suspended.
Superhero for masses: Little Krishna and his friends.
“I went looking for DVDs everywhere, but couldn’t get it in the market and was just relieved when the channel put the show back on,” he said.
The appeal crosses over to families as well. Rashmi Swaroop also likes watching the serials along with her son Vinayak. “The bottomline is that the stories show our culture, tradition and religion,” says Rashmi. “Inculcating traditional values in children is very important especially in today’s world.”
That’s led to more advertisers on kids’ channels, not just those targeting children. They include Gillette India Ltd, Bajaj Allianz Life Insurance Co. Ltd, Aegon Religare Life Insurance Co. Ltd, Life Insurance Corp. of India and even ads for cricketing events such as the Indian Premier League.
For the Indian animation industry, otherwise mainly known for working on projects outsourced by major global firms, mythological serials are a harbinger of new business opportunities. It’s an easy source to mine and the stories are immediately identifiable.
“It’s not so much about mythology as it is about the Indian animation industry, which is at a very nascent stage right now,” says Krishna Desai, director of programming for Turner India, speaking about the country’s Rs2,000 crore animation industry. “Developing content around tried-and-tested stories such as the wonderful myriad stories that make up Indian mythology is, we find, the best place to start.”
With mythologicals, there is no risk associated with the creation of a new character.
“Every time you make a character, you have to spend probably twice or thrice the amount to make the character into a brand,” says Ashish S.K., CEO of Big Animation (I) Pvt. Ltd, a unit of the Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group. In a bid to minimize risks, “you go with all the stories and brands that are already existing”.
But even with popular bankable characters, producers wanted to leave little to chance. They carried out extensive research to make the serials relevant to the current generation of children who have access to the best of global animation.
Point of reference
Big Animation enlisted the research services of the India Heritage Foundation, a unit of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. Jeffrey Scott, the Los Angles-based Emmy Award-winning scriptwriter who’s worked on animation properties such as Dragon Tales and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was hired to handle the writing on Little Krishna. Vincent Edwards, one of the directors of the Spiderman television series, also came on board.
Hyderabad-based Green Gold Animation Pvt. Ltd has been producing content since 2000, but it was the animation movie series on the life of Krishna, which started airing in 2006 on Cartoon Network, that was the “turning point” for the company. Green Gold’s Chhota Bheem and Krishna and Balram are currently running on Cartoon Network.
Big Animation doesn’t just want to make cartoons for children. It plans to turn the latter part of Krishna’s life into an animation series meant for grown-ups that can be shown on the general entertainment and movie channels in nine different Indian languages. The firm also plans to take the series international next year and try and sell it to channels in about 60 countries.
Nina Elavia Jaipuria, senior vice-president of Nick India, is optimistic that Indian mythological cartoons will find a global audience as well. “There is no reason why Little Krishna can’t be as big as a Superman or Spiderman,” she says.