First Lava Kusa and now Ramayana–The Epic (what other kind is there?). Now that the Allahabad high court verdict on the Ayodhya case is out, we could expect films such as “Sita ki Rasoi” and “Lakshmanrekha”. Indian animators seem unwilling to move beyond films based on Hindu epics. They also don’t seem to be worried—or even aware—that their films are propagating the world view of only one faith.
Animation is supposedly one of the fastest growing industries in India. Journalists often get press releases extolling the stellar contribution by Indian animators to an acclaimed Hollywood project. That contribution, a result of outsourcing, is mostly in the form of back-end production work. There don’t seem to be any trickle-down effects of working with some of Hollywood’s brightest sparks just yet. Forget movies such as Up or Wall.E—we’re nowhere close to even making Disney-style saccharine romances.
Surely, there is no dearth of stories or talent. We make several lovely animated advertisements and short films (Gitanjali Rao’s Printed Rainbow and Vaibhav Kumaresh’s Horn OK Please come to mind), but where are the directors capable of filming a feature-length tale?
Old: Ramayana—The Epic is one among many animated versions
Instead, we are stuck with movies about Hanuman, Ganesh and various versions of the Ramayan. The first Hanuman film, by veteran animator V.G. Samant, was enjoyable enough, but it broke little ground in terms of storytelling or visual effects. You’d think that movies based on myths and fables need to make double the effort to look different since the stories and characters are so well known. At least Hanuman is miles ahead of the My Friend Ganesha series, whose characters are so flat and poorly animated that they look like the handiwork of trainee animators.
There is nothing easier than making an animated movie about a well-known epic. Audiences are comfortable with known characters and since animation is still a relatively young form in India, they don’t seem to want to experiment with untested names. The sequel to Hanuman, Return to Hanuman, was a failed attempt to locate the mythological character in modern times (even though the infant Hanuman looked very cute in schoolboy shorts). Roadside Romeo, produced by Yash Raj Films and directed by former child actor Jugal Hansraj, was a noble but unimaginative and poorly written attempt to move beyond the epics. Not surprisingly, the film didn’t go down too well.
There is tremendous potential and an untapped market, especially since American movies such as Shrek and Up are a bit too sophisticated for young Indian viewers, who may find it hard to follow the dialogues and references to American popular culture.
Animation is well-suited to filming stories from the Arabian Nights—as the Disney studio has done—or the Panchatantra. Animation is certainly not a cheap process, but it seems more affordable than starting a project in present-day Bollywood, where stars don’t get out of bed for less than a handful of crores. The real competition seems to be from television: Several Indian animated series are playing on kiddie channels, alongside the vastly popular Japanese stuff, such as Shin-Chan or Ninja Hattori, which is dubbed into Hindi. It seems we will have to be satisfied with animated Lord Rams and Hindi-speaking Japanese brats for now.
Ramayana–The Epic releases in theatres on 22 October.
Nandini Ramnath is a film critic with Time Out Mumbai
Write to Nandini at email@example.com