Animation comes to life in India with box office, streaming success

  • Hollywood studios are going for strong localization and marketing drives, buoyed by Lion King’s success
  • Netflix is gung-ho about the prospects of Indian animation original Mighty Little Bheem

Lata Jha
First Published23 Aug 2019
The Hindi version of Angry Birds is being voiced by comedian Kapil Sharma and two other talents from his TV show
The Hindi version of Angry Birds is being voiced by comedian Kapil Sharma and two other talents from his TV show

New Delhi: As Sony Pictures India readies its animation comedy Angry Birds 2 for release in India this Friday, it is banking on more than just a successful franchise.

The Hindi version of the film is being voiced by popular comedian Kapil Sharma and two other talents from his TV show, Kiku Sharda and Archana Puran Singh. The aggressive localization and marketing campaign that Sony is carrying out rides on the back of the massive box office success of Disney’s animation film The Lion King that crossed the 155 crore mark this July and is currently the fourth-highest grossing Hollywood film of all time in India. The Jon Favreau-directed movie easily topped Disney’s other offering, Incredibles 2, that had set the ball rolling for animation with collections of 36.90 crore last year.

The growing love for animation in India is not limited to Hollywood films. Netflix is gung-ho about the success of Indian animation original Mighty Little Bheem that it says had the largest launch of any preschool original and the second-largest launch of any kids’ original animated series on the service.

Industry experts say the first and most important factor aiding the growth of animation in India has to do with technological advancement and better visual effects.

“From a technological and platform point of view, 3D has given a boost (to animation),” said Vivek Krishnani, managing director of SPE Films India Pvt. Ltd, the Indian division of Sony Pictures that has co-produced Angry Birds 2. “Big-screen viewing, coupled with 3D, makes for a very immersive experience and it’s not something you can get sitting in a living room or on a small screen.”

The other big role has been played by localization initiatives that foreign studios such as Disney and Sony have taken to ensure Indian audiences connect with animated content in the language of their choice. Apart from getting Sharma and others to dub for Angry Birds 2 and promote the film on their social media accounts, Krishnani said the team has been meticulous in marketing by running contests online and getting a fun, colloquial twang to the script and dialogues. There is much focus on writing afresh for local Indian versions of animation films, like all Hollywood films now, and not merely translating them from English.

The voice cast of The Lion King too included Shah Rukh Khan, Aryan Khan, Ashish Vidyarthi, Shreyas Talpade and Asrani (Hindi), Siddharth, Arvind Swami and P. Ravishankar (Tamil), Nani and Jagapathi Babu (Telugu).

Krishnani said localization and marketing initiatives help animation content appeal to children as well as their parents. In that sense, studios and filmmakers now realize the value of entire families going to theatres. You’re not selling two tickets but four, so the idea is the other two who come need to enjoy the film as well.

Inherently, animation as a format lends itself beautifully to new and unique narratives, said Anish Mehta, chief executive of animation studio Cosmos Maya. There is a lot of creative freedom that a content creator can exercise with animation.

“Animation movies haven’t traditionally done well in India because of the perception that they are meant for kids. Previously, movies would run in theatres for six-eight weeks and parents had time to take their children over the weekend. But now, if a film is not doing well, it will be taken off on Monday morning,” said Rajiv Chilaka, founder and chief executive officer at Green Gold Animation Pvt. Ltd that worked on Mighty Little Bheem.

While Chilaka is looking forward to the second season of Mighty Little Bheem at the end of August, Cosmos Maya is working on a television series called Bapu slated for release on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary this October. Disney is preparing for its musical fantasy Frozen 2 in November and comedy Spies in Disguise in December.

“Theatrical creates a cinematic experience while the second, small screen, creates a one-on-one engaging experience and kids can consume content in a snacky manner. So, there is an opportunity for animation across platforms depending on the objective,” said Krishnani.

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