Our own Walt Disney!
The creator of Chhota Bheem talks about his new animation film, the booming animation industry in India, and his desire to break into mainstream cinema
Meet Rajiv Chilaka, the founder and CEO of Hyderabad-based Green Gold Animation. This man, the name behind the popular animation series, Chhota Bheem, has called himself our version of Walt Disney in some previous interviews. He is now ready with his next production, Hanuman vs Mahiravana, a mythological animation film based on the untold story of Ramayana. Directed by Ezhil Vendan, the film will be released in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi on July 6.
It's easy to assume that the film is made only for children, but Rajiv quickly points out that it is intended for all age groups. "We've ensured that the story is packed with entertainment, emotions, action, and will be interesting even for teenagers and adults. We know that mythological films will always have a special place in the hearts of our people and I’m confident in our content," he says.
He adds that the film, which has a host of characters, is a story that was always waiting to be told. "The film happens on the penultimate day of the epic battle of Ramayana. The story tracks the incidents from sunset to sunrise, and focusses on the legend of Mahiravana and how Hanuman saves Rama and Lakshmana from the evil clutches of the powerful ruler of the dark world (Pathalam). Although a lot of films have been made on Hanuman, this part of the epic has not been told in much detail yet. We want this story to inspire our next generation. It’s an attempt to make them feel proud of our culture and literature, and enjoy them as much as they do superhero films."
Rajiv says it's hard to balance technical, creative and commercial constraints, and reveals that the major challenge lies in writing and creating the 3D depth for such films. "The whole story happens in a dark world and we have made the film in both 2D and stereoscopic 3D with VFX artists from Canada, Malaysia, and India. We took references from many books, and also watched several films to get the story right," he adds.
He sees hope for homegrown animation films in India, and believes that the industry is booming. "People in their late 30s did not grown up on animations, but the new generation has had exposure." Prod him on why our creativity is largely limited to one or two genres, and pat comes the reply. "People are generally going with the trends. If an action film works, we get more action films. Filmmakers should be bold enough to take some risks like the Baahubali franchise."
So, any plans to make a film based on the characters of Chhota Bheem and Hanuman like a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)? "As of now, we are largely focussed on novel ideas and new characters. It’s tricky to mix a fictional character with the character of a god. But it does sound like an interesting idea."
The conversation moves to Chota Bheem. Mighty Little Bheem, a spin-off of the Chhota Bheem series, is all set to become India’s first Netflix original film, he reveals. "It will be released in 190 countries next year. We also have another Bheem film under production. It will release later this year."
Winning the Oscar is not our goal. A big international will be a sign of true success.
As Walt Disney is trying to get its hands on 21st Century Fox’s film and TV studios with a mega deal, Rajiv sees it as a great opportunity for our companies. "21st Century Fox is the owner of Star India network, and if the deal happens, it will get taken over by Walt Disney. It’s good to have an international brand like Disney in India. Their presence in our market ensures healthy competition and they are also coming up with their own VOD platform like Netflix. Certainly, it will also create more opportunities."
With streaming services like Netflix and Amazon on the rise, Rajiv sees it as a win-win situation for both filmmakers and the video-on-demand (VOD) platforms. "The audience today has a variety of options. With these platforms, we have an option beyond satellite rights."
The Baahubali franchise was adopted into Virtual Reality (VR), but the trend hasn’t quite taken off. Rajiv explains, "VR is still in its nascent stages, a bit like what animation was about 20 years ago in India. It will take many more years to pick up."
The Hyderabadi-entrepreneur expresses his desire to venture into mainstream cinema. "We want to break into the mainstream but not with regular films. We will make films that focus on the strength of storytelling like Marvel or Disney films."