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Welcome to Toonpur

As Toonpur Ka Superhero takes on Tees Maar Khan, its director Kireet Khurana shares some details



Animated action Kireet Khurana (centre) on the sets with Ajay Devgn

This Christmas as “Toonpur ka Superhero” makes it to theatres, the emerging Indian animation industry will be put to test again. Once promoted as a sunrise industry, it has yet to come out of the clouds. Yes, there has been a Hanuman here or a Bal Ganesh there, but we have yet to see a biggie.

Touted as India's first feature film which combines live action with animation, “Toonpur Ka Superhero” stars Ajay Devgn, who has also backed the costly project. But the best part is it is helmed by a man who not only knows the art of animation but has virtually grown with it. Kireet Khurana is the son of Bhimsain, known as the father of animation in India. Remember that innocent “Ek Chidiya, Anek Chidiya” public service advertisement? It was Bhimsain's creation. “I was introduced to the art very early. Those were times when people could not differentiate between animated and real characters. I went to Sherdian College in Toronto, one of the best institutions in the field, and learnt from scratch.”

In 1995, he made his first film, “Mahagiri” , which was an incomplete work of his father. “It won the National Award and after that many awards followed. I was busy with ad films but there was always a fascination to make a full-length feature film and with Ajay this has taken the form of Toonpur Ka Superhero.”

Kireet says the basic plot revolves around a Bollywood superstar whose kids don't consider him a hero because he doesn't perform his stunts himself. “One day the toon world comes to the real world as one of the toon characters is a fan of the star and is under an impression that he can do anything. Now the star can't say no to these characters because his kids love these characters.”

The plot sounds promising but the promos don't stand in front of the Hollywood diet kids get every other week. Kireet has no qualms in admitting that there is no comparison. “A Hollywood animation film costs something between 80 to 120 million dollars, while in India even a star-studded film doesn't cost more than 20 million dollars.”

But in the same vein, Kireet points out that budget has never been our strength. “Our films score on emotional connect and this is something we should optimise in our animation films as well. If you look closely, “Ek Chidiya” didn't have great animation. We still remember it for its cute way of imparting an important message.” He says falling back on mythology each time is a lazy option. “When they have an option from Disney or Pixar, you can't expect sympathy from the audience. Your product has to be engaging enough to draw them to the theatres.”

Though in the making of “Toonpur Ka Superhero” he has used only Indian talent, Kireet, who is in the FICCI's core group working on the improvement of the animation industry, says the mushrooming of institutes in every nook and corner of the country doesn't represent the true state of the animation industry. “Most of them are teaching only the software, they are not preparing them for the art. Walt Disney said it takes 16 years to become an animator and here they are offering 16-week packages! It's like saying that I know AutoCAD, so I can design a building for you with all the necessary aesthetics. It takes few weeks to master Photoshop but it takes a lifetime to become a painter. It's not like the IT industry; here things like imagination and aesthetics are paramount.”

In the West, the animation films recover a significant portion of the cost through licensing and marketing. “We are taking our own sweet time. Unless the retail chains get consolidated, you can't expect the cross-country tie-ups which retail chains like Wallmart provide. Here you have to get in touch with a new person for each mall. We have tied up with Lotpot and I hope the film's toon characters, like Bolly, Loveena and Pandu, will last a long time.”

Animation is no longer about just fun and frolic as filmmakers are trying to weave serious issues around toons. Kireet's National Award winning film “O” was inspired by the writing of J. Krishnamurthy. “The West has consumed so much of animation that they are in a position to experiment. And most of the experimentation — films like ‘Persepolis' and ‘Waltz with Bashir' — is being done by European filmmakers who love to break away from the mainstream and are used to tight budgets.”

As for competition with “Tees Maar Khan” , which is also releasing on December 24, Kireet says being the Christmas week this was the best window available for them to engage the kids. “These are two completely different films and in the past ‘Taare Zameen Par' and ‘Welcome' have done well in the same week, so I am quite confident.”

ANUJ KUMAR

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