‘Being in Mumbai is like being in LA—everybody’s got an idea for a movie…and everybody here’s been giving me advice on what I should have done with the film.’
This is what Mumbai-native Gaurav Jain—the creator and producer of the new animated children’s film, Ashoka the Hero—told me when I recently interviewed him on the reaction of some of his acquaintances to the release of the movie he developed from scratch.
India’s film industry, Bollywood, is indeed a massive one, and continues to spawn thousands of wannabe directors and actors, particularly in Indian metropolises like Mumbai. But as for animation in India, it’s been another story. While the American animation industry has taken off, producing one critically acclaimed blockbuster film after the other (just last year there were three notable releases: Toy Story 3 by Pixar, How to Train Your Dragon by DreamWorks and Despicable Me by Universal & Illumination Entertainment—I’ve seen and enjoyed them all), India hasn’t made any such advances in the genre.
So I asked Jain, who also heads the animation studio Illusion Interactive, more about his take on the state of the animation industry in India.
India's Animation Scene Still Too Young
First, Jain explained that one of the key reasons why India’s animation scene hasn’t taken off in the same way it has in the US or Japan is simply because it hasn’t had the same amount of time to develop: ‘Animation everywhere has been going on for at least a good 50 years whether it’s Europe’s or Disney in the US (which has been around for longer, 70 odd years, he points out) So there’s a history of consuming and creating animation there…They have that history and that learning curve that they’ve been through and I think since in India we’ve just been doing this for the last 10 or 15 years at the most, we’ve got a long way to go in terms of consuming and getting it out to the audiences.’
However, he does see a lot of change these days. ‘More or less it’s sort of been boxed in but it’s changing. Indian animation is from last year and this year getting bigger, it’s getting wider, so hopefully it’s good times coming for people here, kids anyway.’ Jain also believes that when the current generation that’s becoming more open to the genre grows up, that will have a major impact on consumption: ‘It takes a long time to get used to it, so now people are watching animation and in 15 or 20 years they’ll grow up and they won’t consider it just a “kiddy” thing anymore,’ he suggests.
He went on to describe general attitudes toward animated entertainment in India, noting that generally people simply don’t take it that seriously. He explained, ‘They automatically just assume it’s just kid’s stuff,’ but went on to say also that there’s probably some just cause for this perspective as well because when it comes to animation in India ‘the production itself is also very simplistic.’ He adds: ‘Budgets are tight, delivery schedules are hard and as a creative you really can’t do much because you’re just starting out right now…The industry itself hasn’t been taken very seriously in a content creation aspect.’
He also touched on the current lack of professionals behind animation. ‘Basic technology and infrastructure isn’t available to everybody…a kid in a small town somewhere in the north isn’t going to have as much influence or opportunity or education because, for example, you’ve got electricity going away for a couple of hours, and obviously you’re not taught the same language or with the same intensity or quality, so these things (affect it) as well.’
Audiences Lukewarm on Imports
So what about foreign imports? Are Indians open to products by US companies like Disney or Pixar?
Jain told me that while they are ‘popular in the metropolitan areas,’ the people who see them are the same ones who go and see other foreign blockbusters—anything ‘that comes in.’ Therefore, he doesn’t see these audiences as animation fans, but rather fans of Hollywood cinema.
He also reminded me that another reason why Indian families wouldn’t go and see an animated film, imported or not, in the theatre is simply because it’s very expensive. ‘If you go to a multiplex to watch a film for a family of four it probably costs you $50, which isn’t a lot of money maybe in the US, but here it’s a bit much….So if parents aren’t very confident about getting the bang for their buck, they’re not going to be heading down in large numbers.’
He added that ticket prices really need to settle or go down, ‘as they’ve been rising too fast and too sharply to make movie-going something accessible to more than the elite.’