Bitten by toon bug

Animation world

Typically, in an Indian context, the mention of animation films conjures up images of Disney cartoons or its clones thereof.

Animator Shilpa Ranade strives to demolish these notions though her work. After helming several shorts, this filmmaker, who is also an illustrator and assistant professor of design at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai, has presented a famous and much loved children’s story into a feature length animation.

Ranade’s Goopi Gawaiiya Bagha Bajaiyya (The World of Goopi and Bagha) premiered at the recently held 10-day Toronto International Film Festival. Penned by Upendrakishore Ray in 1915, the classic story was first brought to the marquee by his illustrious grandson and India’s only Oscar winning director, Satyajit Ray. Many versions have followed but Ranade’s is the first animation feature albeit with some tweaks to the original narrative.

Starting small

The beginnings of this project lay in a book illustration. Noted lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar had written a Hindi version of this story that Ranade illustrated. This gold medalist in Applied Arts from Mumbai’s J.J School of Art said, “I did about 50 illustrations and that is when I thought this story is absolutely given to animation. It had everything an animated film could want and that is where the idea took root. I thought it would be particularly interesting for today’s kids who have more exposure to animation. So a classic tale that we grew up on could be made accessible to today’s children too.” In a sense, this project witnessed the coming together of her diverse talents and interests — illustration, animation and filmmaking.

“The story’s skeleton can never be outdated. We have retained its narrative but added some twists and turns,” said Ranade. Apart from an element of adventure and a fast-paced storyline with bright visuals, it is also infused with contemporary themes of peace, democracy and giving a voice to the voiceless.

Goopi Gawaiiya Bagha Bajaiyya revolves around two musicians, who find each other in a forest after being banished from their respective kingdoms. They are awarded three wishes by the king of ghosts and so their adventures begin. They go to two kingdoms whose rulers are at war with each other and they are able to unite the brothers. The story has an anti-war message and they exercise their last wish by giving voice to the voiceless people.

Ranade has made many short films that won critical acclaim. Goopi... is her first feature length and the journey has been a tough one. The film took almost two-and-a-half-years to complete and, according to her, “It is challenging to make feature animation in India. We do not have that culture, and good films are few and far between. Apart from the funding, it is also challenging to find the right people for doing the quality of work we expect, to work within our constraints, including those of time.”

Relief on one front came in the form of Children’s Film Society of India stepping in to fund the film. But Ranade emphasises that it is a “tough journey for animation right now. The field is not mainstream and even dissemination is not well thought of.”

Animation in India has almost always been associated with Disney cartoons and, by extension, with fun and children. This, in turn, translates into stuff that is colourful and saccharine. As Ranade pointed out, “to have things with shades and darkness, all that is difficult for our local viewers to digest.” For now, Ranade is looking forward to the movie’s India premiere at the Mumbai International Film Festival and will attempt a theatrical release.

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