Chhota Bheem was not an easy sell when it first launched in 2008. Although inspired by a character from the Mahabharata, the animation TV show lacked a mythological storyline. Seven seasons later, it claims to have nearly 72 per cent viewership among children, has aired 250 episodes, has promoted more than a 100 products, and to its credit nearly 100 licensing deals.
In 2008, only one per cent of the animation content on Indian television was being generated in the country. Today, it’s 15 per cent. Though it is a small number — given that Indian-origin companies have been executing special effects for some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters in the last five years — the growth is nevertheless encouraging.
Part of this can be attributed to the success of Chhota Bheem. The series, which made a debut on Pogo, based on a boy called Bheem and his friends in the fictional city of Dholakpur. It is considered the most successful animation on television currently and has already seen three films under the franchise. With the latest installment, titled Chhota Bheem Himalayan Adventure, set to release on January 8, Rajiv Chilaka, the creator of Chhota Bheem, says he is happy he has given children an option. “Cinema for a child need not be limited to films. They can watch something much more suitable for their age and experience,”says Chilaka.
In the latest film, Bheem and his friends are on an adventure to Manali in search of snow. But Manali is closed because Hidimbak intends to loot the kingdom and usurp the throne. How Chhota Bheem and his friends foil his plans is the crux of the story. “In this movie, as with each new release, I am giving the characters a fresh look. For instance, some people said that Chutki’s plaits make her look older, so we’ve given her short hair that she leaves open,” he says.
Chilaka’s inspiration for the character came from Bheem, the formidable Pandava warrior in the Mahabharata who slays Dushasana, the Kaurava brother. “When I was a child, my mother would convince me to eat by telling me that it would make me ‘strong like Bheem’,” says Chilaka.
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With his shows, and especially through the recent movie, Chilaka is also trying to encourage sports and adventure. “Children in cities nowadays can’t go out and play. They can’t even run 100 metres without hitting into something, but they have so much energy. So I’m trying to encourage them to take up sports through the film,” he says. Skiing, therefore, is a prominent part of Chhota Bheem Himalayan Adventure.