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When Krish, a smart-alecky monkey, teases Baltiboy, a goofball donkey, that the latter is not “cool enough” to be reading comic books, Trish, the know-it-all monkey, intervenes, “Do you know comic books were popular in India even in ancient times?” Trish is referring to the Phad paintings of Rajasthan that depict stories from the region on scrolls. The trio then embarks on a journey to Rajasthan and see a folk tale, The Boy Who Sold Wisdom, come alive on the screen through animated Phad scrolls. The story is a part of the animation film, Krish, Trish & Baltiboy: Comics of India, that aims to take children back to the world of traditional Indian art forms.
The film is made up of three stories — A Hair Breadth’s Escape, Gopal Bhar and the Star Counter and The Boy Who Sold Wisdom. Krish, Trish & Baltiboy: Comics of India was screened at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Delhi during the summer vacations. It has been produced by Mumbai-based Munjal Shroff and directed by Tilak Raj Shetty under the banner of Graphiti. Krish, Trish & Baltiboy is a franchise made up of seven similar films, while the eighth one will premier next month on Cartoon Network and Pogo. Each film in the Hindi series is roughly 60-minute-long and has subtitles in English.
In each of the films, the three sutradhars take viewers on an exotic journey to the land of folk tales, with folk music from the region making up the score. From the deserts of Rajasthan, comes the story of how the gluttony of a queen would have torn apart a deer family but for the intervention of the wise king. From the backwaters of Kerala, comes the tale of the rich landlord who discovers the secret of happiness. In the wheat fields of Punjab lies the story of a farmer’s wife, who outwits a man-eating tiger.
While each film presents three stories from three different regions, an underlying theme ties them together. The eighth installment is based on the idea of overcoming one’s fears. Shroff says the aim is to tell engaging stories using folk art. “If the selected stories are not fun and engrossing, no amount of stunning art work will hold their attention,” he says.
Language also plays a leading role. A Hair Breadth’s Escape, from Telangana, is about a miserly landlord who finds a genie called Brahmrakshas. The fun element is added with the genie playing a violin in Shah Rukh Khan style, while also mimicking the antics of superstar Rajinikanth, often using the catchphrase:“Mind it”. Shetty says, “The language has to be fun, relatable, easy to comprehend and also sound authentic. We ensure the accent and dialect adhere to the region they represent.”
Munjal and Shetty started researching Indian folk arts in 2005. The project took shape in 2009 when Graphiti produced the first movie for the Children Film Society of India. Shetty adds, “Initially, a film used to take us a year to make. Now, we are able to nail it within six months. Even then, producing high-quality original animation is quite expensive and we have not been able to break even yet.”
Shroff adds that the biggest challenge has been to source the original paintings. “We recreate all the artwork digitally at super-high resolution. Hence, we need to get access to all the original artworks at the highest quality so we can study the details minutely,” he says. During their research, Shroff says, he has come across an unfortunate reality. “We figured that 90 per cent of India’s folk art forms have already died. There are only a handful of them — Mughal Miniature, Tanjore, Madhubani and Gond — that have survived,” he informs.
Even though they find it difficult to break even cost-wise, the duo sees a bright future for animation in India. “Indian animation is poised for phenomenal growth. There are new channels entering the market such as Sony Yay and DD Kids. But the percentage of locally produced original content on air today is less than 20 per cent. This needs to increase,”says Shroff, who is now working on YOM for Disney India, about a boy who has the superhero ability of adopting animal-inspired yogasanas into his fighting technique.