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Sunday, May 25, 2008

An animated, immortal Indian love story

'Bhagmati - The Queen of Fortunes' is India's biggest ever animation film, which was released in 2005 amid much fanfare by producer Zee. It was held up as an example of India's prowess in coming out with a world class product. This 1 hour 35 minutes film, Bhagmati is being touted as the longest animation film ever made. But despite its Rs 5 crore budget, making it in India was atleast five times cheaper than anywhere else in the world.

The film depicts the historical romance between medieval prince Qutub Quli Shah of Golconda and a local beauty Bhagmati. The movie is made part in animation and part with living characters. Zee has released the movie in 50 screens across India and is planning an international opening in several languages in a fortnight. But for all that, this magical tale doesn't spell a fairytale ride for the industry.

Director of Bhagmati - Queen of Fortunes, Ashok Kaul told CNBC-TV18, "In India, in the global scheme of things, we don't factor anywhere because this industry doesn not exist. Just to give you a little background on how we started work on Bhagmati. When the project was commissioned, the problem was there were no animators."

For this movie, Zee was so starved for talent that it used a team 110 graduates from its own animation academy to painstakingly sketch the film's seven million plus frames! That is why Bhagmati has an international quality classic animation feel like an 'Alahadin' or 'Lion King'. But without the right artistic input, the result can look rather tacky, like in 'Krishna', which was released in November 2005.

Indian animation wants to do a 'Lion King' or a 'Finding Nemo' but often enough, it's hampered by lack of talented people to do such projects. So, unless Indian universities and colleges recognise animation as a subject, India will continue to languish and not become the artistic powerhouse it aspires to become.

Indian companies like Maya Entertainment and Toonz Animation are lapping up work outsourced by studios in the US, Britain, France, Italy and Germany but it's mostly 3D animation, like that used in 'Spiderman' and not the top level classical variety. Even Mumbai-based Crest Animation Studios, which just signed a multimillion dollars, three-movies deal with America's Lions Gate Entertainment says that manpower shortage is stifling growth.

CEO of Crest Animation Studios, AK Madhavan says, "The Indian universities don't recognise or do not even have a course in animation."

Nasscom says that by the end of 2005, animation in India will be growing at 30% a year would account for USD1.5 billion, while the global animation industry is pegged at USD52 billion! But dreams of this industry becoming the next BPO of India will remain just that - a dream without the necessary talent to go with it.

Written for moneycontrol.com

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