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Interview Hindi

IFFI 2017: Always make children curious what's next, says Chhota Bheem creator Rajiv Chilaka

The animator speaks about the challenges of keeping children hooked to content, the fear of saturation, and the need for tweaking content every time.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Blessy Chettiar

Cartoon character Chhota Bheem has been occupying a big space in the lives of Indian children since 2008. The brand, which currently has a viewership of over 40 million, is the first Indian animation character to have its own merchandise.

The creator of Chhota Bheem, Rajiv Chilaka, is founder and CEO of Green Gold Animation, which has created over 550 episodes of animation content, more than 75 television films and four theatrical films. A student of animation from the Academy of Art, San Francisco, USA, Chilaka is enthusiastic and positive about the way ahead for Indian animation.

Cinestaan.com caught up with him at the 48th edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Panaji, Goa, where he was part of a panel discussion on children’s films in India. Excerpts from the interview:

We all know how Chhota Bheem is loved not just by kids but also their parents and grandparents. How important is it to keep a cartoon show or film relevant with the times? How do you ensure kids today relate to what they see on screen?

This is very important. See, the kids’ audience has changed a lot in the last decade. In 2008, when Chhota Bheem was launched, we literally had no competition from anyone. There was no other Indian show. It was a very simple show and there were no gadgets of any kind. It was simple, straightforward storytelling.

But nine years later in 2017, the kids have changed a lot. They are much smarter than the previous generation. Their exposure is a lot more. That was a great challenge for us to make something for today’s kids. So what we have done is tweaked Chhota Bheem to Super Bheem which will be aired on Pogo. In this series, Bheem is not just in Dholakpur but he is in outer space. He solves all the problems from outer space. All the kids there are flying on dragons so it's more fantasy-based, more modern, and there are also a lot of gadgets. Every episode has a different challenge. They go from planet to planet to different lands. We are kind of expanding their imagination, probably addressing that need of fantasy that kids have.

How different is it when you do animation for television and for film, technologically and creatively?

When we do animation in the TV space, we focus more on the story and try to keep the animation style and everything limited. We don’t try to animate too many things. We try to avoid scenes like crowds, heavy action sequences, action of secondary characters in the frame, and we even try to limit the number of characters.

When we do a film, it is done on a large scale. This means more outdoor shots, crowd shots, action, music and songs. From the story point of view, it’s always difficult to hold children’s attention for 100 minutes. It’s easier to hold their attention for five or 10 minutes. The challenge always is how do you keep a child who is so restless and full of energy engaged for 100 minutes.

What are the things you keep in mind when writing for children?

I think we have to keep them curious throughout the movie. Always make them curious about what is going to happen next, where are the characters going, show them a journey. They have to keep guessing. If a kid can guess this is what’s going to happen, it can be tricky. All said and done, kids also love to see repeats of the same movie.

They even do that with cartoons.

What we observed is that kids like to be in familiar surroundings. First time when they watch something, they like to watch it with their parents or a friend. Once they are comfortable with the movie they are okay to watch it alone again.

What are you working on next in the film space?

We are working on two films — one is unnamed and based on the character of Mahiravana from the Ramayana series. We are working on the characters now and will try to release it in summer. We are also simultaneously working on a Chhota Bheem film which is based on kung fu, wherein Bheem goes to China. It’s a journey. Bheem and team go to China to participate in a kung fu competition.

Technologically, how long do you think India has to go before we make animation on a par with the films made by Walt Disney or Pixar?

In terms of technology or the quality of animation or look and feel, I think India is ready. The technicians are there. Lots of these movies are currently being made in India at the backend, not on the front because the creative intelligence is coming right now from different parts of the world, not just USA and France. Right now, these kind of movies are being made in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata. There is a lot of talent.

What we lack is the visual development part which is being developed. We are looking at 3-4 years away, probably 2020 or 2021, when India would have a good animation film being made here and released globally. It is just a matter of time. There is great talent and lot of people are collaborating. For example, we are collaborating with some writers in Hollywood to make a feature film which is CGI [computer-generated imagery] for the global market. So it’s just a matter of time. Technology-wise we are ready. Experience-wise India is lacking certain things, especially visual development, but we are almost there.

Bheem has been running on TV for nearly 10 years now. Plus, there have been movies. Do you ever feel someday there will be a saturation point for the character?

I personally fear that the most. Usually if you have crossed about 3-4 years and it’s still working, then you have something good. Obviously, you have to tweak your storytelling and try different things with the same character at different points. Nine years later we are trying a lot of different things with Bheem. Like I mentioned, there is a Super Bheem now. In the future, there will be Mighty Little Bheem which is about Bheem as a baby.

As long as you’re giving the kids’ audience new things, they will like it. The best thing is that new kids are being born every year. So there is a new audience that’s coming every year. Earlier kids used to watch Bheem for 5 or 6 years. But now, since everything is on television, they watch for two years and move on.

Can you throw more light on Mighty Little Bheem?

This is the baby version of Chhota Bheem, he is 15 months old and this is a prequel to Chhota Bheem. This whole show is a no-dialogues show. His relationship with his mother is the most important thing in this show, as well as the fun things that happen around a kid. How he does little things like kids not being fond of taking a bath to loving getting their hands dirty in mud. We are capturing all these things.

We are also working on a very exciting film called Kalari Case which is based on the ancient India martial art kalaripayattu. This is being done along with Amazon. This is an animated film.

What is the best feedback for Chhota Bheem the character?

A lot of parents have written to us emotional letters saying their children had speech problems, but after watching they started speaking Hindi. Sometimes, when parents are transferred to remote areas, the kids don’t have friends. Bheem has become their best friend. It’s good to hear that Bheem has been helping kids of age 2 and around to speak faster.

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