Article Hindi

Remembering Ram Mohan, artist extraordinaire

The legendary animator and filmmaker passed away on 11 October 2019 leaving behind a strong legacy and many filmmakers building on the basics he taught.

Sonal Pandya

At the 16th edition of the Mumbai International Film Festival, animator and filmmaker Ram Mohan is one of six filmmakers who are being remembered at the very place where he began his career. In 1956, Ram Mohan joined the Cartoon Film Unit at the Films Division of the Union information and broadcasting ministry without any formal training and went on to become such an integral part of the fledging animation industry in the country that he came to be known as the Father of Indian Animation.

Born in Tiruvalla, Kerala, on 26 August 1931, Ram Mohan was more than just an animator. He helped nurture, support and encourage many young artists and colleagues over the course of his long and storied career.

From an advertisement in a magazine, Ram Mohan reached out to Walt Disney Studios’ Clair Weeks who encouraged the young man to join the Films Division. Weeks introduced him to the basics of animation. All the animation at the time was hand-drawn and much of the work on the shorts was manual. The first film Ram Mohan worked on was A Banyan Deer (1957). Incidentally, Weeks was an animator on Disney’s Bambi (1942).

Later, Ram Mohan trained Bhimsain Khurana who joined the unit in 1961. Working at the famed Cartoon Film Unit until the late 1960s, Ram Mohan was part of such shorts as Mansube Machlidar (1963) and My Wise Daddy (1965) which he scripted, designed and animated.

Kireet Khurana, a jury member at this year’s edition, said in a statement when the filmmaker had passed away last year: “He shall be remembered as a master craftsman and an amazingly selfless human who groomed the Indian pioneers (including my own father Bhimsain) and stalwarts, easily the single largest contributor of talent that runs the burgeoning animation industry today. He is gone, but his inspiration and talent live on within each one of us.”

Moving on from the Films Division, Ram Mohan joined the animation division at Prasad Productions, working from Mumbai for the Chennai-based studio. His first short film as director, Baap Re Baap (1968), won the National award for Best Short Film on Family Planning. He later won the National award for Best Non-Feature Animation Film in 1971 for You Said It, a film on Indian democracy.

Filmmaker Gitanjali Rao joined his studio, Ram Mohan Biographics, which was founded in 1972, in 1994 after graduating from college and began learning on the job like many others. After the Indian premiere of her debut feature film, Bombay Rose, Rao said of the filmmaker, “I have come further than I have expected than if I had studied animation. The reason being, Ram Mohan is an institute in animation.”

“He could do any kind of animation and take it to a superlative level [but] was underestimated in this country,” she continued. “We were just not ready [for] such a great animator and his work. I think just about every animator that you meet in life that’s done something which has to do with filmmaking would have his or her links to Ram Mohan and that speaks a lot.”

Rao was at his company for two years and built upon his advice of not just concentrating on perfecting her drawings but focusing instead on developing her ideas.

Ram Mohan also created animated sequences, like film credits, and songs for filmmakers like Satyajit Ray for Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) and BR Chopra for Pati Patni Aur Woh (1978). In 1986, he began work on Ramayana: The Legend Of Prince Rama (1992) with Japanese director Yugo Sako, but thanks to the Indian bureaucracy, the project wasn’t a true Indo-Japanese co-production as he had originally hoped.

Another filmmaker from his studio is Chetan Sharma, who will present Ram Mohan’s work and career at a special masterclass today. Sharma, who shared a close relationship with the filmmaker, joined Ram Mohan Biographics when he was 15 and was there for around four years. He later founded his own company, Animagic.  

“In his own way, he was so versatile,” Sharma had said after the filmmaker’s death. “He was not particularly verbal when it came to teaching. He allowed people to just be and set a certain kind of example with his drawings. Another thing that set him apart from others was people, other animators or whatever, in the briefest of lines, he would get tremendous soul.

“He was not a conquer-the-world kind of a person; he was rather reticent about being outspoken. That was not his style. He was too sophisticated for that. But he was very witty, clever and tongue-in-cheek. In his quiet way, he would be making very funny comments,” he added.

Chetan Sharma's illustration for Ram Mohan.
Courtesy: Chetan Sharma

Sharma said his legacy remains of being an artist-director, as those are rarely found these days. Those in animation aren’t getting the chance to become filmmakers, those who don’t understand animation and its possibilities are being imported to make films.

“Directors who are actually making their own animation films are people who might have worked under him," he said. "While we practised during animation in commercials or films, we were able to evolve a way of thinking about animation.

“I just wish he had had more support when he was younger. With his kind of talent, there were many things possible.”

Sharma also told that filmmaker Guru Dutt had wanted Ram Mohan to make a graphic novel of Pyaasa (1957). And Raj Kapoor had wanted him to design an animation sequence for Prem Rog (1982) for the song ‘Bhanware Ne Khilaya Phool’.

“It was meant to be animated, and I think he [did some] storyboarding and designing, and I think they couldn’t work it out for whatever reason and then one fine day, he [Kapoor] called him to see the shoot at RK Studios and he found [to his] surprise Rishi Kapoor hanging by some wire instead.”

In 2014, Ram Mohan was given the Padma Shri and last year, after his death, his career and legacy were remembered at the 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI). The Mumbai International Film Festival bestowed its Lifetime Achievement award on him in 2006.

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Mumbai International Film Festival IFFI