By Nita Deshmukh. Posted on February 24, 2016
Many consider animation to be the purest form of cinema and frankly, what can be more magical than breathing life into inanimate characters. While we bemoan the lack of quality in our animation films or TV series, it is undeniable that the history of Indian animation goes long back & the craft has deep roots here.
Many identify Claire Weeks visit to Films Division of India as a critical juncture. A leading animation artist of his times, Weeks was born in Mussoorie in India & went on to work on many international animation films including Peter Pan, Snow White & Bambi. On an invitation by the Films Division of India, he came to India & helped establish India's first animation studio as part of the American Technical Co-Operation mission. He further trained a core group of Indian animators, whose first production was a film called The Banyan Deer (1957).
(From L to R) D.L. Kothari, Clair Weeks, Dr. B.V. Keskar, Ezra Mir. Behind: H.R. Doraiswamy (Camera Assistant), S.S. Varma (Animation Cameraman). Source: Animation Resources
Recently we came across an interesting documentary Complete History of Indian Animation by the Films Division of India. The documentary is conceptualized and presented is a very lively manner, bringing history alive through interviews with veterans from the field & anecdotes from the past. It is interesting to know how even before animation was born or cinema came into existence, Indians had their own way of enjoying projected images on the silver screen.
The most popular of these was the Tholu Bommalata, the leather puppet show of Andhra Pradesh. The documentary takes us through the journey of the father-son duo of Mahadev Gopal and Vinayak Mahadev Patwardhan to Dadasaheb Phalke’s Aagkadyanchi Mouj and Prabhat Film Company’s Jambu Kaka which proved to be a commercial hit. The animator of the film, Raghunath K. Kelkar and several others shares their memories and experiences. The video made quite some time back, shows how the early history of Indian animation since the days of Dadasaheb Phalke who made ordinary matchstick dance on the screen to the amusement of the viewers.
Sadly Indian animation, for a long time, did not grow out of the Disney influence & remained restricted to that borrowed style of animation. Only in the last few years' has that stranglehold loosened, led largely by young animators with fresh ideas, exploring a new homegrown idiom harking back to our folk roots.
This started with Ram Mohan, considered to be the 'Father of Indian animation' & the charge is led today by animators like Gitanjali Rao & Shilpa Ranade who've created a name for themselves in the international arena. Ram Mohan, along with his colleagues like Bhimsain Khurana, inspired an entire generation of animators through his work. He trained under Claire Weeks before going on to make his mark on the animation scene. He won the National Award for Best Animation Film twice & has animated sequences in many films including those like Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi & Mrinal Sen's Bhuvan Shome.
In the video, Ram Mohan takes us through his years' at the Prasad Studio, the enthusiasm of establishing the Ram Mohan Biographics, working with the Japanese filmmaker Yugo Sako on Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama and several other milestones. He fondly remembers meeting veteran filmmaker Satyajit Ray about whom he says, "I have never met anyone who was so well organized and exactly knew what he wanted before Ray".
Even in autumn of his life Ram Mohan is an artist with hope and bright ideas. Veterans like Ram Mohan have opened the vistas for the younger generation of animation artists' who are now experimenting with both form & content. Having said that, knowledge of your roots never hurt anyone. In fact, it helps you secure your foundations & prepare you better for that leap into the future.
Enjoy the video & make sure you watch the other videos featuring leading animators on this excellent channel on Indian animation.