We Must Tell Our Own Stories

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Animation can have a glorious future in India, given we tell our own stories rather than keep following the West, their aesthetic and imagery. Indian animations must have an identity of their own, as it is only the unique that can eventually become global, believes Soumitra Ranade, Chairman and Co-founder, Paperboat Studios

What’s the idea behind establishing Paperboat Studios?

We thought of starting Paperboat Studios in 2007 because we felt that there was a dearth of cutting-edge design and animation studios in India. Back then, there were many studios doing backend work for Western production houses, some studios were specialised in advertising and some were doing TV serials. But there was none that offered a complete solution – from scripting to production and design to animation – that too in all genres. So, we decided to do just that as we believed we had the required talent and resources.

For us, animation is only a tool. It is the ideas that fire us. The idea can be represented in medias as varied as live-action, illustration, book design or even documentary.

You have created some of the finest feature films and animation Intellectual Properties (IPs) from India. How does it feel to add services to your portfolio and create IP for others? What goes in your mind when you create a product for others?

We primarily look at creative satisfaction, business development, and/or good money when we evaluate a project that has been offered to us. We accept a project only when either of these three is ticked off. I figured out quite early in life that it would be rare when all the three boxes would be ticked off for one particular project. If one can tick off two, I would consider that lucky.

So if we get a project which is exciting creatively but offers very little money, we do it. But we also do projects only for money to keep the studio running. This clarity of thought takes care of most of the things as we do a project. There are no frustrations or disappointments later as we know exactly why we are doing a project.

However, no matter what the reason is, we never compromise on quality. That remains a constant.

Paperboats’ core ideology is “to serve simplicity with sophistication”. What are the services rendered at your studio?

We like to get involved during the ideation of a project. This creative process is our strength. It ensures that we offer solutions rather than just being an execution studio. Most of our clients ac-cept this and involve us at early stage of their projects. We work on scripts, visual treatments, and character and location designs. We suggest various styles that we think would suit the project. Then we execute the animation and also VFX. We also do voice casting, voice direction, music and sound design. The whole idea is that you come to us with a broad sense of what you are intending to do and you go with a hard copy of the final output. For us, complete ownership of the project is critical. I believe that’s the only way to achieve high standards.

Will 2D continue to exist? With technology influencing every domain where are we going from here? What are the innovations you see in the animation/filmmaking space?

I believe that 2D will most certainly continue to exist. When we look at animation we tend to look at Hollywood. That may be the most successful industry globally, but we can’t ignore European animation – particularly French. Most of it is 2D and of extremely high standards. I think this 2D-3D debate is irrelevant. What defines good animation for me is the storytelling and the world that it creates.

Even if we were to look at Hollywood, my guess is that 2D would come back with a vengeance very soon. Art is always cyclic. Yes, today 3D is dominant. So is technology. But how far can we eventually go. Jungle Book (2016) was a defining film for me in that sense. All barriers got diffused in that film – between live action, animation and VFX – between art and technology itself. So I am sure this chas-ing of technology will continue for a few more years. We are already into Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. People would want to get better at that. But eventually they would have to come back to 2D animation. They will have to come back to simple joys of life, for example – a cat chasing a mouse.

Animation and IT sector evolved simultaneously in India. Indian IT has gone global and animation/animation services haven’t seen the same success? Do you think animation will have its glory in India in the coming years?

I am not sure if animation and IT sectors are comparable. IT is essentially technology driven, while animation is driven by art. The entire mindset is different. The DNA of an IT engineer is vastly different to the DNA of an animator. In fact, they are from two entirely different planets. Animation will have a glorious future in India only if we follow our own dreams. If we keep copying the West, their aesthetic and imagery, we will end up as a sweatshop for international studios. For us to have a glorious future, we must have an identity – an identity that is unique. We must tell our own stories, through our own audio/visual traditions. It is only the unique that can eventually become global.

What advantages do you see in India in providing offshore animation production services? Where do we excel in this space?

There are both advantages and disadvantages in providing offshore animation services. The advantages are that you get a well-trained team working on some top-end projects from across the globe, an efficient production pipeline and you get into the habit of consistently producing quality work – month after month, year after year.

The disadvantages are that you never actually contribute to the creative. You never take the defining decisions and you are never really involved with the ‘creation’ of a project – you are only executing it. As a result of this, the success or failure of a project doesn’t really affect you. That can be very comforting but in a terribly negative way. You could live in a bubble all your life. You keep churning out animation without being attached to it emotion-ally. You end up becoming a sweatshop.

There are so many studios all over the world which do the most amazing back-end work but when it comes to executing even a simple short film that they initiate themselves, they fail miserably. They find it difficult to work on their own ideas.

Today people watch content on mobile, computer, television or big screen? As a filmmaker, do you think people will continue to watch films on big screen in darkness?

The modes of transmission, as also the modes of reception, have undergone a whole lot of change. I find watching films on my laptop very exciting. It’s a very one-on-one engagement with the materi-al. I can stop it whenever I want to, make some tea for myself and then continue. I can watch it at 4 in the morning when the world is sleeping. The screen becomes an extension of my own personal space.

But it’s actually got to do with what kind of film one is watching. I can’t ever imagine watching a Rajnikant film on my lap-top. For that I have to go to the theatre. I need those 500 people around me shouting and screaming and crying and laughing! So yes, the big screen cinema will survive only if it offers big screen experience.

Will we get to see a sequel or another children film like Jajantaram Mamantaram?

Yes. I have been working on it for years. I have many scripts in that genre. I suppose there is a time for everything.

We saw you during Cannes Film Market 2017 where your Albert Pintoko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai was screened? What are you working on now?

Currently I am engaged in the release of the film, which should happen very soon now. Only when this film is out of my system will I be able to concentrate on my next.

I do have a few scripts ready but I haven’t really identified which of them will be my next. I do have a feeling though that after this very dark and intense film, I might go in for a lighter, fun-filled children’s film, perhaps only to retain my sanity.

You had done an almost finished 3D film Alibaba and 41 thieves with UTV (now Disney India) about seven years ago. Any chance of the film getting revived?

Well, I am very attached to this film. It is a wonderful film and when we showed the trailer at various forums all over the world we got amazing responses. I am very-very sure about the film and, in fact, it is uncanny that you ask me about it now – I should be giving you some exciting news very soon.

Is there any new documentary on the card after your acclaimed Afghanistan doc? What goes into your mind when you reflect on current Afghanistan (Soumitra grew and had four years schooling in Kabul).

I try and work on documentaries in between my fictional work. I don’t start with any script or any predefined premise. For me documentaries are more of explorations -– explorations into new spaces, or ideas, people, or events, and more importantly into my own inner self. They are more of reflections rather than documentaries.

Currently I am working on a documentary on the Idu Mismi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. I have been shooting this film for the last few years. I intend to visit them a few more times over the next couple of years. I have hours and hours of material but haven’t got the film yet. I just love the process – going there, meeting with old friends and making new ones, sitting on mountain tops drinking their rice beer. Lurking somewhere there is my documentary. I am sure I will find it sooner or later. I am patient when it comes to my documentaries.

Has new video streaming mediums like Netflix, Amazon, Jio, Hotstar eased life for independent filmmakers?

Yes, most certainly it is a breath of fresh air for independent filmmakers. For one, these platforms are beyond censorship. Independent films tend to be explosive -– socially and politically. They talk about things as things should be talked about. Censorship sometimes becomes a hindrance for such films.

So many wonderful films like Newton and Court have had a second run on these platforms after their successful theatrical release. Many others like Aankon Dekhi, which couldn’t have a good theatrical re-lease due to financial constraints, eventually found audiences on these platforms. This just wasn’t possible a few years back.

I just wish that they also had a section for classics. It’s a pity that you can’t see Awara or Pyasa on these platforms, or V Shantaram or Ritwik Ghatak’s films. That’s our cinematic heritage and it should be there for the new generation to see. These films should be curated and this curatorial approach works also for popular, mainstream cinema. Sometimes I am in the mood to watch a crazy, over-the-top Hindi comedy. But I have no idea which one to see. So if I notice a film that is recommended by David Dhawan I would certainly watch it.

They should also have a section for avant-garde, experimental cinema and non-Hollywood, independent animation. I am dead sure there is an audience for it, and if it’s not there today, then we must nurture it. It is important for platforms not only to show but also to shape viewer-ship by engaging in critical discussions on cinema.

What is your mission for 2018?

The mission for 2018 is the same as it has been for the last so many years. This year we are going to change the world!

OTT and VOD platforms should have a section for avant-garde, experimental cinema and non-Hollywood, independent animation. It is important for platforms not only to show but also to shape viewership by engaging in critical discussions on cinema

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