Indian Animation Features Lack Life at Box Office
By MovieTalkies.com, 15 April 2011
Do Indians believe that cartoons are only for kids? Important question considering the growing global potential of Animated Feature Films and the Indian audience's disdain for the same. Animated films globally are heavy hitters at the box office with a film like Toy Story 3 being one of the highest overall grossers of 2010 at the box office and with a film like Rango recently achieving a much higher collection than most of the live action films released this year so far. But what is most ironic is that we Indians seem to not mind international animated features as the box office collections for films like Toy Story 3, Shrek Forever After, Despicable Me, Tangled and others have been reasonably at par with other Hollywood releases in India, as has been proven by this week's release Rio as well.
So is the lack of interest prevalent only when it is an Indian produced animation feature? And before everyone quips in saying that it's because of the quality difference in the animation and that Hollywood animation is far superior, let's be fair – Roadside Romeo was in the same league as any Hollywood animation film of that time in terms of the technical quality of the film. Of course the fact that Disney was a co producer with Yash Raj Films, helped tremendously as Disney is a stickler for perfection in animation techniques. Nonetheless, in spite of following the Hollywood model of announcing a film early, signing famous actors for voices, releasing a promo well in advance, promoting it as aggressively as a live action feature, the film sank at the box office.
There are several other Hindi animated films which have faced a similar or far worse fate as well and yet we as an audience flock into the theatres to see Hollywood animated features. What gives? We've rejected Roadside Romeo, Jumbo, Hanuman (yes, even though everyone claims it's a hit, its overall box office is hardly anything to rejoice over) Hanuman 2, Krishna, and even the live action animated Toonpur Ka Superrhero along with every other animated film produced in India. No surprise that UTV has yet not released Arjun and Alibaba aur 41 Chor as they too must be wondering what it'll take to get the audiences to wake up to Indian animation.
Yes, some of the above mentioned films were technically weaker than their Hollywood counterparts but animated films world over have not been successful only because of the realness of the animation – Waltz With Bashir and The Illusionist are case in point. And the fact is if you read the end credits of many Hollywood films, you'll realise that a great deal of the post work is being done either by Indians based overseas or many times, in India itself. So if not quality and realness of the animation, then what is it that is deterring the audiences?
Two thoughts come to mind – first, do the audiences feel that international animation films are for everyone to watch and are made with a universal appeal, while Indian animation films are made only for kids? And second, the commonality between all international animation films is that their stories, their screenplays are the king. Few can deny getting teary eyed watching Toy Story 3 or Wall E or being engrossed in the narrative of Despicable Me. Sadly, the screenplays of all of our animation films have been flat, with kiddish narratives which could possibly explain the audience perception. So maybe the audience's perception is a result of the stories that our animated films are telling and the manner in which they are being told?
Most great filmmakers have always stood by the fact that technique and execution can never supersede content, screenplay and script. The fact that Toy Story 3 was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscar's says a great deal. Take away the 3 D animation, and it has still got a heart touching story which is the soul of the film, not the animation. Shrek Forever After in fact took a beating with the critics because it had a weak screenplay while Despicable Me was applauded for its great story telling. We can't deny that our scripts tend to be 'dumbed down', as though intentionally communicating to small children and trying to teach them something. So are we making animated films only to educate, or to entertain as well?
Many tend to retell mythological stories which the audience is already familiar with, most lack originality and generally take the audience's intelligence for granted. In comparison to the aforementioned Hollywood animated films, ours lack any hint of subtext and hence if the film intends to teach a lesson, it does so in a very clichéd, preachy manner instead of the subtext and irony used in superior international screenplays. That would then justify the audience perception in India that Indian animated films are meant for kids, since filmmakers in actuality seem to be writing such films only for them and then wondering why they lack appeal with wider audiences. Is it possible that if we create more universal screenplays, and choose animation as a means of telling that same story, the market for these films will begin to open up?
The fact that most of these films get marketed specifically only to kids, also enhances the problem. Kids in India are by no means as strong influencers in the decision making process as kids are abroad. So wouldn't it make more sense to target families, in general, as well as the huge youth audience? To increase the market potential, our producers will need to increase their advertising budgets and treat animated films which are meant for a wide audience, in a manner similar to a live action film. In fact, films like Arjun and Alibaba aur 41 Chor have the potential to really turn things around for the genre in India if they are marketed wider and the communication is clear that it is not just for kids but rather a film with a great story to tell and a film with a heart.
So possibly the only way to change this trend and to change people's perception about Indian animated films is to first start writing better screenplays and treat animation as the execution of a story, not the heart of a story itself and start having more conviction behind the way these films are marketed to wider audiences. But surely producers will feel it is a chicken and egg story – do they spend more money to try and increase the market and hence revenues or does the market need to increase first in order for them to be able to spend more?
Hollywood studios spend a huge amount of money advertising animated films, but then again, these films tend to be tentpoles for most studios and generate huge revenues at the box office as well as ancillary rights. So, what should come first in India – the chicken or the egg?