Delhi studio makes deliciously Japanese-style Indian animated films
There is a new animated film, made in India, that looks like it came straight out of Japan. Its creator, Rajorshi Basu, takes this as a huge compliment.
Most Indian entertainment is aimed at children, and not very well aimed at that. Japanese animated films, on the other hand, are known for their intricacy of art, exquisite use of light, and hand-engraved frames with such detail that you might mistake them for photographs. When Basu launched his Studio Durga in Delhi in 2016, this is what he was looking for.
His first movie, Karmachakra (released next month), has sparkling frames, luscious food designs, and music that feels universal. Made with a core team of just four, most of the frames are spare and the action minimal, but the effort has paid off.
A 20-minute pilot segment posted to YouTube in February has more than 87,000 views so far, with anime fans expressing relief and pride that India finally has a studio that goes beyond the drawing format animated – and finally has a local anime.
Karmachakra is a mystery with supernatural elements. An orphan goes to a friend’s funeral and, on the way home, receives a text from this friend. The story then moves on to elements of popular science, cyber espionage, hacking, and Hindu mythology.
The 80-minute film took almost four years to make – rather than the usual 12-18 months for a hand-drawn movie of this length. And one of the reasons, Basu explains, is that he wanted to keep the production entirely Indian but couldn’t find the right types of animators.
After much research, he found his main team: Samadrita Ghosh (character creation and art), Monideep Chakraborty (art) and Ananya Garg (production and preview). Basu himself wrote and conducted Karmachakra and created and performed the music.
“Consistency is so crucial, and finding people who can draw Japanese cartoons and be consistent about it was very difficult,” says Garg, 22. “We had to train most of the people we worked with from scratch.”
Basu, 29, studied music production at Berklee College of Music in Boston and film production at the Asian Academy of Film & Television in Noida. It was during a pop culture research program in Japan in 2013 that the idea for an Indian anime studio first came to him.
“I used to do my own comics and manga when I was a teenager. After the class I wanted to do something that used all my skills – animation, film and music – and I thought why not try to create a world class animation studio in India, ”he says.
Basu thinks the time is right. Demand for content has exploded during the pandemic. Even before the lockdowns, 2019 was a good year for anime in India. Japanese movies such as Dragon Ball Super: Broly and Weathering With You have been released in theaters; on Netflix, Studio Ghibli films are developing a larger Indian fan base.
“During the first few years we tried talking to a bunch of OTT platforms. They are showing more interest now. Their interest also increased after the pilot segment was enjoyed by Indian fans on YouTube, ”Basu said. Karmachakra will be released in Bengali with English subtitles.
“What Studio Durga does with Karmachakra is a huge achievement, ”says Ishan Shukla, an animator whose short film Schirkoa was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2017. “Indian animators are basically becoming button pushers, from service providers to international studios. Everything we create that is original tends to be at the level of Chhota Bhim. Karmachakra suggests that a fire has been started and maybe more people will come up with quirky projects like this in the future.
If the movie gets caught and / or sells well, there are plans for a franchise, says Basu. “We are also open to commission work, for Indian and international markets. We hope that a lot will change for the better after Karmachakra is released. “
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