More shriek than Shrek

Written by Rakesh Raman | Updated: Nov 19 2007, 03:13am hrs
The trouble with Bollywood bosses is that they get inspired by their Hollywood counterparts a little too easily. Stories, attire and film sets are looking more and more like raw adaptations, with only the details left to give the films their essential Indian market appeal. This time round, local producers eyes are set on animation movies. And why not Recent hits like Ratatouille, Transformers, Meet the Robinsons, Toy Story 2, The Incredibles and others make this a temptation all too difficult to resist. But the worry is that their reputations are at peril here even as copycats. Judge from the series of local animated productions we have had, of lateThe Legend of Buddha, Hanuman, My Friend Ganesha, another Bal Ganesha, Krishna and so on. Scheduled for release next year, Roadside Romeo is a collaboration between Yash Raj Films and Walt Disney. Will it be a trendsetter

At first glance, these movies have all the bells and whistles that an animation flick should have. But, for want of presentation finesse and production quality, they fail to impress filmgoers. The result is empty theatres and low box-office collections. While Hollywood movies gross hundreds of millions of dollars, Indian products settle for revenues that are not even a hairline sliver of this amount. Pixars Ratatouille, for example, earned over $500 million in about four months of its June 2007 release. But an Indian cartoon film would be hard put to touch a little more than a million dollars.

One reason is that Indian producers are using arthouse cinema-type shoestring budgets in a film format that has inherently higher costs, and this results in compromises on quality. Dreamworks Transformers took $150 million to make, and earned more than double this money in just four weeks. Making significantly cheaper animation films, even at Indian cost levels (with digital outsourcing, cost differentials are shrinking anyway), is just not worth it.

Another reason for the ho-hum market response is that Indian moviemakers are not bold enough to create original characters or intellectual properties (IPs). They prefer to leverage timeworn mythological themes, and often bank on religious sentiment more than cinematic excellence to make their buck. While American animation is often paradigm altering (a rat as a master chef, for goodness sake), Indian animation is trying to gain obeisance to religious characters. Mythology works in temples, not theatres.

So whats ahead As animation movies can be as successful as live character films, Indian moviemakers need to create their own IPs and promote them through integrated media (say, video games). They can also use blended animated-cum-live film formats, as in Transformers, to leverage computer-generated imagery techniques. Local producers also need their own heroes a la Batman, Wonder Woman or Shrek.

However, it may not be a walk in the park for domestic filmmakers to create globally acceptable animation movies because of prohibitive production costs. They may need to join hands to form a consortium to start a big animation project on a joint venture basis. Plus, production houses can use the latest technology processes, such as Machinima, to create virtual sets to cut costs. Computer software-based project management solutions are available too. And a clear strategy to include embedded ads in the movies would fetch more revenues as well. Further, merchandising is another area that producers need to develop effectively. Overall, they must change focus from low-end jobs for export markets to original indigenous content. Initial cash flows might be slow, but these efforts will create a base for the future.

The good news is that there is only one direction in which Indian animation films can moveand thats forward. So local moviemakers have to get their acts together to emerge from the bottom of the heap and start wowing audiences with originality and pizzazz. Will they

The writer is a technology market analyst. These are his personal views