What we create today as IP should not only reflect our culture, but it should also influence and construct it. It is up to us, the creators, to choose the way forward.
By Soumitra Ranade Creative Head & CEO Paperboat DesignStudios
Intellectual Property (IP) is the talk of the town today. Infact it has been so for the last few years and quite understandably so. The coming of new-age technologies and their stupendous growth have opened up entirely new possibilities for all stakeholders, be it the government and their agencies, distributors, exhibitors, satellite channels, OTT platforms and other key participants in this continually expanding arena.
But most importantly, what does it mean for the creators themselves! IPs we create is an important aspect of our art and culture. We as a nation are known for our extraordinary art in the form of sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, cinema, music, etc.
It is the murals at Ajanta, sculptures at Kailash temple, Kangra miniatures, Mughal architecture, Hindustani and the Carnatic music, and so many other vibrant renditions in various art forms that define us as a nation, as a culture.
We are after all, what we create and we are after all what we like to see. What we create today as IP should not only reflect our culture, but it should also influence and construct it. It is up to us, the creators, to choose the way forward. What kind of a nation do we want to build? How do we want the rest of the world to see us?
There are three fundamental entities that contribute towards making of any IP: the funders, the creative personnel and the audiences.
These three could sometimes have different interests and it is for all three to strike a balance so that the IPs we create have high standards and that these standards keep increasing. A synergy between the three is vital for us to build, promote and nurture creativity and innovation.
Throughout history whenever there was complete synergy between the three, a high level of art was achieved; from as diverse periods as the Renaissance or the Chola period. Whenever there have been gaps between the three, the art of that period has suffered.
For a country that has such an enormous treasure of stories; of images and sounds, of colors and textures, of melodies and rhythms, very few Indian IPs have crossed the shores and gone global. Many have tried for several years and yet only a few have succeeded. What makes our IPs mostly confined within our borders?
What we create here in our country – not just as a geographical unit but as a composite culture, must I feel, reflect our stories, our dreams, our images and our sounds.
Our IPs need to be rooted in our land, in its diverse fragrances and its distinct shades. We must tell our extraordinary stories through our extraordinary audiovisual traditions. For this to happen, we first need to be proud of the immense wealth that we have. Instead of looking constantly towards the west, we must look within ourselves, within our own souls and that’s where the real Indian IPs exist.
Only those artists who have truly been rooted in the culture of our land have gone global in the real sense of the word, be it Satyajit Ray, Pt. Ravi Shankar or M.F.Hussain amongst others. It is always the most local that eventually becomes global; there are enough examples from all over the world to substantiate this. Even Superman, probably one of the most popular global icons has perhaps the most American soul. The Disney collection and the Manga art and animation are some of the other examples that come immediately to mind.
In recent times, the two animation films from India—Goopi Gawaiyaa Bagha Bajaiyaa and Bombay Rose—have crossed the boarders and have gone international in a big way. Both these films are rooted in the Indian aesthetic not only thematically but also stylistically.
There is however a catch here! If we go back to our roots without innovation, we will only be repeating ourselves. If we render the same stories in the same ol’ ways we will become irrelevant for the newer generations. We need to rethink and reinterpret. While we do this, we must bring in that edge, that zeitgeist of our times, the spirit of our era.
This is where I think the government can play a key role. The Services Exports Promotion Council, set up by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India, is a great initiative in this direction. The government stands alone, away from the other three entities and has the power and capital to give direction to things to come and I anticipate exciting times ahead.
We can’t repaint the Ajanta frescoes all over again. There’s no point in doing that or even attempting to do that. But ignoring them would only be a colossal tragedy. What we must do is to reimagine Ajanta that will be represented in a form that is modern. That is contemporary.
And we must be on our toes because who knows as early as tomorrow morning the medium might change. Today it’s the digital screen but tomorrow it may be something else. One thing however will remain constant, always, for eternity – the Bodhisattva Padmapani!
Soumitra Ranade, Co-founder – Chairman Paperboat Design Studios, narrates his story from Afghanistan to animation. The uniqueness of the animation ecosystem in Paperboat is that it is driven by creatives and run by managers rather than the other way around.
I spent four of my formative years, from 12 to 16, in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was an extraordinary experience. While we witnessed the political turmoil, we were also introduced to perhaps the most compassionate people in the world. During that time my father also bought a Super8 camera and a projector. My entire family used to shoot films and we had to send the reels to Germany since Kabul didn’t have a film processing facility. These were just 4 minutes reels and sometimes we would have to wait for 3-4 months to see what we had shot earlier. In this day, when we all are shooting stuff on our mobiles and the instant gratification that it offers, this 3-4 month long wait just to see a 4 minute clip sounds bizarre. When the reels would come, we would all huddle up at night and watch the films projected on the wall. In the darkness of the room, I think the magic of cinema must have surreptitiously crept into my being.
Back in India
When I came back to India, I joined JJ School of Art and passed out with a gold medal. But I felt irresistibly drawn towards cinema and hence joined FTII. Those were pre-digital times and yet most of my work as a film student anticipated this shift. When the digital technology finally arrived, I was immediately attracted to it because of the possibilities that it presented.
Alibaba & Baahubali
My background in visual arts and film, made animation and VFX as a natural choice for me and that resulted in Jajantaram Mamantaram, a feature film in 2003. I had thought then that it would open up a whole new world but unfortunately we as a nation still remained averse to technology and it took India till 2015 to make a Baahubali!
While making Alibaba and 41 Thieves (yet unreleased) for UTV, I desperately felt the need to have my own studio. I wanted to create a dynamic, creative space where one could build a team that is genuinely interested in creating something exciting. I then started Paperboat with Aashish Mall and Mayank Patel who were my colleagues on Alibaba. We had a great working relationship and we had a singular dream.
Awards & Accolades
Our first project was Shilpa Ranade’s animated feature Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiyaa. It was just the kind of work we wanted to do at Paperboat. Then came Anamika Haksar’s Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon, and then recently Gitanjali Rao’s Bombay Rose. We are absolutely proud of all our films as they are all unique, have their own aesthetic, are stunning in their own distinct ways. They all had a festival run of more than 30-40 international film festivals each – and also numerous awards. This was the first time that an Indian animation studio was getting recognition outside of the country in the top notch festivals.
While we were doing these films we were also doing animated serials. Our first one was Bandbudh Aur Budbak which was a runaway success and it redefined children’s entertainment on Indian television. We brought in the ‘edginess’ in children’s content and we it extended further with Fukrey Boyzz.
‘Ad’ it up
We were always serious about advertising as that is one space where one can push the envelope not just in terms of creative thinking but also in terms of technology. We made many cutting edge advertisements and received numerous awards.
We have recently started Occult, a vertical that focuses on VFX and CGI. We are also getting into animation education since we have a serious dearth of fresh talent as there are just a handful of schools that teach animation. Our proposal to start an animation school and studio in Srinagar has also been accepted by the government and we are truly looking forward for that to start off. We are also partnering with other prestigious universities across India, to launch our animation degree courses.
We have also started UtSide, a design/animation studio in Toronto, Canada. Our singular mission for that studio is to develop global content for newage audience. We have lined up many exciting projects to execute crossplatform interactive ideas and content. Unfortunately, some of these initiatives have been delayed due to the pandemic but our larger dream is to create a 360 degree ecosystem that encompasses design, animation and VFX.
Kids & dreams
On a personal level I have always been interested in children’s publications. I have written and designed numerous books for top publishers and I am currently awaiting the publication of my first novel for children that’s been published by Hatchett.
A lot of people tell me that I am doing too many things and yet I feel I am doing too little. After all, I have seven nights in a week so I can have seven different dreams! And each dream, as wonderful as the other, I can see on a little white wall in my room, as if watching it on a Super8 projector.
Managing Paperboat in COVID-19 environment. Interview with Soutmitra Ranade, Co-Founder and Chairman Paperboat Design Studios
How did Paperboat adapt in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic?
This is a huge humanitarian crisis. Millions of people all over the world are going through perhaps the worst times of their lives. The element of fear also plays a terrifying role – how long will this last? Am I or my family safe? Are our jobs secure? Will there be a cut in our salaries?
These of course are the immediate fears. Then there are of course the larger fears– Where is this world heading to? What have we done with it? Is it destroyed beyond repair? Will our children always have to wear masks all their lives? Are we losing control over our lives?
But right now, very honestly, my priority is the 250 people who work with us in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata. They and their families. So about 1500 people. We are responsible for them and have to ensure that at least these 1500 people have a comparatively easier life. Then each one also has dependents. They have their maids and their vegetable vendors etc. So it’s extremely important that we run our studio efficiently even in these terrible times, because it impacts so many people.
And since we don’t know yet when this is going to end, we must take a deep breath and take the calamity on the chin. Two days before the first lockdown was announced in March, we anticipated it and shifted all the equipment to people’s homes so that they could work from there. All the employees have co-operated with us. Believe me it’s been a big challenge but we have done well for the first four months. And I am sure we will get through these tough times.
Just before COVID-19 struck, Paperboat had planned to set up studio in Canada, Toronto…
Yes. Our Canada plans got delayed due to the pandemic but I feel that is nothing as compared to what so many had to suffer. I mean, we have to be realistic. This is a world crisis and honestly it doesn’t really matter if a studio gets delayed in some place. We have to see things in the larger context. There are more urgent matters that the world needs to concentrate upon right now. The delay has been disappointing but we are sure our Canadian studio will take off as soon as the pandemic is behind us.
What are the focus areas of Paperboat Studios in Canada?
Our Canadian studio is called UtSide Inc. and focuses on creating a synergy between art and technology and we want to develop ideas in various medias such as animated films, apps, VR/AI, physical interactive experiences etc. Our vision is to empower individuals in their formative years. We aspire to create worldwide communities that bridge geographical, linguistic, sociocultural gaps and strive for a world that is inclusive, compassionate and joyous. We have identified many projects and the work on them would begin hopefully by the end of the year.
Now that you have set up studio in Toronto, do you look at co-production opportunities? Canada has signed the largest number of co-production Treaties in the world. How do you see collaboration in this time of crisis?
It’s always a crisis that either brings people together or tears them apart. We as a world community need to take a decision which way we want to go. For us, these co-production treaties are not just documents or agreements between two governments. It is a partnership between two people, two cultures, two languages, two world views. And this union can be very exciting.
In a co-production project it’s the artists from one country working with artists from another country. I am very keen that my next project – an animated feature film based on Tagore’s Kabuliwala is not just an Indo-Canadian co-production. But we would like to work with artists from all over the sub-continent. Imagine a situation where the musicians are from Afghanistan, artists, designers, animators, voice actors from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Tagore after all belonged to the entire subcontinent. A collaborative film of this kind on Kabuliwala would be a true salute to the great man’s vision.
How do you plan to scale up Paperboat studios?
It’s very easy for us to go from 250 to 500. But that’s not the kind of scaling we want to achieve. For us the primary scale up would not be in numbers but in a constant pursuit of quality. With the three films that we have done recently we have shown to the world that we can do it in India. We want to break this perception about Indian animation being shoddy and low standard. If we concentrate on quality, and keep delivering path-breaking animation year after year, the scaling up will happen automatically. Afterall, everyone wants an artistic and efficient animation studio, even people from Europe and North America. We want them to come to us with great stories and we can create the animated world for them.
What are the current moves you are making for Paperboat’s journey to future?
Up until now, me, Aashish and Mayank have brought Paperboat to this stage without a single rupee of outside investment. We have put systems in place, have a very good client base, and are working for the top TV channels. As we now start work on our own IPs, we need investments. Big dreams need big investments and these investments may not always be counted in monetary terms. We are also looking for collaborations, partnerships and joint-ventures.
How has been the client response during the period? Do you see surge in pipeline?
Our clients are well aware of the situation and although they have their own pressures, which may or may not be in sync with our pressures but they all have reacted most positively to all our problems. We are talking to each one of them very regularly and updating them of the immense pressure that our team is going through. Many employees have shifted to their villages since the cities are not very safe. There are different challenges there. Internet speeds are ridiculous at most places. It takes hours to upload/download a simple file. But all the clients have been extremely understanding, and supportive. Actually it’s also got to do with intent. If we start using this pandemic as an excuse for our inefficiency then they will obviously see that. If the problems are real and if we keep updating them regularly then there need not be any friction.
Do you see acceleration for animation, VFX, gaming business going forward as there are challenges in live shoots and these verticals can help in storytelling?
I feel traditionally, the Indian mindset has always been a bit fearful of technology. We don’t invest enough in it. Even big stars and producers tell us proudly that for such and such film they have got the experts from Hollywood: for prosthetics, for VFX, for CGI and so on. I think they should actually be ashamed of themselves to even say this. Why can’t they invest in creating the talent here in India? They have the resources, they have the money.
Our films have primarily been driven by the star system. When you have a big star in your film, you don’t even need a script, forget about VFX and animation! That’s the mind-set that we have. But the star system is dead now. Infact it’s been dead for a while but they have somehow kept it alive through PR which won’t last for too long anyways.
Then they will have to turn to VFX and animation to get the eye balls. So primarily we will have two kinds of films: the ones with great, hard hitting content and then big spectacles with huge amount of VFX and animation. As far as gaming goes, I honestly think that we still have a long way to go.
What are the opportunities you see during this period for the AVGC (Animation, Gaming, Visual Effects, Comics) sector in India? Also challenges?
I do think that the AVGC sector cannot be seen separately. The internet speeds that we have in India right now, the accessibility to technology, proper training institutes, and many other factors define our AVGC sector. It’s the entire ecosystem that matters. The government must recognise that this sector is a huge job creator. We must look at the taxation laws if we want to encourage this sector. I feel we have a huge opportunity. We have a vast young population that is willing to move towards this area as the traditional sectors like medicine and engineering etc., are beyond the reach of most people. Also, this is a very exciting world and the youth would naturally feel attracted towards it. We must make this movement easier for them.
You had expressed keenness in starting training and studio in Jammu & Kashmir?
Over the past many years we have had extremely talented youngsters from the valley, working with us at our studio in Mumbai. Unfortunately they had all done their animation courses from other parts of the country and it pained me that there is not a single good animation institute in the valley. It was a dream to start something there so that the locals don’t have to leave their wonderful environs to come and study and work in our rotten cities.
Animation is not just a medium of art, expression and entertainment but it also offers job opportunities in large numbers. With our institute in Kashmir, we also hope to start a branch of our studio, which will employ the artists graduating from the institute. The ultimate aim ofcourse is to produce animation films written, designed and directed by Kashmiri artists!
As a teenager in Kabul, I was witness to some of the most horrific armed struggles that the world has ever seen. In the following decades a most compassionate and loving people have been crushed to pulp and we don’t want Kashmir to go that way. I am sure art can heal.
India has a pool of trained artistes. They are computer literate and proficient in English. Also, we can offer rates that very few in the world can offer,” says Soumitra Ranade, Founder and Creative Director of Paperboat Design Studios Pvt. Ltd
We are excited to see Bombay Rose, directed by Gitanjali Rao, (premiered in Venice and screened at other prestigious events) was made at Paperboat Studios. What went into the making journey of Bombay Rose? Bombay Rose has a very unique style, which is Gitanjali’s personal style. She had made her short film True Love Story in a similar style mostly on her own with only a few artistes. However when it comes to a feature film the dynamics are entirely different. The project has to get into a studio mode even while it remains personal expression. That was our main challenge – to maintain the integrity of the image even as production happens in a conveyer belt like situation. We couldn’t allow any leakages anywhere. The final image, even after having gone under the hands of numerous artistes, had to be exactly as Gitanjali had envisaged.
But we have a very simple solution for this, which we had tried in our earlier animation film Goopi Gawaiyaa Bagha Bajaiyaa and had succeed. With Bombay Rose too we trained about 30 artistes for a period of three to four months. They were trained under Gitanjali and our design team. Obviously there were many hiccups in the early days. It takes time for artistes to unlearn what they have been doing for years. But we got through that phase eventually and only when we were all on the same page, did we start the production. After that it went quite smoothly since each and every artiste knew exactly what Gitanjali had in mind. I think what we have achieved is truly phenomenal.
About 200,000 frames were hand-painted individually – each with multiple characters in about 18 months.
How difficult is to manage an animation service ecosystem run by creative leaders? It is very ironic… Honestly I think this is the only way to do it! Besides being a writer-director, I have also been the executive producer on all my films. So I did have certain management skills. Running a studio is slightly different and we did have some issues initially. But we worked around that, hired professional managers and created a system that is driven by the creative and run by the managers rather than it being the other way round.
Indian animation service industry is 25 years now. Can we confidently say, we can make in India to show the world? As artistes we could always do it. What we didn’t have then was an animation ecosystem. It is not enough to have designers and animators alone. We need to have animation producers, writers, animation thinkers really and most importantly animation viewers. Only then can the animation industry thrive.
In the absence of all these, the big foreign studios came and gobbled us up! They trained our artistes to suit their styles and India ended up as a backend sweatshop destination. Sure, it gives jobs to thousands and that’s very important but I don’t think that helps the animation aesthetic in the country.
I think it is important for us to build our own animation industry rather than being dependent on the big studios to offload their work on to us.
India is one of the global clusters for animation service. Where do we go from now? What advantages do you see in India in providing offshore animation production services? Where do we excel in this space? The advantages are many. Firstly India has a pool of trained artistes. They are computer literate and proficient in English. Also, we can offer rates that very few in the world can offer.
I do think that the government can play a big role here since it tick marks one of its main agendas; to create jobs. It should give tax cuts and other benefits so that this part of the animation industry enlarges exponentially.
What’s the idea behind the creation of Paperboat Studios? Before Paperboat, there were only two kinds of animation studios in India. One, those large studios that did all the backend work for big foreign studios or then there were the others, which were mostly doing advertising or TV serials.
We wanted to create a space where creativity and innovation is respected. Where directors can come and make their feature films in whatever style they envision. And because Paperboat is headed by artistes, the directors trust us. They know that their most precious child will be looked after well at Paperboat.
They know that their films will not be treated as just another job. They know that this is as big a passion for us as it is for them.
You have created some of the feature films and finest animation IPs from India. What goes on your mind when you create product for others? Honestly, this word ‘others’ doesn’t exist for us. It is ‘us’. We are all in it together.
Shilpa Ranade made her film Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiyaa with us. Then it was Anamika Haksar with her Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon (partly animated) and now Bombay Rose. All three films have gone international in a big way. GGBB was the first Indian animation feature that was premiered at TIFF. Ghode Ko was selected for Sundance. BR was the first Indian animation film opening the Critics Week at Venice. All three have gone to many other festivals and won numerous awards.
This gives us great happiness because these are all our films! It also makes us happy that Indian animation is finally being recognized worldwide and Paperboat has played a small part in this.
Paperboats’s core ideology “is to serve simplicity with sophistication”. What are the services rendered at your studio? From the very conceptualization of an idea till the final screening copy is what we do at Paperboat. Ownership is very important for us. From story to screenplay and dialogues, from character design to all other pre-production, from animation to compositing and then the BG music and sound postproduction, we take care of all these at Paperboat.
Of course, all clients don’t get all this done from us. For feature films especially the directors come with their own screenplays although for GGBB I have written the screenplay as well.
Animation and IT sector evolved simultaneously in India. Indian IT has gone global, but animation/animation services hasn’t seen the same success. Do you think animation will have it glory in India in the coming years? I had made a film called Jajantaram Mamantaram in 2003. For the first time in an Indian feature we had 65 minutes of animation and VFX. Inspite of its huge commercial success it has taken India another 12 years to make a Bahubali in 2015!
I have always thought we Indians were very sluggish when it came to technology. Our generation was never really exposed to animation as a result of which, it was essentially a star driven generation. We preferred to see Bollywood stars rather than animated images. I think the current generations have crossed that bridge. I do see exciting days ahead.
How do you see new space and a media ecosystem opening up for animation in platforms like Netflix, Apple, Amazon Prime, YouTube… As I said earlier, our generation was never really exposed to animation. In my childhood I used to see perhaps one Disney film in two years. And then there were those wonderful Films Division shorts made by Bhimsain and Ram Mohan. Besides this, we had zilch exposure to animation.
But since the late nineties after private satellite channels exploded on the scene, kids are growing up watching animation. It has now become a norm. In fact it is now a preferred medium. Other mediums like the memes, GIFs etc are adding to this whole new visual culture. Animation also lends itself easily to dubbing and hence crosses geographical/linguistic barriers easier than live-action. It is edgier, funnier, faster and more exciting.
There is a hungry audience out there waiting for animation content and the platforms are already moving more and more towards that space.
As we march to a new decade in a couple of months, what is your wish list to accomplish in the new decade beginning 2020? Oh this is the most exciting period in our lives! We have started work on our next feature Kabuliwala, which is based on Tagore’s classic short story. We have some very exciting ongoing television projects with Discovery Kids and Sony Yay! We have started a new division called Occult where we will focus only on cutting edge VFX work. We are talking to prestigious universities in India to develop animation education across India. We have also started UtSide Inc. a design innovation company based out of Toronto.
So quite a lot of exciting stuff is happening but the closest to our heart is our proposal of an animation school attached to a studio in Kashmir. We are very keen on this and we hope things work out very soon.
To meet contemporaries from all over the world. To exchange ideas, discuss projects, and begin new partnerships
Founded in 2011, the idea behind Paperboat was to create a unit that delivered top quality projects in design, animation and films. The core competence of Paperboat has always been conceptual thinking along with a learned understanding of different mediums. Paperboat is currently involved with the pre-production of an animated feature Kabuliwala and an animated web series titled Keeda.
India’s top animation-filmmaker Gitanjali Rao’s animation feature Bombay Rose will be the Out of Competition opening film at the Venice International Film Festival’s Critics Week Section. The animation film will be screened on August 29.
Bombay Rose is the story of a flower seller who has to make the choice between protecting her family or allowing herself to fall in love. This touching story is set on the streets of Mumbai and moves from real life to fantasy, accompanied by much-loved Bollywood songs from the cinema halls. Painted frame by frame, for which Gitanjali is famed, Bombay Rose is a chronicle of the people who migrate from small towns, seeking minimal life in the maximum city.
“I have always wanted to paint stories about people who live and love in the streets of Bombay, never become success stories, yet their struggle for survival makes heroes out of them. This is the city with its cast of unsung heroes and heroines that I want to share with the world and why I started this labour of love 6 years ago. My hand painted short films have travelled the globe and I have found connections to my films in the most unusual places from Cannes to Kanpur. These fans of my stories give me confidence that my first feature film, Bombay Rose, about simple people with their simple yet impossible dreams can connect with people around the world. I am thrilled that Bombay Rose will be the first Indian animation film to open Venice Critics Week,” says
Gitanjali Rao, –
Produced by Anand Mahindra and Rohit Khattar of Cinestaan Film Company (who also recently executive produced the 3 Academy Award-nominated ‘Cold War’), Bombay Rose has been written, designed and directed by Gitanjali Rao. The film is in co-production with Film d’Ici and was produced at Mumbai based PaperBoat Animation Studios lead by Soumitra Ranade. Working creatively alongside Gitanjali was acclaimed sound designer PM Satheesh.
“Gitanjali’s beautiful film has made us and India proud by being invited to open Critics Week at Venice. It has been our privilege to work with Gitanjali and PaperBoat Studios over the last 2 years to bring this piece of beautiful cinema to life. We are thrilled to share that the prestigious Venice Film Festival shall be the first of many international festival premieres for this stunning love letter to Mumbai and its people,” said Rohit Khattar, Producer and Chairman of Cinestaan Film Company –
Cinestaan Film Company is a boutique film studio committed to nurturing our rich cinematic legacy, by supporting both national and international cinemas. Cinestaan Film Company develops, produces, sells and distributes films across the world and were recently Executive Producers of Cold War, nominated for 3 Academy Awards including ‘Best Foreign Film’.
C International Sales, its Sales Agency specializes in the sale of both Indian and international films seeking global audiences and has successfully represented critically acclaimed films internationally like Hotel Salvation”(Mukti Bhawan) internationally which has been released in over 30 countries.
Cinestaan AA Distributors, it’s JV with AA Films, is the leading overseas distributor propelling big Indian audiences throughout the world into cinemas. Some of the films distributed by Cinestaan AA Distributors are Baahubali 2 – The Conclusion, Stree, Badhaai Ho, Gully Boy and most recently Bharat and Kabir Singh.