Indian animation industry lacks appealing narrative and low budgets. Studios shy away from investments fearing low returns
In the yesteryears, children would be glued to television sets watching Mickey Mouse or Tom & Jerry. Taking over these cartoon characters in India is the nine-year old boy who loves laddoos—Chhota Bheem.
Chhota Bheem's viewership is pegged at over 40 million, among the highest for an animation brand. It made a debut on the Indian television screens in 2008. Since then, Chhota Bheem has been star of 300 television episodes, 27 television movies and three theatrical releases.
Despite being a successful television series, Chhota Bheem has been unable to replicate this success on celluloid. Industry data shows, the 2012 release Chota Bheem and the Curse of Damyaan clocked Rs 5 crore at a budget of Rs 4.50 crore. Chhota Bheem and Himalayan Adventure earned Rs 4 crore against an investment of Rs 5.75 crore. And Chhota Bheem and the Throne of Bali which was made at a cost of Rs 5 crore, netted just Rs 4 crore.
But in comparison to other animation ventures, Chhota Bheem’s silver screen performance is considered as better or not-so-bad. And this is because Indian animation films are yet to find acceptability at home. They have not been able to generate the same response as their Hollywood counterparts and the proof of this is their box office performance.
Rajiv Chilaka, Founder and CEO of Green Gold Animation that has created and built Chhota Bheem, said: “Animation movies are normally labelled as kids movies, hence teens and adults shy away from it.” He, however, sounded optimistic and said: “The trend is changing and we believe that we will see more and more teens and adults coming to watch animation movies.”
Showing confidence in Chhota Bheem, its makers are now set to release the first ever Chhota Bheem theatrical in digital 3D titled Chhota Bheem Kungfu Dhamaka. And this time the film will offer state-of-the-art animation and production quality.
Chilaka, who has directed Chhota Bheem Kungfu Dhamaka said that they took a giant leap in quality of animation and production. It will have far superior animation in comparison to its predecessors and can compete with the best in the world, the filmmaker claims. Yash Raj Films are the distributors for the film.
Looking at the past performance of films made in this genre, there is no denying that animation films made in India.
Rajinikanth’s Kochadaiiyaan (2014), a Tamil full-length animation film, failed to create a stir and collected only Rs 70 crore with a budget of Rs 125 crore. Another offering in the animation category Arjun: The Warrior Prince, which is the first animated production in India to be co-branded with Disney, scored a paltry Rs 1.78 crore at the box office, nearly four times less than its budget.
So, why are Indian animated films finding it difficult to make a mark?
The answer could be in the story-telling. Indian animation industry lacks appealing narrative and low budgets. Studios shy away from investments fearing low returns. Most of these films are restricted to a budget of Rs 5 crore which is about 0.7 percent of what a movie like Disney-Pixar's Ratatouille costs.
On the other hand, for a good-quality animation film in India, studios spend nothing more than Rs 8-10 crore. Despite low budgets, the recovery has not been possible given the size of the market.
But Chilaka believes: “Indian animation has had a slow and steady growth from the beginning. From being a servicing point for most Hollywood films to creating original IPs (intellectual property), the Indian animation market has seen a slow but steady growth.”
The market value of the animation industry in India doesn’t paint a rosy picture either when compared on a global level.
In 2012, a FICCI-KPMG report estimated the entire Indian animation industry’s worth at Rs 1,130 crore (or $155.2 million approximately), which was very low in comparison to the global $122 billion animation and gaming market. Disney alone had animation revenues of around $10 billion in 2011.
A comparison between India and Japan’s market value of their country’s animation industry shows where the former stands globally. According to a FICCI-KPMG report, Indian animation and VFX market was at Rs 5,950 crore in 2016.
On the other hand, Association of Japanese Animations estimated the market value of the country’s animation industry at 2 trillion yen or approximately Rs 1,10,000 crore that year.
But Chhota Bheem is trying to step up the game. With Kungfu Dhamaka, the studio is planning a strategic release across the globe. Known as country’s largest home-grown children’s entertainment brand, Chhota Bheem has been able to supersede every other Indian and global competition in the subcontinent.
An inspiration of Bheema from the Mahabharata, Chhota Bheem is all about truth, friendship, respect and care. According to Chilaka, “The factor which favours Chhota Bheem is the easy and simple flow of content added with values of love, happiness and friendship that even a two-year-old understands.”
Green Gold Animation, the creator of Chhota Bheem, has made its name in licensing and merchandising, movie production and distribution, digital business, retail distribution, gaming, franchise stores and events. But that’s not all. In a bid to engage Chhota Bheem’s fans more with the character, the company has partnered with Gamitronics to bring Chhota Bheem on Amazon Echo devices. Now, Chhota Bheem is accessible through voice command.
Talking about the brand value, Chilaka said, “Chhota Bheem has completed 10 years now, and it’s been one of the longest and most popular animated kids IP in India. Though we have yet to do a certified valuation of the brand, with the reach, the viewership, licensing, associations and the popularity, my estimate would be Rs 400 crore.”Kungfu Dhamaka’s success will not only spell good news for Chhota Bheem but also encourage other filmmakers to venture in this genre.