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Two roosters face off, they bristle, size up each other, flap their wings, take flight, collide in mid air while slashing their beaks and claws into each other. People standing around watch with tense faces as if their lives depend on it. Every bit of what is being shown looks real. You feel for the losing rooster as it droops down, blood spilling from its eye, feathers splayed and almost immobile. Only, the roosters are not real; they are animated.

There is a common perception that ‘animation is a costly affair that requires a high level of expertise’. That is a perception that to an extent has been brought about by the abundance of high quality
animation from Hollywood while we still struggle to produce something that is even as good as the ‘Looney Tunes’ or the ‘Merrie Melodies’ of the 60s and 70s. Yes, we have been far behind the benchmark of animation worldwide, while still being the second biggest film industry in the world.

There have been pioneers and trendsetters who have tried to do their bit in making animation a saleable proposition in India, but they have been few and far in between. One still remembers the delightful use of animation characters with Superstar in Raja Chinna Roja. But, even that could not spark off a widespread use of animation in our film industry. Yes, the use of graphics and visual effects to enhance the on screen effectiveness has become bread and butter for the Indian cinema industry. But, the actual use of characters created through animation is a rarity. Recently, there have been attempts like Roadside Romeo in Hindi and Inimey Naanga Dhaan in Tamil. The recognition that they got was perhaps not good enough to encourage further such attempts.

But, there is also a good reason for the tepid welcome to these films. The Indian urban audiences have been fed for more than a decade on world class animation movies like Shrek, Ice Age, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Wall E etc that one cannot blame them for finding the products of the fledgling Indian animation industry as a bit amateurish. Hollywood has taken upon animation in such a big way that it would not be wrong to say that it may even overtake the ‘real cinema’ in the future. Remember, even Avatar can be considered an animation film, with a few clauses and conditions. We have top notch animation features releasing almost every month – even 2010 was profuse with them – How To Train Your Dragon, Megamind. And, more success is in store for animation as successful films have begun to give rise to many strong franchises. We have already had a few successful franchises like Shrek, Ice Age and Toy Story. 2011 is brimming with animation sequels like Kung Fu Panda 2.

So, where does the Indian film industry stand amongst this? Pretty far behind one would say. The one major animation feature that is in the making in Kollywood has been on the anvil for a long time now – Sultan The Warrior. But we can be encouraged by the increased presence and importance given to animation in recent Tamil cinema. The costliest Indian film to be ever made, Endhiran , relied heavily on animatronics and CGI to become a stunning visual spectacle. It might be considered the benchmark with regard to animation in Indian cinema. But many differ with this view because Endhiran imported all the visual effects talent from abroad, Industrial Light and Magic and Stan Winston Studios, to be precise. The real victory would be when local talent gets enabled to pull off something on this scale. That is where the recent Aadukalam is a really encouraging step.

It might not be a film that has a lot of visual effects. But, whatever little is there is of very high quality – by Indian standards. Perhaps the director was forced to go in for animated cock fights because of a persistent animal protection policy which forbids film makers from torturing them. But such a roadblock, which many film makers have complained about earlier, might in fact end up having been a blessing in disguise for Indian cinema. Vettrimaran turned a problem into an opportunity and showed that good animation is possible even within the budgetary limitations of Indian cinema. The cock fights are not there just for the heck of it, they have been crafted, animated and presented in a way that draws you into the frame and gets you involved in the ‘life or death’ fight of the roosters. To the best of our knowledge, no talent has been exported to create these scenes. It is all local talent that has been used. And that augurs well for Indian cinema. The animation boom might be sparked off now – perhaps!
Tags : Aadukalam, Dhanush, Tapasee, Kishore, Vetrimaaran, GV Prakash Kumar
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