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* TheIndian EXPRESS


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Animation was born in NID


With the advent of digital age and IT boom, almost all of India's trained animators began moving into the outsourcing industry, which provided them work and money but little creative space, says Mathur
Around 1965, a faculty-trainee from the National Institute of Design (NID) went to Bombay port to get an Oxberry Animation Stand -- a bulky equipment needed to make animation films -- the institute had ordered from London for Rs 3 lakh, a potential bankruptcy for NID, which was getting an annual grant of Rs 2 lakh at the time. The price tag was exclusive of the 127 per cent excise duty for film equipment one had to pay Customs duty then. The faculty-trainee, I S Mathur, had an idea, he showed the customs officer all the papers and, pointing out there was no mention of a camera anywhere, got the consignment released as industrial equipment, slashing the excise duty to 15 per cent. As he travelled back to NID with the stand, another problem cropped up; there was no space big enough to accommodate the stand, which when assembled towered 13 feet. So the staff dug a 12 x 8 feet hole in the ground and placed the Oxberry there. Finally, NID had a proper equipment to compliment the two donated cameras -- a 16 mm Bolex and a 35 mm Arriflex -- and the broken Prevost editing machine
Prof I S Mathur, founder of NID's animation programme.

(damaged during transit) faculty had used free-hand to make their first animation film barely a year earlier. (The assembling job too had its own story -- a foreign technician had to come over and put it together. When he arrived, he asked for liquor. Being told this was the land of Mahatma Gandhi and so not a drop was to be had, he said: This place is impossible to work in. The issue was, however, sorted out when he managed a liquor permit from a prominent hotel, and the equipment was ready in a matter of days.) These were the humble beginnings of animation film-making at NID, where Swiss animator and graphic designer Armin Hoffman worked with five people to make the first-ever animation film -- Letter I in Movement-- in 1965. The first inspirations of animation film-making at NID were the short animation films of Americans Charles Eames (considered the brainchild of the institute) and Norma McLaren, recalled Professor I C Mathur, who went to Bombay for the Oxberry, at a lecture on Animation History from NID and beyond on day one of Chitrakatha 2011,

NIDs biennial International animation festival, which began on Wednesday. Mathur, founder of NID's animation programme, recalled the cosmopolitan nature of the inspirations NID imbibed -- such as Italian Leo Lionni, who helped build the NID's programme and the maker of Swimmy, a short animation film about a tiny fish he made with NID faculty that was beamed countrywide by the sole broadcast network then -- Doordarshan -- in the mid1960s. Soon came animation films made solely by Indians, such as NIDian Ishu Patels Illustrative Words, a black and white film that has since gained a hue of magenta with age. In the following decade, the first batch of animation students came to NID and with them, the second generation of Indian animation filmmakers such as Raman L Mistry. This was in spite of the difficulties of teaching animation in an institute where there was no lab and we had to use the photography dark rooms to process films and later on spread them out on the lawns to dry, much like a dhobi ghat, said Mathur. One of Ishu Patels students, Narendra Patel, then became one of the oldest in the third generation of

animators -- Patel's film called The Hunt was based on the Worli paintings of Madhya Pradesh and talked about mankind ravaging nature. The animation scene at NID, till then influenced by the styles of the National Film Board of Canada where both Ishu Patel and I S Mathur trained and worked, then went into a near-hibernation because of a paucity of funds until the early 1980s - when faculty invited Disney's Claire Weeks. Weeks stayed for two-and-a-half years to train four animators, who are now teaching in four different design institutes across the country and form, according to Mathur, Indian animation's fourth generation. Animation at this time also became more mainstream, mostly due to R L Mistrys work in making the Doordarshan symbol animated and in colour in the year 1982. Then came the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative Roger Noake -- under his tutelage, R L Mistry made a traffic awareness animation film called Indian Highway-- a dark musical with speeding vehicles and pedestrian deaths -- that won the Presidents award for best animation film in 1985. The fifth generation of animators appeared soon after; this and the previous generation made films with themes less philosophical than earlier -- adaptations of fables, contemporary tales and even about India's colonial past. Then computers began arriving at the Zed Institute of Creative Arts (ZECA), Hyderabad, changing the nature of animation film-making in India forever, especially when the first group of foreign trainers -- from Russia, and who had never used computers before either -- combined traditional drawing techniques and computer processes. The digital age had arrived, and just when animation film-making was getting better, so did the Information Technology (IT) age, Mathur rued, meaning almost all of India's trained animators began moving into the outsourcing industry, which provided them work and money but little creative space. EFS


A fictional interpretation of a real story, Teen Behenein, shows how dowry pressures drove three Kanpur sisters to kill themselves

A still from Teen Behenein (above); Kundan Shah


transformed it into an animation film. It was reverse outsourcing," Douglas recalled in a

Tribal folktales being made as animation films


LATA is writing a final letter to her parents while her teenage sister, Urmila, moves around the house closing the windows one by one; in the kitchen, another sister, Nisha, is standing on a chair, putting the final touches to three nooses. Papa, your humiliation about dowry will end, writes Lata, Mummy, isnt it better that instead of dying everyday, to end it all at once? In a few minutes, it would all be over for the sisters. But, suddenly, they find out that their aunt wants to pay them a surprise visit, and the girls decide to postpone their deaths by several hours. This is a scene from the film, Teen Behenein, in which Lata, Nisha and Urmila capture that grim day in 1988 when three sisters committed suicide in Kanpur to ease the burden of dowry on their parents. The following years have witnessed many such instances across India. With Teen Behenein, Bollywood filmmaker Kundan Shah takes a break from his staple Bollywood comedies like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, to present a disturbing tragedy . Produced by Zee Telefilms and not released on the big screen for various reasons for six years, the film is currently being screened at various educational institutions in Delhi. A public

screening will take place at India Habitat Centre on October 23. The Kanpur suicides were a starting point for the film. Everything else is based on the imagination of the filmmaker. So we call this film a docu-drama, not documentary, says Shekhar Hattangadi, the Chief Associate Director of the two-hour-long film. A morbid storyline has been bolstered by a stark cinematic treatment the rooms, for instance, seem to close in on the sisters enhancing their conversations about maut ka saya. Flashbacks, too, have been done away with, forcing the audience to look at the world through the girls own despairing eyes. Flashbacks are the easiest tool for a filmmaker but we preferred to tell, not show. Past events are recounted by the characters, not filmed as flashback, says Hattangadi. To increase the sense of loss even deeper, the film underlines the fact that the girls are educated, with Lata being a postgraduate in literature. The only relief comes in the form of songs, to which, the sisters dance on the terrace and tease one another. Though the film drags a bit and Death looks like G.One gone wrong, Shah has his audiences rivetted. At institutes like IIT and JNU, students watched the film and discussed about the money-marriage market. A fantasy scene towards the end expresses our editorial comment, that it is neither roop (beauty) nor gun (virtues) that makes a woman beautiful. Independence constitutes a womans real beauty. Without independence, both beauty and virtues are of no use to a woman, says Hattangadi.

A Thousand Times Over

Animation is usually the last medium state agencies would turn to in efforts to preserve art and culture, says Tara Douglas
Douglas has worked with several NID students in the workshops with tribal artists, and another workshop with Gond artists is scheduled on campus for February. Of course, there are pitfalls in all this, one being ethics, as in, is it ethical for outsiders to adapt folktales to make animation films? Douglas insists these are relevant questions, but says the workshop model is partly an answer. Besides, she reasons, it is a way to preserve these stories in a medium children love, and in which youngsters take great interest and which, thus, makes them more aware of their ancestry and customs. Another is support, financially and otherwise; No one is going to ask me to make an animation film. So I have to be relentless," she says, adding animation is usually the last medium state agencies would turn to in efforts to preserve art and culture, and the Rs 6 - 7 lakhs one needs for a single animation workshop with the tribal artists is not always easy to cough up. But some pitfalls are more encouraging, such as the Nagaland government insisting it is unfair to make an animation film adaptation of just one tribes folktale when there are 16 major tribes in the state; All 16 tribes! That's a lifetime's work, she laughed. EFS

STUDENTS spilled over onto the carpeted floor of NID's auditorium post-lunch on Thursday, watching, listening to and applauding a blonde, skinny Scottish lady talk about adivasi folktales, taking them on a journey to the hinterlands of Central India and the mountains of the North-East using slides and videos of tribal art, music and costumes, and cartoons about these. Tara Douglas, secretary of Delhibased Adivasi Arts Trust, has worked with artists, storytellers and musicians from the Gond, Santhal, Angami (from Nagaland) tribes, tribes from Arunachal Pradesh, as well as from the Sikkimese and Meitei communities (of Manipur) to render their folktales into animation films. One of the earliest projects was the cartoon Best of the Best -- based on an animal fable of the Gond tribe in Madhya Pradesh, about conceit and pride. We had a workshop with the artists where they learnt how to design the characters, made cut-outs and drawings,. These were shipped to Scotland and several college students

A crane T-Shirt made by a participant at the workshop

chat after the auditorium session had ended, part of the five-day Chitrakatha 2011 -- NIDs biennial international animation festival. The film won a prize in that distant land, and two Gond artists travelled there to collect the prize. But there are more films based on

Indian tribal folktales in the offing; Man and Monkey from Manipur, The Squirrel's Dream, and a film based on an Angami folktale about three unusual brothers -- Man Tiger Spirit -- expected to premier at the famous Hornbill Festival in Nagaland this winter.

SADAKO SASAKI had a simple wish she wanted to live. A victim of the 1945 Hiroshima bombings, Sasaki spent most of her time in a nursing home in Japan, creating origami cranes. With a firm resolve to make a thousand such cranes, thinking that her wish to live would be granted, she went on with her origami project. Decades later, Tara Trust, a Goa-based NGO has taken inspiration from the moving tale to launch The 1000 Crane Project in the Capital. An eight-day workshop for under-privileged children, it began on October 12 at Sanskriti Kendra on MG Road and includes origami making, painting, pottery, paper sculpting and music. The workshop will end with an exhibition today, curated by children, with the work of past days on display.

The project has been started to sensitise children on environmental and social concerns through art exchange workshops among kids of different communities. Underprivileged children need exposure. So we have brought a few children from Goa to the Capital for this project, says Juhi Pandey, co-ordinator of the Tara Trust. The activities included painting a thousand T-shirts with crane themes apart from a thousand crane-based stories told through music, paintings, theatre etc. All these T-shirts will be sent to Japan for children who were victims of the Fukushima disaster. The half-day activity of creating a canvas partnered with a professional, older painter, was particularly enjoyed by all the participants.