Kireet Khurana was just six years old when he immersed himself in the world of animation. But then animation was in his genes. His multiple National Award-winning father Bhimsain, who created the iconic Ek, Anek Ekta (remember the Ek chidiya, anek chidiya song), took the drawings of his six-year-old son and began an animated film about a gentle elephant called Mahagiri. Twenty years later, returning to India after completing a course in filmmaking in Canada, Khurana completed Mahagiri and won his first National Award in 1995.
He has since made scores of shorts, documentaries and over 400 ad films and has five National Awards to boast of. He considers his diploma film, O, which won National Awards for best director and best animator in 1996, “closest to his heart”. On December 24, he hopes to win success with his debut live action-animation film Toonpur Ka Superherro (the additional R is for numerological reasons!), starring Ajay Devgn and Kajol.
Beyond the real
“I chose animation because of my temperament; because you could be all by yourself,” says Khurana. “Animation is about making 24 drawings per second, which is something only a patient lunatic can do, and I was very reticent.” Today, the creative head and director at Climb Media is supervising enthusiastic young animators, graphic artists and designers as they bring alive his vision. “I am pitching the next story, which is an epic fantasy, but a lot is contingent on the success of Toonpur Ka Superherro,” says Khurana.
Given the poor performance of a host of Indian animation films, what does Khurana think sets his film apart? “Indian animation has really progressed in the last 20 to 30 years. There is a significant body of work and India has become a hub for outsourcing animation. With feature films, the issue is the quality of storytelling. Also our budgets are not comparable to Hollywood. If it’s US $60 million and upwards there, our budgets are under US $1 million,” reasons Khurana, who applies a simple rule of thumb to assess if a story has the scope to work as an animated feature. “If it can be done in live action it will be a bad animated film. As I learnt in film school: ‘Animation starts where live action gives up’.” As instances, he says the Toy Story series and Monsters Inc. couldn’t have been achieved without visual effects and animation while Polar Express, Final Fantasy and Werewolf “didn’t work because they were too real”.Stars plus
The oft-heard refrain that stars are needed to sell a movie echoed in Khurana’s cabin too. Toonpur was, therefore, born out of necessity. "Animation is my strength. And stars facilitate distribution and exhibition. So rather than stick to live action, I decided to sell my USP as an animator. I was very fortunate to have a good script and a strong pitch. As a newcomer it was very difficult to meet stars. I was lucky. Ajay liked the pitch and, honestly, I do not know who else could have pulled off a 60-day shoot against a green screen reacting to props and stands." It took 400 animators across six locations to bring to life the story of a reel life hero who is kidnapped from a crowded movie set into a world of cartoons. From reel, he transforms
Into a real life hero.
Khurana is clear that, professionally, live action, visual effects and animation is the genre he is committed to. He says, “Consider that 19 out of the top 20 top highest grossing films are visual effects-animation films. These include those that capture an extended reality – Avatar and Harry Potter – and are made by studios like Pixar and Disney.” But what about the fortunes of animated Indian films like Hanuman and Roadside Romeo? “In India, the problem is that most directors do not understand the technicalities of animation and visual effects. That animated films do not work is the biggest fallacy. So many live action films have also bombed but no one stopped making those. There is nothing wrong with the medium. The issues are perception and storytelling. I hope to change perception.”