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Suspended animation

Multimedia development in India needs to come of age to compete globally, writes Ashok Das.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2007 02:07 IST
Ashok Das

Nineteen year old Afsana used to spend hours drawing beautiful mehendi patterns on customers’ hands in the bustling bazaar surrounding Charminar in the old city of Hyderabad. She was popular among her clients but at the end of the day, she barely earned Rs 100, which went to supplement her family’s income. Ditto was the case with her childhood friend Huma.

The two girls were almost resigned to fate when luck smiled on them. A local NGO selected them for a six-month training programme in animation and multimedia. Today, they are employed in a city based company doing multimedia and animation work.  They earn over Rs 5,000 per month.

The NGO, Technology for the People, in association with NASSCOM Foundation has so far trained over hundred girls from weaker sections of society.

But for these isolated cases, the animation and gaming industry is yet to touch the lives of the average unemployed youth like the ITES (IT enabled services) sector has done in the form of BPO and KPO jobs.

Though the animation industry took off with a lot of promise at the turn of the century, it has failed to deliver. In fact, the industry is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis with dozens of companies folding up or  going sick. Even NASSCOM has had to downwardly revise the manpower requirement for the animation industry from 2 lakh people (projected in 2005) to a mere 26,000 by 2010.

While the companies have improved the quality of work done here and are increasingly getting orders from quality conscious clients overseas, beating  Philippines, Korea and Taiwan, the acute shortage of skilled people remains the chief concern. “Talent crunch is a huge challenge in this sector. There is phenomenal raw talent available which needs to be polished. But where are the training institutes?” asked NASSCOM president Kiran Karnik.

Some of the animation companies do have their in-house training facilities but there is nothing to match  the scale, scope and magnitude  like the Film and Television Institute.The NASSCOM wants  the government to set up a training academy  on par with the IIT or IIMs  for the animation industry,  create  plug-and-play infrastructures such as studios and animation parks besides providing subsidies for start ups.

“The animation broadcast industries in countries such as France, Singapore, China Korea, Canada and Philippines have grown with the help of  specific policy support by their governments. This has ranged from assistance in manpower development, direct and indirect investments and broadcasting policy regulations,” a NASSCOM official said.

Industry circles say that mere learning of software package will not impart skills in animation and gaming. It requires a holistic approach. “The absence of knowledge about history and culture of the regions was proving to a major challenge in content creation. Companies must focus on rural areas to pick up youth with knowledge of  the arts  and with proficiency in English,” said Anirights CEO Ashish Kulkarni.

The other problem plaguing the industry is its heavy dependence on Indian mythology or fables. Following the success of the animated film Hanuman, as many as dozen animation movies on mythological themes are being made currently in the country. Some of the major  domestic animated films under production are Hanuman 2, Krishna, Geet Mahabharat, Ghatothkach, Shakuntala, Bheem  and Lava-Kusa.

“Our animation market is not ready for original content. Plus the brand value of mythological figures is very high. Since these stories and characters already exist in desi sensibilities, it makes our job easy,” says Rajiv Chilakalapudi, MD of PMI Green Gold Animation.

But others in the industry tend to disagree. Drawing upon Mahabharat, Ramayana,  Puranas and epics may have  sustained the industry in the initial phases but it will become self defeating in the long run. Whistling Woods dean Kurt Inderbitzen had a word of advice, “To earn a name for yourself, you have to become content creators and start thinking about developing characters and stories,” he said.

Industry leaders were sharply divided over the NASSCOM role. “NASSCOM is  focused on pure IT companies and has little time for us,” said one industry leader on conditions of anonymity. He added, “Though we are part of the IT industry, we  do not get  tax benefits and other incentives such as allocation of land, creation of infrastructure like the software  parks. Even getting appointment with officials is difficult.”

“The single biggest boost for the animation industry will come if the  government directs entertainment channels to  reserve a part of their airtime for locally produced content. This is a practice in many developed countries including France,” said another industry leader. 

“How will the fledgling industry grow without government support ?These annual jamborees (by NASSCOM) may help in coming together of industry people and back patting each other and striking some deals, but it is not going to help  the animation industry in the long run,” he added.

Email Ashok Das: ashokdas2000@rediffmail.com