A Delhi studio is making Indian anime films that look deliciously Japanese
There’s a new anime film, made in India, that looks straight out of Japan. Its creator, Rajorshi Basu, takes that as a huge compliment.
Most of India’s homegrown animation is aimed at children, and not very well-aimed at that. Japanese anime films, meanwhile, are known for the intricacy of their art, their exquisite use of light and for frames etched by hand in such detail that you could mistake them for photographs. When Basu launched his Studio Durga out of Delhi in 2016, that’s what he was going for.
Its first film, Karmachakra (out next month), has frames that glow, luscious drawings of food, and music that feels universal. Made with a core team of just four people, many of the frames are spare and the action minimal, but the effort has paid off.
A 20-minute pilot segment released on YouTube in February has over 87,000 views so far, with anime fans expressing relief and pride that India finally has a studio that goes beyond the cartoon format — and finally has homegrown anime.
Karmachakra is a mystery with supernatural elements. An orphan girl goes to a friend’s funeral and, on her way home, gets a text message from that friend. The tale goes on to touch upon elements of popular science, cyber spying, hacking and Hindu mythology.
The 80-minute film has taken almost four years to make — rather than the usual 12 to 18 months for a hand-drawn film of this length. And one reason, Basu says, is that he wanted to keep the production entirely Indian but couldn’t find the right kinds of animators.
After much searching, he found his core team — Samadrita Ghosh (character design and art), Monideep Chakraborty (art), and Ananya Garg (direction and pre-visualisation). Basu himself wrote and directed Karmachakra and created and performed the music.
“Consistency is so crucial, and finding people who could draw Japanese anime and be consistent about it was very difficult,” says Garg, 22. “We had to train most of the people we worked with from scratch.”
Basu, 29, studied music production at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and film production at the Asian Academy of Film & Television in Noida. It was during a pop culture research programme in Japan in 2013 that the idea for an Indian anime studio first came to him.
“I used to make my own comics and manga as a teen. After the course, I wanted to do something that utilised all my skill sets — animation, film and music — and thought why not attempt to set up a world-class anime studio in India,” he says.
Basu believes the time is right. Demand for content has boomed in the pandemic. Even before the lockdowns, 2019 was a good year for anime in India. Japanese films such as Dragon Ball Super: Broly and Weathering With You were released in theatres; on Netflix, Studio Ghibli films are developing a larger Indian fan base.
“In the initial years, we had been trying to talk to a bunch of OTT platforms. They’re showing more interest now. Their interest also grew after the pilot segment was appreciated by Indian fans on YouTube,” Basu says. Karmachakra will be released in Bengali with English subtitles.
“What Studio Durga is doing with Karmachakra is a huge achievement,” says Ishan Shukla, an animator whose short film Schirkoa was long-listed for an Academy Award in 2017. “Indian animators by and large are becoming button-pushers, service providers to international studios. Anything original that we create tends to be at the level of Chhota Bheem. Karmachakra suggests that a fire has been lit and perhaps more people will come up with original projects like this in the future.”
If the film is picked up and / or fares well, there are plans for a franchise, Basu says. “We are open to commissioned works as well, for Indian and international markets. We are hoping a lot of things will change positively after Karmachakra is released.”