Film festival to celebrate legacy of Indian animation pioneers

Sunday, Dec 13, 2015,12:08 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | Drawing from rare archival materials, a film festival in Delhi this week will celebrate the untold legacy of the Indian animation industry and its pioneers, including legendary Dadasahab Phalke and unsung India-born American animator Clair Weeks.

Phalke, considered the father of modern Indian cinema, and immortalised for his path-breaking silent film ‘Raja Harischandra’(1913), was also among the few people from the then nascent film industry to have experimented with animation.

His first full-fledged attempt with this form of the medium, ‘Aagkadyanchi Mauj’ or ‘Game of Matchsticks’ was made in 1917, followed by ‘Vichitra Shilpa’ and then the opening title of ‘Setubandhan’ (1932), Phalke’s last silent film.

Later, R C Boral in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Prabhat Films in Maharashtra also dabbled with animation, with the latter producing ‘Jambu Kaka’ in 1937.

But, perhaps like ‘Alam Ara’, the first Indian talkie, these pioneering works in the animation field have not survived the ravages of time.

Sadly, not much of our colonial-era film legacy has survived, let alone animation works. And, even though there are viewers and patrons of Indian and World Cinema in our country, we realised there was a gap in our understanding of Indian animation films, hence this event, Curator of the festival, Chitra Roy said.

Organised by city-based independent film society Lightcube, the festival, aptly titled ‘Sequences’, will run at the Instituto de Cervantes from December 18-20, during which it will also chart the journey of the birth of the country’s first animation studio in the late 50s at the Films Division in Bombay (now Mumbai).

Post-independence, a lot of interesting projects were happening in this field, by independent filmmakers and by students and faculty at the NID (in Ahmedabad), who came up with projects, and very aesthetic nonetheless, which we in retrospect can say truly defined an Indian animation work.

But, most of these works are not known to people, let alone their creators, she said.

Mysore born American Clair Weeks, who came to India in 1956 after a successful stint at Disney, helped establish the first animation studio of India at the Films Division, which became known as the ‘Cartoon Film Unit’.

Weeks, who had earlier worked on ‘Bambi’ and ‘Snow White’, had travelled to Bombay as part of American Technical Co-Operation Mission and along with visionary colleagues at the Films Division, like Ezra Mir and D B Kothari laid the groundwork for animation industry in the country.

Weeks made a phenomenal contribution in giving birth to a systematised animation industry in India, and later people like Ram Mohan and Vijaya Mule took that momentum forward.

I mean, we all as a child we remember the ‘Ek Chidiya, Anek Chidiya’ animation sequence which used to be shown as a filler on DD channel, but how many know that it was her (Mule’s) brainchild, who had made it (‘Ek, Anek aur Ekta’) for Center of Education Technology in 1977.