Ambar Bhattacharya, takmaa, Kolkata, 28th Apr 2021 : Graphic India, a leading character entertainment company led by Sharad Devarajan, CEO, and Co-founder of Graphic India gives his exclusive interview with the questions set on takmaa. Graphic India is currently producing 200 episodes of animation across TV and digital platforms with premium global partners including Disney + Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Disney India, Cartoon Network, Rovio, Viacom18, and others as well as live-action theatrical films in Hollywood and Bollywood. Its latest show The Legend of Hanuman(an Indian animated mythological fantasy is one of the most binged watched series at the moment with a rating of 9.5 on IMDB.
Takmaa : How do you feel the animated films are accepted by the viewers?
SHARAD: To clarify, our focus has been on animated episodic series content, which is somewhat different than doing animated films, which are longer, self-contained stories and usually theatrical experiences. Though we have not done any theatrical animated films yet, we do think that the entire eco-system of original animation is definitely more accepted by mainstream Indian audiences than ever before.
I passionately believe a new creative renaissance is emerging in the country and with Indian creators globally. Many of the Indian creators I have been fortunate enough to work with in comics and animation over the years are developing tremendous interest across the country and across the world for their work.
That’s why for me, Graphic India is the culmination of a lifelong dream to really launch stories, heroes and characters that tap into the unique creativity of India but entertain audiences around the world in the same way overseas characters like Spider-Man, Harry Potter or Pokemon have done for decades. In the same way the West has created superheroes or Japan, Korea and China have exported their anime, manga, manhwa and original styles of storytelling to the world, India has the potential to become one of the biggest creative exporters of a new wave of animated and character entertainment content in the years ahead. The next Stan Lee or Hayao Miyazaki is sitting somewhere in India and our responsibility as a country is to find these young talents, nurture them and give them the training, resources and belief in themselves to take their ideas to the world.
Takmaa: Animated films are popular in which age group?
SHARAD: Animation should always be seen as a medium and not a genre. Similar to all creative mediums such as art, music, novels, live-action films or television, it is a tool for expression that can be used by all types of creators to target all types of different audiences. Some animation and comics are focused on kids and some are focused on older audiences.
Even within the broad umbrella of “kids,” some animation is focused on pre-school content (under 5 years of age) or slightly older (6-8) or tweens (9-12 in age) and then teens and older (13+). In all instances there is specific content targeting different audiences using the amazing medium of animation or graphic novel/comics storytelling. In many global markets, some of the biggest films and stories for adults are done through the medium of animation. Similarly as the market for animation grows in India we hope to play a role in introducing many types of new storytelling experiences for all types of age groups through comics and animation.
Takmaa : The legend of Hanuman got the most popularity, what is the reason behind?
SHARAD: The Legend of Hanuman has been a milestone for original Indian animation and we are so honoured and humbled by the positive responses we have recieved from so many that have been inspired by the series. It reinforces our belief at Graphic India that animation has the potential to be enjoyed by wide audiences in India far beyond just kids.
The heroism of Lord Hanuman means so much to the world and so much to all of the people who worked on this project. Growing up reading stories about him, I have always wanted to see the grandeur of that world brought forward in a visual medium. Along with my series Co-Creators, Jeevan J. Kang and Charuvi Agrawal, it is a very personal mission we have all been on to due justice to this hero and the billions who hold his story in their hearts.
Visually, through high quality, immersive animation, this wondrous world will finally be able to be experienced in a way that no previous version has ever been able to achieve. Narratively, we also focused on an area of Lord Hanuman’s story not always fully explored in other versions. When his power was taken from him as a child and he needed to go on a journey of self-discovery to remember the god inside of him. Our series tells the story of his journey from an ordinary vaanara to an immortal god and the universal lessons he must learn in order to properly unlock his vast powers – it is a story of inner growth that I feel is so relatable and inspiring to everyone.
Also to have this be the FIRST animated Hotstar Specials series is an amazing responsibility and honor we have all taken very seriously. The amazing team at Disney+Hotstar have been exceptional partners and collaborators and really stood by our vision of wanting to be create the first high-quality 3D animated series that resonates with audiences of all ages and featured more complex narratives and stories.
Takmaa : Baahubali and Chakra also got popular why?
SHARAD: These are two very different animated projects that targeted different audiences so let me separate them.
Baahubali is a film that completely redefined entertainment in this country for a generation and I believe that the future of Indian cinema shall always now be known as “before Baahubali” and “after Baahubali”. When we saw the immense amount of concept work that SS Rajamouli had created around the Baahubali story, we realized what he was showing
in the films was just the tip of a massive iceberg and there was so much more that we could bring out in other engaging forms of content
for the fans. In the same way the film captured the hearts of audiences from ages 8 to 80, regardless of region or language, our animated series ”Baahubali The Lost Legends” targeted the same wide audience as the film. Adventure, action, intrigue, betrayal, war, love, bravery and heroism are at the heart of the animated series, hopefully delivering the same
feeling to the audience that they loved in the movies. We learn for the first time the events that shaped Baahubali from a young prince into a legendary hero. We recently launched our fifth season (a total of 71 episodes) of “Baahubali: The Lost Legends” last year, which Graphic India
created with our partners Arka Mediaworks, and we have some exciting new plans for that franchise planned as well for this year.
Chakra the Invincible was launched as a kids animated series specifically targeting audiences’ ages 6 to 11 with very playful and fun storylines and visuals. I was incredibly fortunate to co-create Chakra The Invincible, with the legendary, Stan Lee, who was one of the greatest creators of the twentieth century. Stan has been responsible for some of the most iconic characters in the world today, and I bet more people can recognize the face of Spider-Man than that of the Mona Lisa. He’s the ultimate “black belt” master of superhero storytelling and to have had the honor to work with him and learn from him was like being able to paint a picture with Picasso or write a poem with Shakespeare. It was quite simply one of the greatest joys of my life. Stan imbued Chakra with a lot of the core
elements he has brought to all of his iconic superhero characters over the years. Chakra (also known as Raju Rai) is a relatable character…a hero who is not perfect, but has flaws and challenges the same way we all do…what makes him heroic is the fact that he never quits, that always stands true to the type of indomitable spirit that stands for the very best of what humanity strives for. Stan’s heroes have withstood the test of time because he concentrated just as much on their private lives as he did on them fighting the super villains. People need to care about what the heroes do in their private lives, what their personal problems are, and how they’re going to solve them. And he always tried to give our heroes and our villains a lot of personal problems so that they seemed like real people. That’s what makes Chakra such a compelling story, it’s these basic human challenges relatable to all of us. We have a lot of plans for Chakra in the next year with POW! Entertainment, which was Stan’s company and our partners on the character.
Takmaa : Toon Sutra is coming up in 2021, what is it about?
Sharad: Globally webtoon apps, which feature vertical scrolling comics, have taken off in Asia and are massively successful. However, they offer very little content by Indian creators and almost none of that content is available in regional Indian languages. We really wanted to create a home for Indian storytellers to thrive in this medium and share their amazing creativity. Toonsutra will showcase and promote emerging rising star creators across India and give them a home to tell their stories. Using the medium of comics and webtoons these new voices can express every type of genre and story all with the support, guidance and expertise of our team to make it easy to collaborate with other creators, develop ideas and make those stories a reality.
We are also bringing our massive library of original Graphic India comics to the Toonsutra platform, but it will be so much MORE than that with the majority of the content we release in the first year coming from other partners and new creators. The app will feature a wide range of content for all audiences across genres, including superhero, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, Bollywood, mythology, action, and more and we will be announcing a lot of other partnerships with some of the biggest global stories and creators over the year.
For me comics have always been one of the purest storytelling mediums, where its not about budget, but about imagination – a comic is like a movie with an unlimited budget, a place where you can create a whole universe in a single panel – – a creators dream.
Takmaa : Also Mahabharata and Devi are on the pipeline, what will you say about these two projects?
SHARAD: To clarify, these are not animation projects but rather comic book projects. Our Mahabharata comic book series, “18 Days” and female superhero comic book series “Devi” have been well received in India and internationally. Over the last year we have also seen explosive growth over our “Audio Comic” videos, which transform our comics into short form video experiences with voice and sound. This is still very different than animation however and really targets older teen and adult audiences through mobile. We have seen over 200 million views of our “Audio Comic” videos on our social media and third party video platforms. Over 2021 we plan on really scaling up those activities aggressively into local languages and releasing dozens of new digital comics across mobile platforms.
Takmaa : In this Pandemic situation, do these films act as leisure.
SHARAD: During the pandemic there’s been a huge demand for new content of every type by consumers stuck at home, be it live action, documentary or animated. Fortunately, animation is something that can still move forward in production through remote working systems even during the lock-downs or quarantine, which is what I believe makes it a compelling option for all platforms as part of their content strategy. We had two fairly large productions in the pipeline in March of last year when the shut downs began and still managed to work effectively through the pandemic with remote teams minimizing the disruptions to production.
We also believe Indian audiences who may not have been as open to non-kids animation before the pandemic, may find themselves more open to it now as they have more time to experiment with new content. This creates a moment to shape new experiences and hopefully create new audiences for the entire eco-system that will last far beyond when this pandemic ends. Publicity : Actimedia.