Ganesh and Bheem are up against the oddball duo of Goopi and Bagha. Is Indian animation finally moving beyond mythology?
In the world of travelling musicians Goopi and Bagha, mojris have twinkling eyes, balconies look like upside-down jhumkas and the deer seem to have swapped their spots for embroidered coats. Audiences were transported to this wonderfully eccentric world when they watched 'Goopi Gawaiyaa Bagha Bajaiyaa', Shilpa Ranade's animated movie that was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival.
Made by a small team of 20 people, 'Goopi Gawaiyaa' has been modestly produced compared to the massive scale on which international animation studios function. But that has not stopped Ranade's debut from winning critical acclaim. Her film has also been screened at the prestigious Toronto and Busan international film festivals.
Produced by the Children's Film Society of India (CFSI), 'Goopi Gawaiyaa' is unlike any animated feature produced in the country so far. For one, its origins lie not in mythology - the favoured muse of Indian animation - but the much-loved comic fantasy 'Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne' written, more than 90 years ago, by the renowned Bengali writer Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury.
The film also stands out because it has none of the butter-smooth animation that international studios excel at; it is exactly how you'd imagine pictures dancing across a page should they decide to come alive. "As an artist, I didn't want to go the 3D way because there are too many cliches associated with it," says Ranade, who teaches animation at IIT, Bombay. "I was happy to draw and get that to move in animated terms."
Ray Chowdhury's evergreen story (adapted into a hugely successful movie by Chowdhury's grandson Satyajit Ray in 1969) is about the escapades of an aspiring drummer-singer duo, both low on talent and wisdom, and how they stumble through many disasters to triumph.
Ranade got the idea of making the film in 2010 while she was doing illustrations for poet Gulzar's Hindi translation of the classic. Over two and a half years, black-and-white sketches evolved into frames that resembled colourful quilts. Songs composed by the Karadi Tales team, a band called Three Brothers and a Violin, and based on Hindustani classical ragas, the Maharashtrian folk tradition of bharud and Kabir vani by Mukhtiyar Ali were woven into the narrative. It was important that the music hit the right note because Goopi and Bagha send listeners into a trance during their performances.
But the two characters make for unlikely heroes. They are neither fiercely chiselled nor cute. In fact, with their bulging eyes, missing teeth and oddly shaped bodies, Goopi and Bagha are entirely different from the cookie-cutter mythological hero that emerged on screens after Hanuman in 2005.
The success of Hanuman set off a trend - animation films starring a mythological superhero. But apart from the television favourite Chhota Bheem and the big-screen hit Arjun: The Warrior Prince, none of the other animated mythologies such as Krishna and Bal Ganesh, really made an impact.
"There was a time when you couldn't present a proposal if it didn't have a mythological superhero," recalls Gitanjali Rao, who made the widely acclaimed Printed Rainbow, an animation film about an old woman's journey to exotic lands through her collection of matchboxes. "But after a while, people started to get bored of them." She points to the treasure trove of Indian folktales that could make for great animation films.
Made by a small team of 20 people, 'Goopi Gawaiyaa' has been modestly produced compared to the massive scale on which international animation studios function.