IndiaTales: Taking Indian Tales Global

Date:   Thursday , December 04, 2008

The Indian folktales like Panchatantra and Jataka caught the imagination of the Indian kids for many centuries, as traditional storytellers passed them on to successive generations. But today, many of these stories are fast vanishing from our midst as the new generation of kids is increasingly turning to internationally televised cartoon programmes. Nearly 28 years after the introduction of the cartoon show ‘Tom and Jerry’, the comic television series of the blue house cat Tom and the light-brown mouse Jerry, it still tops the charts of television shows for kids. Though the Indian characters like Hanuman and Mowgli are also popular on the screen, they never could hold the kids glued to their seats for long, as the shows like Tom and Jerry do.

Currently, the major share of the revenue accounts from huge contracts given to Indian animation companies by Walt Disney, Imax, Warner Brothers, and Sony, who use them as production houses. The Indian animation industry is estimated to be at $460 million in 2008 and is set to grow at 27 percent to reach $1,163 million by 2012.

Nalin Singh, Managing Director, IndiaTales, foresees his future as the ‘Walt Disney’ of India. This young aggressive entrepreneur is keen on taking the challenge, and to give a new lease of life and power to the Indian folk tales and take Indian culture through the silver screen to the global audience. “India has an abundance of real characters and does not need fictional ones like Superman or Spiderman, which cartoon series makers in other countries have created. We want to bring these characters back to life in the reel world and spread their fame far and wide.”

The story of Manikantan, a classic story of ‘Good’ overcoming ‘Evil’, which could transcend all borders, struck Singh as a universal tale that could kick-start his venture IndiaTales. Singh commissioned the ‘Manikantan’ project in November 2007, and envisions finishing the project within a year, hitting the silver screens in five languages – Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu. What sets apart the company from others is breaking the time barriers of typical animation movies that usually take at least two to three years to complete. Singh says, “The company attempts to provide disruptive processes to lower primary project timeline by 75 percent and costs by 50 percent, compared to similar projects within the industry, while delivering eight different styles of animation.”

The distinctive competency that the 45-member team at IndiaTales has developed in Project Management Process (PMO) disrupts the conventional process of developing and producing creative content and animation films. Following the principles of Lean Operations, Business Process Re-engineering, and Outsourcing, the system focuses on breaking-up and re-engineering the stories and scripts into chunks or waves of activity, which can be processed in parallel either in-house or in animation houses to which they are outsourced.

Apart from using animation styles like claymation and traditional cartoon animation, the Manikantan animation team has worked to create a brand new style of animation on the lines of Kerala Temple Mural Art. Inspired by the traditional Mural art style, the animation team collaborated with the renowned mural artist, prince Thonnakkal, and created over 300 mural style drawings before attempting to animate the Kerala Mural Art sequence.

Nowadays, many of the animation movies develop the script and create the sequences as the production process progresses. Since the script is not prewritten and hand drawn, this leads to a lot of iterations and cost increase. “We made sure that such iterations do not happen and all the creative work is finished by the end of the scripting,” says Singh. The entire storyboard, every shot and every angle, is hand drawn with the dialogues and the dubbing done right in advance. This helps handling the entire process of pre-production, production, and post-production simultaneously, rather than sequentially, which reduces production time of the project tremendously. The company houses teams for pre-production in its Thiruvananthapuram center, production in Hyderabad center, and project management in Bangalore. “As we are sure of the overall project, we take only 90 minute clip for a 90 minute movie and it does not look like as though the entire process is done in three different centers,” says Singh.

While there are cries in the industry about the lack of talent to meet global standards, the crunch is not felt at IndiaTales where all the process is done simultaneously. Singh says, “On the contrary, in India I find an acute shortage of middle level managers to get things done. We put together very good talents in Thiruvananthapuram and taught them how things were to be done without taking retakes.” Moreover, right from the conceptualization phase, IndiaTales aims to bring fresh and innovative thinking to the Indian animation and entertainment industry and provide returns to shareholders and employees. “This has motivated employees to stay back with IndiaTales,” says Singh.

“To ensure returns for the movie, it is very important to promote the movie well in advance, not only by advertising, but also with the supplementary products that generate revenue,” says Shalendra Vashisth, Commercial Director, IndiaTales. Unlike the Hollywood movies like Shrek, most of the Indian films have failed to perform well in the box office due to the lack of effort at popularising the characters. The company, with the aid of critical strategic partners, has already developed a creative process for pre-testing content with International audiences to tailor the product towards commercial success in International markets. The company has released a coffee table book, which not only conveys the story but also promotes the dying art forms like mural art and temple arts that are also represented in the movie. The 30 canvases of such arts are exhibited all over the globe to promote the movie. IndiaTales is planning to go on air with tele-serials with some of the leading characters to embed the stickiness with children and their guardians through mainstream cable networks prior to the movie’s cinema release. Vashisth says, “We have also created Manikantan Geetmala, which has bhajans of Ilayaraja to promote the movie and bring in an alternative source of revenue.”

The same movie will be reproduced and dubbed by the Hollywood stars for the global audience, especially for the audience in the U.S. and the U.K. - . IndiaTales will have the largest library of new animation movies and TV software across Asia and is planning to release the same globally by 2009.

The Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and others are stories as old as time, but for years children have believed that Walt Disney created the characters. This is what Singh also wants to achieve with Indian classics among the Indian kids.