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The success story of an Indian animation company
Shobha Warrier | November 01, 2006
It has been an eventful five years for 32-year-old Rajiv Chilakalapudi ever since he began to nurture his Hyderabad-based animation company, Green Gold Animation Pvt Ltd.
The company that started with just four people in 2001 is now 70-strong. But Chilakalapudi says the employee strength will rise to 1,000 in the next three years. As managing director of Green Gold Animation, he speaks at major business forums in India -- like the ones organised by FICCI, NASSCOM, etc -- as an expert in the field.
The products from his company -- Vikram aur Betal and Krishna are aired on Cartoon Network and Doordarshan. More programmes are on the way, he assures.
In a candid chat with rediff.com, Rajiv speaks about how he made his passion a success.
Cartoons, a passion even as a child
Like all kids, I too was really fascinated by cartoons as a child. I remember getting up very early in the morning on Sundays to watch the Disney cartoons on Doordarshan. I used to wonder why there were only Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and no Indian characters.
Though I was not an artist, I had lots of ideas then and there. I went on to do engineering as there were no courses on animation back then.
After my graduation from Osmania University in 1995, I went to the USA to do Masters in Computer Science. I worked as a software engineer in the US for three years. All through my studies, and also later on, my desire was to be in the animation industry.
Three years into my job as a software engineer, I began looking at the animation industry with more interest. I found that there were not many animation companies in India, and saw a large potential in the market.
I saved as much money as I could in those three years and went to an animation school in San Francisco.
I then knew animation was what I wanted to do in my life. What I was doing till then was just mundane work where there was no creativity. I didn't enjoy what I was doing. I decided to come back to India. It was intuition that gave me the courage to chuck my well paying job and come back to India to start my own animation company.
My parents were shocked. My father flew down to the United States to dissuade me. He asked me, 'Are you crazy? Why do you want to do this?' I managed to convince him how passionate I was about my plans. Then he wanted to see my business plan. When I showed him my plan, he felt it was a good one, that there was future in it and that it was worth taking the risk.
I came back not only because India is a huge market but also because I love my country. I am very patriotic and I believe that India will be a superpower soon.
Animation company in Hyderabad
I didn't waste time after I reached Hyderabad. I looked for a place immediately. We started with four people. We could not find any animators then. So, we recruited technical people.
I not only invested whatever I had saved but my father's and brother's money too. Altogether my initial investment was about Rs 75 lakh (Rs 7.5 million). We needed Rs 50 lakh (Rs 5 million) for the machinery itself. When we started out, the machinery was very expensive. Even the software was worth Rs 8 lakh (Rs 800,000), but all that has come down now.
Green Gold Animation Pvt Ltd
The year was 2001. We named our company Green Gold Animation Pvt Ltd. I wanted a colourful name. Green is nature and nature is associated with creativity. And, gold is Goddess Lakshmi.
What we did first was create a presentation for a US-based corporate though it was actually not our forte. But initially we decided to do all the jobs that came our way.
Although we did a lot of animation for advertisers, nobody was interested in any animation products, I found. So, we decided to create our own product.
Created an alien named Bongo
Although it was a big risk, we created Bongo. It is an animation-cum-live action television series more on the lines of the alien in the film, Koi Mil Gaya. Bongo is a friendly alien who helps people. We spoke to many TV channels but nobody was interested; every one wanted only saas-bahu serials.
We then approached Doordarshan. Luckily for us, they were looking for children's programmes then. Our programme was first aired on Doordarshan by the end of 2004. Although there were gaps in between, it still is shown on Doordarshan every Saturday afternoon.
It was a great day for us when Bongo was first aired on Doordarshan. We were all eagerly waiting; the titles came and then the power went off. It was an anti-climax. The response also was amazing. It was at number three among all the kids' programmes.
Deal with Cartoon Network
Then we approached Cartoon Network with the idea of Vikram aur Betal. They were not sure about the commercial success of the idea. So they asked us to develop the product and show it to them. The risk was ours.
As we believed in our quality, we made the entire show and delivered it to Cartoon Network. They loved the programme and bought it. That was again, 2004. Vikram aur Betal was a turning point for us. It gave us a huge mileage.
Here comes Krishna!
After Vikram aur Betal, we spoke to Cartoon Network about the tales of Lord Krishna. They accepted that too. The first part of Krishna -- about his birth-- was shown on Janmashtami day this year. It is a 75-minute programme which will be aired on Cartoon Network every three months. It is more like a feature film.
We are also making a film on Chhota Bheem.
We struggled immensely in the initial years. For five years, there was nothing but work for us. When we create original content, it is very difficult to sell it. If we can't sell a product, what will happen to the company? It was a very big risk we were taking.
As the market was at a nascent stage then, we thought we would suffer now so that the returns would come later. Our patience paid off as today we are a brand name in the animation industry.
From India, we are the number one animation supplier to Cartoon Network.
Now, we have 70 people working with us. Our revenue is around Rs 2 crore (Rs 20 million) this year. We expect to double our revenues ever year. Now the sky is the limit. I have faith that one day we will make a world renowned movie and will make India proud of us.
Indian content is as yet unexplored and in the future you will see Indian stories being watched all over the world. People are tired of seeing the same old Jack and Jill stories. Indian characters are unique and they will rule the world soon.
The first successful animation film was The Jungle Book and it was based in India and all the characters are Indian and have Indian names. Our first animation feature film of 100 minutes will be on Lord Ganesh and it will be released on the next Ganesh Chaturthi in 2007.
We want to start animation schools all over India as there is severe manpower shortage and a lot of poaching takes place now, which is not healthy for the industry. We may require 1,000 people in the next three years. Our ambition is to be the number one in the world like Walt Disney. In the next ten years, we want to be a global player.