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This one is for the kids
Deepa Gumaste | May 29, 2003 22:12 IST
Who would have ever thought an Indian children's film directed by a debutant and loaded with special effects would be screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival? Or that it would find buyers in half-a-dozen countries around the world, including non-traditional markets like Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, even before its Indian release?
But that is exactly what happened with iDreams Productions' curious-sounding Jajantaram Mamantaram, which simply translates as cry of the underdog. A desi adaptation of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, this modern-day fantasy also draws inspiration from the fable of Bakasur, the sleeping giant who wakes up only to devour children.
As the plot goes, Jaaved Jaaferi is a Mumbai yuppie who gets washed ashore on the fictitious island of Shundi after a shipwreck. The locals here are 10 times smaller than him. After befriending the villagers, Jaaferi has to help them fight the evil Chattan Singh (Gulshan Grover) who has let loose the giant Jhamunda (Joy Fernandes) to spread terror and take over the island.
Apart from its unconventional story, Jajantaram Mamantaram is also different from regular Bollywood fare on account of its unknown cast. While Jaaferi makes a comeback of sorts, Grover takes a break from his mundane bad-man roles to play a villain with some interesting shades.
Says director Soumitra Ranade, "In a way, Gulshan too has to prove he can do unconventional roles. The other actors in my film like Joy Fernandes and Manav Kaul have a solid theatre background and are used to following a strict regimen. Besides, because they are not established stars, they are eager to prove themselves. They have put in a huge effort in this film."
iDreams and Ranade have obviously taken a huge risk by stepping against the tide. Says Ashish Bhatnagar, CEO, iDreams Productions, "When we started this company, we had identified two genres which we felt had a lot of potential -- thrillers and children's films."
Ranade, with his vast experience in animation and short films, concurs. "We make more than 800 films in India every year and yet not a single one of them is actually meant for kids. Children are hungry to see stuff actually meant for them. This is reflected in the popularity of films like Jurassic Park and Spider-Man."
The director claims he has been careful to keep children's sensibilities in mind while planning the film. "We have several fight sequences, but only one scene in which we have shown blood. That too because Jaaved is supposed to be critically injured. Also, the language used in the film is very civilised."
Aesthetics apart, the sheer challenge of making a world-class children's film proved easier said than done, what with the kind of exposure Indian children now have to Hollywood's Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings.
Obviously, while the endeavour was to have a world-class production, the budget for Jajantaram Mamantaram (The Power of J2M2, as its English version is called) was very much rooted in Indian reality.
So, even though 'a small-budget film became a big-budget one', as Bhatnagar puts it, the total cost of making a feature film loaded with 63 minutes of special effects was only Rs 10 crore (approximately US $2.13 million). Compare that to the $100 million (Rs 469 crore) budgets of the Harry Potter movies.
Ranade is confident his film will appeal to an Indian audience fed on superior Hollywood SFX. The work of planning and executing the effects for the film was done by Maya Entertainment's Biju D and cinematographer Jogendra Panda, both of whom had the unenviable task of shrinking the residents of Shundi.
"Looking back, I cannot believe we actually pulled it off," says Biju. "Fortunately, we were involved with the project right from its conception. Both the director and the cameraman understood the technical aspect of doing such extensive SFX. We had the entire storyboard in place before we started shooting."
Biju describes how, because of the manner in which various layers of each shot had to be planned, most times Jaaferi was acting and reacting to nothing! The technical team did not merely reduce the villagers' size on the computer, they actually shot each scene using different layers for Jaaferi and his tiny friends and then merged them together on computer.
"For every layer in every shot, we had to plan the position of the camera by measuring the exact distance at which it would have to be from a certain object to create the effect of small [the residents of Shundi] and big [Jaaferi/Fernandes] in the same frame. The lighting and colours also had to be consistent in each layer in order to make it look like a single shot," says Biju.
As a result, the effort and the footage required added up to almost three films instead of one. Says Ranade, "It took us nearly 170 shifts to shoot the film. Post-production took almost eight months."
Their effort seems to have paid off. Jajantaram Mamantaram has been picked up by Hollywood sales agent Echelon Entertainment Inc and is being aggressively marketed all over the world. It even got a favourable response at the Cannes Film Festival. "The reactions we have got from international audiences are huge," says Ranade. "I guess there is an element of curiosity about it because it is a peculiarly Indian film with special effects." Japanese distributors, he says, are very excited about taking Jajantaram Mamantaram to their country.
But the director is still waiting for his home audience's reaction. "I have made this film for Indian kids and I want them to appreciate it."