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'The wait for Toonpur was frustrating'

Last updated on: December 23, 2010 14:02 IST

'The wait for Toonpur was frustrating'

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Kireet Khurana, who will make his directorial debut with Toonpur Ka Superrhero this Friday, is the son of one of the pioneers of Indian animation, Bhimsain. He made the song Ek Chidiya Anek Chidiya in the 1970s' short animated film Ek, Anek Aur Ekta, a fond memory for many of us.

Kireet tells Patcy N how he managed to make Ajay Devgn and Kajol act against a green background.

When did you think of making a film like Toonpur Ka Superrhero?

I chucked a lucrative job in a big animation studio (in the US) to make movies here. I wanted to tell my own stories. I thought the opportunity to build my career here was far better than working with about 1,800 other artistes, and being as good as them but not really getting anywhere. So I came to India.

How did you convince Ajay Devgn to be a part of this film?

My partner Ragi Bhattnagar and I wrote the story of Toonpur. But we knew an animation film wouldn't work in India as there are no takers for it.

We looked at it from the stars' perspective. Why would a star want to back the film? So I came up with the idea of making live animation, where you combine people with animation. I had done it in the past with the 7 Up ads, where people reacted to Fido Dido. I'm very comfortable with this concept, and thought it would be the USP to pitch the film to a top star.

I needed superstars for the film, as it is about a superstar and his family. So Ajay and Kajol were the first choices, as I wanted the actor to play himself.


Image: Ajay Devgn and Kireet Khurana

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'Toonpur has been ready for the last few months but Ajay had back-to-back releases'

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Ajay Devgn's last children's film Raju Chacha had failed miserably. Weren't you apprehensive about approaching him?

No. I took it up as a challenge to build a (children's) audience for him through Toonpur that did not exist for him earlier. In the promos, Ajay is very endearing and the children will love him.  

Why did the film take so long in the making?

We approached Ajay in June 2007. Initially, Ajay was busy with U Me Aur Hum, so we did not get dates for some time. Then we had to do a test shoot in January 2008 because Ajay wanted to know how it would look on screen.

We went on the floors in May 2008, and completed the film in February 2009. Since it is an animated film, post-production takes a lot of time. The film has been ready for the last few months but Ajay had back-to-back releases, and there was no window for releasing this film. Also, we wanted to release it during the vacations.


Image: A scene from Toonpur Ka Superhero

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'Ajay deserves a lot of awards for this film'

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How difficult was it for Ajay, Kajol and the children to act against a green background, and react to invisible characters which were added later?

Ajay had to act in front of a green screen without getting any reaction in return, and that's where his caliber as an actor comes into play. It's like acting with yourself, responding to (invisible) characters in an appropriate way, and even look them right in the face, even when they were moving. For that, I would keep two balls static. He would look at them and say his dialogues. When the character moved, the balls did not. But they helped Ajay maintain his eye level.

I would show him the pre-production material before and he would then visualise it and do the scene. For example, since he was against a green background, he wouldn't know where the door to the house was. Because he is a filmmaker, he understood fast.

I thought it would be difficult for him but when he gave his first shot, I knew he understood everything very well. I was bowled over. He deserves a lot of awards for this film. 

Kajol is extremely professional. Luckily, she and the children did not have many scenes against the green background. They were mostly in the real world.


Image: A scene from Toonpur Ka Superhero

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'The reason why Indian animated films (don't do well) is because we lack storytelling skills'

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You started animation at a very early age, and your father Bhimsain -- one of the pioneers in Indian animation -- was a great influence. How did it all happen?

I started animation at the age of six. My father was making an animation film called Mahagiri and he needed some drawings made by a child. So he asked me to make those drawings. But for some reason, the film did not get completed.

Later, when I grew up and saw the rushes of the film, I thought it was amazing. We completed the film and released it. It won a National Award in 1995.

I had never taken any drawing lessons until then or learnt any animation. I was a shy kid, and did not have many friends. I would be happy being with myself, and drawing. Plus, my dad was an animator so I had access to his animation studio, and his knowledge about how an animation film is made. I knew animation thoroughly by the time I was 12 or 13. I also took up animation as a part-time job when I turned 15.

At the age of 21, I assisted my father in his animation serial Lokgatha and Varthaman. Animation was still very nascent in India so I knew that even if I wanted to do something here, I would have to update myself to international standards. In 1991, I went to the Sheridan College in Canada and did a three-year course. Then I came back and started my own studio called 2NZ Animation Co.

Was setting up your own animation studio here easy?

Animation is expensive and needs a lot of labour. It is not one person's job because we need hundreds and thousands of drawings. So I had to train people. In 1995, quite a few big studios opened up in India like UTV Toons. A lot of outsourcing also started.

The reason why Indian animated films (don't do well) is because we lack storytelling skills. So we may have animation expertise but no storytelling skills. A lot of the animation in Hollywood films like Golden Compass and Alvin And The Chipmunks is done in India. DreamWorks is making its next movie in an Indian studio in Bangalore.


Image: A scene from Toonpur Ka Superhero

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'2009 was a complete washout'

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What does your father think of Toonpur?

He has seen it in bits and pieces; he liked it. But he is probably not the right person to judge because he will be biased.

Was the wait for Toonpur from 2007 to 2010 frustrating?

Yes, of course. But all the frustration was left aside once I saw the final product.

One has to understand that a lot of things happened in the industry last year. There was a huge global slump and Bollywood went through a crisis.

Because of the recession, people were not going to multiplexes. So it was a complete washout for everybody. That slowed  down the pace of Toonpur. Then, there was also the theatre strike.


Image: A scene from Toonpur Ka Superhero

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