Dubbed Hollywood animation movies are making it big at the box office but India is struggling to overcome many obstacles before it can have successful homegrown content in this space, says Anjali Jhangiani
Successful animation feature films draw in the young and old alike, with humour and picturisation that all age groups can connect with. The stories explore genres that include fantasy, fairy tales, adventure, magic, family values, love stories and more, and are available to watch in regional languages as they are dubbed to maximise viewership. In the last three years, about 40 per cent of Hollywood animation releases have been dubbed in at least one regional language, according to a report by KPMG, and the numbers are increasing. We explore trends in the animation industry in India.
CELEBRITIES LENDING VOICES
Bollywood stars, who prefer being in front of the camera rather than in a studio, have been lending their voices to key animated characters — Priyanka Chopra, Nana Patekar, Irrfan Khan and Om Puri dubbed for The Jungle Book, Akshay Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan for The Incredibles, and Kajol for Elastic Girl in The Incredibles 2. And though Deadpool, Spider-Man Homecoming and Avengers: Infinity War aren’t animated films, we’d like to point out that Bollywood stars like Ranveer Singh, Tiger Shroff, and Rana Daggubati have lent their voices to the films. This trend has resulted in big bucks for the voice-over artists as well as the film. About 58 per cent of the total earnings of these films have come from their dubbed versions.
Coming back to talking about animation films specifically, film critic Deepa Gahlot recognises this as a marketing tool. “If kids are enjoying a film, they won’t really care about which star has voiced the character. Besides, very few actors have distinctive voices,” she says. And she is right.
Agreeing with her, but pointing out new facts, Sushilkumar Agrawal, CEO,Ultra Media and Entertainment Group, says, “The stars, who have done voice-overs, belong to the medium to high demand categories. They are familiar to audiences. Other than the hefty fees they get, these stars lend their voice because it helps them express their other talents like voice modulation and vocal expressions. It also helps them have a brand recall among their fans when they are not performing on the screen as lead stars or characters, hence adding to their versatility and credibility value. Local audiences are keen on watching films that provide them experiences that local films cannot deliver, without the language barrier.”
Animation filmmaker Vaibhav Kumaresh, who is the founder-director at Vaibhav Studios, Mumbai, has a different perspective to explain what brings audiences to the theatres and watch dubbed animation content. “I don’t think a star lending the voice to a character is such a big deal. The story, the plot of the film has to be captivating to pull audiences,” he says.
DUBBED VERSIONS RAKING IN THE BIG BUCKS
In the last five years, the regional dubbing business has been rolling in moolah. Peter Rabbit, based on the stories by Beatrix Potter, released in English and Hindi to collect over Rs 6 crore. Coco, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, released in these two languages too collected over Rs 10 crore. Despicable Me 3 and Card 3, which were dubbed in Tamil and Telugu too, raked in Rs 19 crore and Rs 11 crore respectively. Shedding light on the economics of this dubbing business, Agrawal says, “The production company decides the remuneration of the stars lending their voices according to their caliber and current standing in the industry. They also consider the dubbing artist’s past experiences in dubbing big films and their mastery over their craft. A known voice helps to create the right amount of curiosity and anticipation value of the film. It also helps the audiences relate with the film and its characters in a more personal way, hence adding to the profitability of the film.”
The Indian market is diverse, comprising several powerful regional centres, and local audiences, who prefer to be entertained in their regional language, are keen on watching Hollywood animation films. Dubbing these films into regional languages helps these movies penetrate newer markets and attract a bigger audience.
The KPMG report suggests a rapid rise in audiences in India for such content. No wonder Incredibles 2 grossed a whooping Rs 40 crore (making it the highest grossing animated film in the country yet) by releasing in over 900 screens across India. A big chunk, over 30 per cent, of the earnings came from the Hindi, Tamil and Telugu dubbed versions of the film.
Since there is so much money involved, it’s a given that dubbing a film is a tough job. “The production house has to be very careful not to dilute the canvas of the film in terms of its core essence, narrative and uniformity. In fact, utmost care is taken to seamlessly translate the dialogues into other languages — the right dialect and reflection of emotions is required to keep the narrative intact,” says Agrawal, adding, “On an average almost all the animation films release in four languages — English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. The studios extensively increase their marketing budget to reach to the least common denominator, to intimate them that the film is releasing in their preferred language and screen. Other than using well known local celebrity voices, they do a lot of other above-the-line (ATL) and below-the-line (BTL) marketing activities, including screening of trailers in theatres, out-of-home campaigns, newspaper advertisements, public relation campaigns, brand associations, social and digital media campaigns, and more. The entire marketing mix is strategically implemented to reach the maximum number of audiences before the release of the film.”
ANIMATION IN INDIA
Animation film which was once considered as an English film strictly for the educated, multiplex and family audiences, now release in single screens catering to the ‘B’ and ‘C’ centres. These films are equally patronised by both the family and the individual audiences in a cost effective way, believes Agrawal.
Kumaresh talks about how India is working on a lot of outsourced projects. “In terms of the production quality, India is on par with international animation standards. But when it comes to large format productions (full length feature films), we still don’t have a successful case study to guide us. There is a lot of animation content in advertisements, and short episodic content. Bollywood is using animation for opening and closing credit scenes in their films,” says he, adding that putting the film out there is not enough, production companies need to spend on appropriate promotion and distribution channels as animation needs to compete with live actions films.
“We have spoilt our own name by making some animation films that turned out to be big losses. So the animation industry is now in a situation where content creators and distributors need to make a good product and see that it becomes a good case study for future animation studios to follow. Once we have a successful cases study, all these perceptions that Indian animated feature films don’t work, will change,” he adds.
Gahlot points out, “Many international animation films have their backend work done in India. The indigenous animation industry is growing, but competition from Hollywood films is tough because they have bigger budgets and much wider markets.”
Agrawal notices a considerable rise in the investments for animation films. As per the Ernst and Young report in FICCI Frames 2018, the animation sector in India has been growing steadily over the past few years to reach Rs 17 billion in 2017, registering a growth of 13 per cent over the previous year, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11 per cent till 2020.
“To garner the attention of the masses, movies are dubbed in regional languages which brings an overall increase in the box office collections. Satellite channels and OTT platforms, not just Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar and the likes, but also Kushi TV, Chithiram TV, Chutti TV and so on, have been airing animation films dubbed in different languages.
There also has been a surge of original animation content created exclusively for these platforms. Investments have grown for creating new and engaging animation characters and scripting universal and interesting themes. The dubbing quality has also improved drastically with special attention being paid to the dialect, tonality and the nature of the film. Major investments are introduced for theatrical distribution, as these dubbed versions require a larger number of screens covering a wider geographical area,” says Agrawal.
India is now also attracting a lot of work from France, Germany and Middle East other than US and UK, driving up the volume of international TV productions outsourced to India. The country has emerged as a key animation development market as Hollywood studios have been tapping India’s large pool of low-cost, English-speaking animators who are familiar with the Western culture. Ultra Media and Entertainment Group recently released Ukraine’s first English animation film in India titled The Stolen Princess in English, Hindi and Tamil.
EXPLORING NEW THEMES
One of the major obstacles for animation to take off in the pace it should in India, industry experts say, remains the lack of original, home-grown characters. As per the Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report, co-authored by FICCI and KPMG, the Indian animation and VFX market is currently valued at Rs 5,950 crore.
One wonders why Indian animation films are mostly made around some Indian deity — Ganesha, Hanuman and so on, and refrain from exploring a wider range of subjects for animation feature films. Gahlot says, “Perhaps this is because of the expenses involved. Producers want to go with safe subjects, but there have been some attempts outside of the mythological box, like Little Singham.”
Kumaresh believes that the Indian animation industry needs to come out with original stories that will resonate with local audiences. “The popular notion that animation content is for kids, has changed. We made a character called Simpoo for Channel V, and a majority of the character’s fan following comprised teenager and adults. The same goes for animation feature films made by Pixar or Disney. It’s purely dependent on the makers, who need to believe that they are not just catering to kids, but to families to watch the films together and be engaged,” says he.
Sony Pictures will also be releasing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu in December.