By Veenu Sandhu
After helping Hollywood for years, India will have its own 3D animation film releasing next month. Veenu Sandhu talks to the people behind Delhi Safari.
Prem Chopra is a jackal. Boman Irani is a know-it-all bear. Govinda is a militant monkey. And 13-year-old Swini Khara is a lion cub. The actors, spanning three generations, have come together for a project that could well trigger a new wave of cinema in India and open it to the world of 3D animation — something Indian film makers haven’t given a shot at, until now. Along with Akshaye Khanna, Urmila Matondkar and Suniel Shetty, these actors have given their voice to the animal characters in India’s first 3D animation film, Delhi Safari, which releases on September 30.
The film, previously called Ab Dilli Door Nahi, is about four animals from Borivali National Park, Mumbai, who decide to travel to Delhi to meet the prime minister when their habitat is threatened. Made with a budget of Rs 25 crore, it took director Nikhil Advani four long years to complete the film. Advani was clear he wanted this to be a totally Indian project. “Animation artists in India have been doing a lot of great work for years with one-tenth the budget,” says the film maker. So, instead of looking outside the country, Advani turned to Pune-based animation studio Krayon Pictures which hopes to one day become India’s answer to giants like Pixar and Walt Disney animation studios.
Animation is expensive and takes time, says Advani. Given the way he went about the film, it took even longer. “We had a three-day workshop with the actors,” he says. “They didn’t just read the script and do the voiceover — they enacted every scene which the animal characters were to play while we shot them using five cameras.” This done, the dummy film with real life actors was handed over to the animators who studied the actors, their every mannerism and then created the animal characters. “Bajrangi, the monkey in the animation, walks like Govinda; the bear, Bagga, distinctly bears a Boman Irani resemblance in his mannerism. Even the rogue parrot, Alex, will remind you of Akshaye Khanna,” says Advani. Once the animation was done, the actors were back in the studio for the dubbing.
“It was laborious but exciting,” says Prem Chopra who, at 76, is as animated as the character he has done the voiceover for. “This was a whole new experience for me; I have never done an animation before,” says the actor who has over 400 movies to his name starting from the 1960s with films like Chaudhary Karnail Singh and Hum Hindustani. “I had to modulate my voice to sound like the jackal I was playing,” says Chopra. Despite the voice modification, the jackal called Kalia has his trademark villainous, “Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra,” character.
“He (Chopra) is a thorough professional and always wants to improvise,” says Advani adding that he consciously chose “actors and not stars” for the film.
For Swini Khara, too, this was a learning experience. The child star, whose films include Cheeni Kum, Hari Puttar and Paathshala, says she wants to become an animation director. Delhi Safari gave me first-hand experience of how animation films are made,” she says. Apart from lion cub Yuvraj, Khara’s is also the voice of several other fleeting characters in the film. For her, the big challenge was maintaining the voice of the character, considering she was only nine years old when the shooting started and was nearly 13 by the time it ended.
Apart from Hindi, Delhi Safari will be released in English as well. The English version is dubbed by international artists like Jason Alexander, Vanessa Williams and Brad Garrett . Advani says the distributors are also toying with the idea of dubbing the film in Russian, Italian and Chinese. India’s first 3D animation film, he believes, ought to go global.