In the third century BC, Emperor Ashoka went down in history as an enlightened ruler who embraced peace over war. The monarch continues to have a presence in our lives – from the Ashoka’s Pillar engraved on rupee coins to the Ashoka Chakra on the Indian flag. Now it is the emperor’s medallion that makes an appearance in Gaurav Jain’s new animation film, Ashoka the Hero.
The film is about a schoolboy, Ashoka, who idolises his father, a brave police officer who dies in a bank robbery. On his deathbed, Ashoka’s father tells his son to be a good person. Easier said than done. The boy wants to be like his father but doesn’t quite know how to go about it. Then, an old man called Masa entrusts him with Emperor Ashoka’s medallion, which confers on its owner great powers. But like all good things, this one comes with a catch – the medallion’s powers go away if they are abused in any way. Of course, there is a nasty villain to be defeated and Ashoka’s the super hero who is called on to help. The film is mainly about Ashoka discovering that a super hero isn’t necessarily one who has great strength and super powers.
“It’s a kids-oriented film,” said Jain, the writer and director of the film. “The story is along the lines of a Western super hero film.” Jain conceptualised the story three years ago and decided to make it a 2D animation film, rather than a 3D one. “Technology moves rapidly,” said Jain. “If you look at Toy Story 1, 2 and 3, there’s a world of difference in terms of the technology.” While Toy Story 1 was a 2D animation film, the third installation was released in 3D. Jain elaborated, “If you look at a Tom and Jerry cartoon [done in 2D animation], it has essentially stayed the same over the years. It’s all about the visual experience that 2D animation offers.”
Ashoka the Hero also breaks through the clutter of mythological animation films that have become staple children’s fare. Movies about Hanuman, Ganesha and the Ramayana have previously catered to kids. Some like Bal Ganesha attempted to give a contemporary spin to mythology but don’t always capture the audience’s attention. “I wanted to do something that’s different from a mythological film,” said Jain. “InIndia, kids are only watching foreign films or Western shows. I grew up on serials such as Indradhanush [a sci-fi serial on Doordarshan]”. Only a few filmmakers, such as Santosh Sivan who made Halo and Malli and Vishal Bharadwaj who made The Blue Umbrella, have managed to make quality children’s films.
Since Jain is from Mumbai, the city serves as the backdrop for his film. Watch out for a plane that lands in the middle of the iconic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, an action sequence atop the Rajabai Tower and the film climax, which is staged at the Bandra-Worli sea link. When Jain began writing the script, the sea link was still under construction. “We kept hoping that the sea link would be done in time for the film’s release,” said Jain. “Luckily, it did.”
By Bijal Vachharajani on January 06 2011