Ashoka the Hero

The animated movie combines the past and the present

gaurav jain, movies for kids, ashoka the hero, bal ganesha, indian cartoons

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 

Child’s play

Is children’s theatre finally growing up?

(Or in which I finally interview Naseeruddin Shah)

Naseeruddin Shah, arms and the man, kids play, Theatre, motley, bernard shaw

Actor-director Naseeruddin Shah remembers seeing Arms & the Man, George Bernard Shaw’s satire on war and heroism, when he was six years old. “I was lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of theatre early enough in school,” said Shah. “I was studying at St Joseph in Nainital when I think I saw Shakespeareana [Geoffrey and Laura Kendal’s company] performing the play. Of course, I didn’t understand all of it, but I loved the funny bits and it stayed with me. It’s possible that it created my love of English language.” This fortnight, Shah will stage Arms & the Man at Summertime with Prithvi, the Juhu theatre’s annual kids festival.

For years, children’s play producers have been loosely defining their audience as ages three and above. But this year things are set to change. During this season of plays at Summertime, young adults can move beyond banal offerings of song, dance and slapstick humour typically meant for younger kids. They can catch Bijon Mondal’s Wonderland, which fuses the story of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with Cervantes’ Don Quixote; Chandan Roy-Sanyal’s Two Blind Mice, an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’sWaiting for Godot; and Manav Kaul’s Mamtaz Bhai Patangwale, a story about a child obsessed with flying kites.

Shah looks at Arms & the Man as an attempt to move kids’ theatre away from mindless comedy. He was appalled by the quality of some of the plays staged at Summertime last year, he said. “I don’t believe in underestimating children’s intelligence,” said Shah. “As it is, children are treated as morons all the time and I think they should be given something which challenges their intellect a little bit.” But, Shah added, Arms & the Man is also easily comprehensible. “The plot is not complicated,” he said. “It has beautiful language, charming characters and funny situations.” It’s a shift that Sanjna Kapoor, the director of Prithvi Theatre, is excited about. “Two years ago, we realised that we were finding it tough to fill Summertime workshops for children between the ages of 14 and 16,” she said. “Most of our focus had been on the age groups of six to 13 year-olds. We can’t expect teenagers to enjoy the same plays as younger kids.” Kapoor said that it was Shah’s experience at Summertime last year that made her think about an older audience. Accordingly, Prithvi has also tweaked its membership plan. Children between the ages of 6 and 11 are entitled to watch children’s plays free of cost for a year. Additionally, young adults, aged 12-16, will get a card that allows them to see any play (children and adults) through the year.

Kapoor has also asked producers to focus on age-specific plays for children this year. Mondol’s Wonderland, for instance, is for kids above the age of eight. “I am trying to create drama that educates and at the same time introduces kids to the grandeur of theatre, Mondol said. Similarly, Roy-Sanyal tweaked Godot to make it more appealing to children. Protagonists Vladmir and Estragon are ten-year-old boys, rather than old men, who play games while waiting for Godot. “A lot of people questioned me about doingGodot for children,” said Roy-Sanyal. “But I think it would be interesting to see how the kids react to it.”

Earlier this month, Aasakta, a Pune-based group staged Junglenama, a sensitive portrayal of the man-animal conflict prevalent in Indian forests today. At the beginning of the play, director Sarang Sathaye announced that the story was originally written for adults and that children might find it difficult to follow at times. But that didn’t deter Aasakta from adapting the story to stage. “Children today are more mature at a younger age and get the subtle nuances of a play,” said Ashish Mehta, the group manager of Aasakta. “You don’t have to tell everything explicitly in a play.” Shah agrees that the distinction between children’s plays and adult ones is overblown. “Kids seldom go to see children’s plays alone,” said Shah. “They are usually accompanied by adults. I remember seeing Peter Pan and Nagin at the age of three or four and the adults enjoyed it as much.”

By Bijal Vachharajani on May 12 2011 6.30pm
Photos by Tejal Pandey

Films division

Satyajit Bhatkal talks to Time Out about India’s first flying child superhero in his debut film Zokkomon

zokkomon, satyajit bhatkal, darsheel safary, superhero movies, movies for kids

Zokkomon is Satyajit Bhatkal’s directorial debut. He has previously been part of the Lagaan film production unit, written a book called The Spirit of Lagaan and directed a documentary titled Madness in the Desert. Bhatkal spoke to Bijal Vachharajani about India’s first flying child superhero.

What made you decide to make a superhero film?
I didn’t set out to write a superhero film. The larger abstract idea about the film was: “Can you turn your weakness into your strength?” That’s the premise for Kunal’s character. In Zokkomon, Kunal discovers the hero within and begins his journey of adventure and transformation to become a superhero.

Tell us about the decision to cast Darsheel Safary?
Darsheel was a very natural choice. He’s not only one of India’s best child actors but even one of the country’s best actors. He can do drama, action and comedy. It was a joy working with him – he’s quite loveable and spontaneous. And yet, he’s only a child. The moment the shot is done, he will be back to playing his video games.

There has been a spate of superhero books and movies for children. How is Zokkomon different?
These books inhabit a different cultural space. I have enjoyed Harry Potter and [books by] Eoin Colfer [author of the Artemis Fowl series]. Zokkomon, you realise, is based in this country and is about Indian situations. It is not an imitation of Spider-Man or Batman. He is as cool as them, but he is our cool guy.

 By Bijal Vachharajani on April 14 2011