There is hardly anyone who’s not enamoured by the hand-drawn and computer animation originating from Japan, popularly known as Anime and Manga. Who’s not a fan of famous movies and series like Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies, Death Note, One Piece, Dragon Ball Z and countless others?
Now India is going to have its first anime movie and series, as the first Indian anime studio, Studio Durga, has lately launched the trailer of their pilot series Karmachakra: Episode Zero in Bengali. They are the first Indian animation studio that creates anime, or 2D hand-drawn animation in the art-style of Japanese Manga comics, wholly independent of any foreign collaboration.
Owing to an ever-growing passion for Anime and Manga among Indian youth, Studio Durga has created an 80 minute film Karmachakra which is an original story set in India and animated in the style of anime that was conceived of in 2016. This idea then led to the formation of Studio Durga in 2017.
In an exclusive chat with AnimationXpress, Studio Durga founder and CEO Rajorshi Basu mentioned, “We believe in telling powerful stories through the medium of animation, and design original entertainment that can be enjoyed by teens and young adults. We have decided to release the pilot (first 20 minutes) of the movie as a mini-series for free to watch. We want to show our love for the community by breaking the norms and revealing exclusive content directly to the fans even before release, as they are our lifeline.”
Being an ardent Anime and Manga fan, Basu along with his team – Samadrita Ghosh, Ananya Garg, Shilpa Susan Koshy, Monideep Chakraborty, Alen Shibu and Ankit Shrivastav saw a future in a new kind of content that has millions of Indian fans but has never been produced only by Indian citizens.
Basu continued, “I started out as any Indian creative who has a lifelong passion for Anime. I used to make comic strips, fan-art, and even my own Manga from when I was a kid, and grew up watching some amazing shows on the few options that were available earlier on to Indian fans of Anime or Manga. I remember my first Manga collection was obtained by painfully sifting through endless, dusty piles of second-hand bookshops looking for hidden treasure. I also remember watching Ninja Robots, on CN way back. Later came Speed Racer, Dragonball Z, Cardcaptor Sakura, Pokemon and Beyblade on the Toonami bloc of CN, way before it became a TV channel of its own. I don’t really think there was such a tightly-knit, well informed community before Sony’s Animax hit Indian TV. And I watched all of it, following it through it’s ups and downs and several disappearances before they finally pulled the plug for the Indian market. From then to now my biggest inspirations are Cowboy Bebop (all-time favourite), Wolf’s Rain, Death Note, Black Lagoon, Durarara!, Zankyou no Terror, Mushishi, Hataraku Maou-sama, any project involving Satoshi Kon and so many others. The world of quality Anime and Manga is vast, and I know I have only mentioned a small but significant part of it here. All of it came together for Karmachakra.”
Basu is also a complete devotee of composer Yoko Kanno, and Cowboy Bebop‘s soundtrack was the reason he got into jazz, after growing up on a lot of classic rock, thanks to his parents. Like any usual Bengali family, music and writing were the primary skills given priority compared to art, and Basu made a career out of it for close to 10 years, before finally deciding to create a product that utilises all of his skill-sets. Musically, he was also awarded a scholarship by the prestigious Berklee College of Music, during which he made jingles for broadcast and radio, collaborated with artists of every level within and outside the Indian musicians community, including Grammy-Award winners, and performed in a tonnes of shows from the time he was 18 on a variety of different western instruments. Always wanting to equip himself with the right skills for a production of his own, he graduated in English literature, added a diploma in Film Production and topped it off with a certificate in digital marketing as additions. The creatives are a big part of his life as his mother is a fashion designer and father is an architect and acoustician, with music running in the family.
Talking about why he chose Anime as it resonates a particular place and culture while Karmachakra is in Bengali, Basu informed, “Anime is a classic example of disparity in the demand-supply when it comes to the Indian market. When it comes to anime produced by Indian resident citizens, the presence of only a couple of shows that are all collaborations with Japan contrasts sharply with the burning demand and potential of the Indian Anime and Manga fan community, which is empowered now like never before. So we mustered up enough courage to break that mould by making the first entirely Indian anime production. I became especially interested in Japanese culture and media after I travelled to Japan when I was chosen to represent India for a pop culture research program in 2013, and have been inspired ever since to drive cultural exchange between our countries.”
Although Karmachakra reflects the Bengali community and culture, the themes are fairly universal and sure to resonate with not just non-Bengalis but also with non-Indians, and that’s the reason why Studio Durga is planning a Hindi and English dub in the future. On the flipside, there have been many who have told them that their preference for English subtitles when it comes to anime makes the original dubbing language irrelevant to the enjoyment, and there are many who appreciate exploring the Bengali culture, both Indians and non-Indians.
However, maximum fans want this to reach as many Indians as possible through a Hindi dub.Thus, the studio has already approached a few Bollywood actors, more news on that will be revealed soon.
“We have always wanted to produce something in Bangla. But my approach with Karmachakra, as the name suggests, was ‘the cycle of action and reaction’. It is a complex web of interactions that make for an interesting plot. I feel that often we enjoy a fictional world because it shows us a certain situation from the perspectives of many different characters at the same time, and is somehow more ‘real’ than our personal linear experience of reality. In that sense, my story is driven through a world with interesting characters each with their own motivations and history, related and reacting to each other in peculiar and interesting ways. This allows the possibility of endless stories and situations involving more than one protagonist, told non-linearly. So I doubt I can explain what’s in store with just a synopsis that I’ve included online,” added Basu on developing Karmachakra over the past two – three years.
The synopsis goes – The story of an orphan girl trying to find her roots, revolving around mysteries about her past and present. A mystery drama set in a fictional present-day India that draws inspiration from psychology, mythology, and cyber-technology.
The pilot series took roughly five months to make with a smaller team than now, while the production of the entire movie is 50 per cent complete and Studio Durga is trying their best to finish it before mid-2020.
Creating an Anime film and series isn’t a cakewalk given there are so many challenges in terms of creating anime that looks authentic and yet feels relatable. Commenting on the strenuous process of animating the film and the series, Basu said, “Much like film, there are the phases of pre-production, in-production and post-production. In our particular workflow, the first phase involves planning, script, screenplay, character design, environment modelling, storyboards, voice dubbing and animatic. In-production involves rough animation, key animation inking, tween animation inking, toneline inking, cel paint, environment rendering and illustration, and compositing (Camera and Sequencing). Post-production involves more compositing (colour-grading, CG and effects, dialogue-sync), editing, music composition, music Production, vocal recording, sound effects and foley, sound mixing, and finally subtitling and encoding. We used Photoshop and Paint Tool Sai for inking and illustration, OpenToonz for cel paint, After Effects for compositing, Premiere Pro for editing, subtitles and encoding, ProTools and Reason for music production, recording and mixing.”
This process is then followed by struggles of distributing and broadcasting the content to the target audience. The team approached most of the notable OTT players in the industry to air it, only to find it in vain as the platforms apparently think it’s a risk because they have only relied on Bollywood blockbusters to sell, and have no idea of how large and powerful the manga/anime community in India has become.
They also added that most people don’t know that every single OTT service is struggling in India because the actual paying customers are a minority. And in order to make an impact in the Indian market, they feel the need to release content that is massy, if not unnecessarily edgy. They wanted skin-show, titillation, extreme graphic violence, shock value elements, over-simplified plots, regardless of the kind of content produced. The above elements break with the tone of their content, and they don’t think these are the only things that sell in India, especially not to the anime community. “We don’t ever want to compromise India’s first anime by dumbing it down and making it massy will turn off a big part of the community that thrives because it looks to anime for its focus on interesting, offbeat stories and impressive animation. So we stuck to our guns and decided to keep the power in the hands of the fans. From the very beginning, our main focus was on platforms that broadcast anime to Indians. Once our trailer was made, we got it reviewed by various people in the film industry who were impressed primarily by the international-standard animation so we wanted to pitch it to the largest OTT services,” Basu asserted.
But as they say, good and hard work always pays, Karmachakra found backing by a circle of prominent Bengali film stalwarts, two of whom were already Anime fans themselves and aware of its international market. They came forward with their unconditional support, as they saw potential in the film and the series. “To our delight, they roped in the whole of Tollywood who were more than excited to be a part of it. They all had full support for the Indian anime community, and saw a future in a new kind of content that has millions of Indian fans but has never been produced only by Indian citizens,” concluded Basu.
Directed by Basu himself, the voice cast includes the talents of of Swastika Mukherjee, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Mir Afsar Ali, Parno Mittra, Swaroopa Ghosh, Tanusree Shankar, Santu Mukherjee, Anik Dutta, Alaknanda Roy, Shantilal Mukherjee, Barun Chanda and Shamik Sinha.
Being a die-hard fan of any form of animation, Karmachakra definitely tops my watchlist and such a starry lineup is just the icing on the cake. Karmachakra is a labour of love that shows that India as a market can’t be overlooked in terms of Anime lovers and Anime community. And films like this surely deserves all the attention and support.
Let Studio Durga’s Karma speak for itself to claim the fame!