A children’s movie could be an animation film, like the Lion King or Aladdin, or a blend of both animation and real-life filming like the trendsetting Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or a simple story about a child’s life like Vishal Bhardwaj’s The Blue Umbrella. A director is chiefly responsible for how successful and watchable a movie is. From research work on a movie, to taking decisions about who stars in it, to scouting for locations... he or she has to worry about everything. For a movie like Avatar, it took James Cameron years to find the right technique to create the wonderful world of the Na’vi. VFX, short for ‘Visual Effects,’ went a long way in making the film a trailblazer of sorts in the world of animation. To make the Na’vi as realistic as possible, faces and bodies were ‘rigged’ – connected to computers, which made the mythical creatures simulate human movement. A lot of photographs and scans of real actors were used and these details were incorporated into the digital characters. It was Cameron’s movie throughout, but more than 900 people across different locations got together to make it the science fiction epic that it turned out to be.
What do they do?
We’ve all been a little scared of Aladdin’s genie, haven’t we? That giant of a man with a his huge, ornamented turban, curling moustache just whooshing in and out of the tiny little spout of a magic lamp? Ready to satisfy every whim and wish of his master?
And just look what Disney did to him. In the movie Aladdin, he has metamorphosed from a serious chap to a glib-talking, fun-loving, bundle of blue energy – an entire Broadway show encompassed in one single genie – doing absolutely ridiculous magic.
He sings to Aladdin: “Can your friends do this?” (pulling off his head, duplicating and juggling them). “Do your friends do that?” (hands Aladdin the heads). “Do your friends pull this out their little hat…” (stretches into a circle and becomes a pink rabbit).
It’s magical, the world of fantasy that movie makers create for us and for children. From the finer technicalities of a Disney animation special like the Lion King to the environmentally correct blockbuster Avatar, moviemakers abroad are exploring different kind of genres to get their message across to children and adults alike.
Talking about her favourite films for children, Rinki Roy Bhattacharya, vice chairperson of the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), enthusiastically responds, “Matilda, Goopey Gyne..., Madagascar, Shrek, and many more.”
Bhattacharya is not very comfortable categorising films. “At CFSI a film will obviously be called a children’s film but I feel we should not label them as such, because then one feels there’s some kind of mental block, that it’s made for a niche audience. We have had some excellent films, which have been very watchable... by Shyam Benegal, (Charandas Chor) and Vishal Bhardwaj (Makdee and The Blue Umbrella).”
Talking about the recent changes in the CFSI, Bhattacharya says, “We have streamlined the process of selecting scripts for CFSI productions. Scripts keep pouring in, but most of the time they are not so good. There’s a very good script committee in place now.”
And what are the children in this country expecting after being exposed to the special effects wizardry of the Harry Potter movies or Avatar? “It’s a fiercely
competetive world,” says Bhattacharya. “We are exploding with channels. Then, technology has made tremendous strides. Remember, kids are ruthlessly critical and reject anything cheap. We have to respect that.”
And to know what they want, Bhattacharya says she makes it a point to interact with children.
“My neighbours’ kids discuss films with me. We talk film all the time. I also show children’s films in our film society. We invite underprivileged kids over,” she says.
When asked how she would view children’s films in India, Bhattacharya says “If you are looking for excellence in children’s films, look beyond labels. Satyajit Ray’s seminal work Pather Panchali is not known as a children’s film... but the novel and film are written with children’s concerns.” She says she read the novel as a child.
“Ray created cinema gems for kids but they were given general release. His movies have all worked. And we have to learn a lesson from Ray’s example. CFSI films like Santosh Sivan’s Halo, or the more recent Mahek Mirza by Kranti Kanade have worked well,” Bhattacharya adds.
What goes into the making of a film and how crucial is a director’s role? Says Subhash Ghai, who has directed mega hits such as Taal and Pardes, and is the co-founder and chairman of Whistling Woods International, Mumbai, a training centre for filmmakers, “It’s everything and anything you can think of – like going through intense research work. It becomes a huge challenge for a filmmaker. Supposing you decide to make a film on the aviation world, what will you do if you don’t know anything about flying? I had to do a lot of research work on the India of the 1930s while making Kisna. So, the director has to worry about everything – right from choosing a story to the final print and delivering it to the audiences.”
Do we have the infras-tructure and equipment in India to make a movie for children, say, like any of the films from the Harry Potter series? “We have or have an access to both, that’s never a problem. For movies like Harry Potter one needs a pool of talent and technicians more than studios. We are yet to catch up with America and Japan in this respect. But new change is on the horizon, awareness and the education system of India today assure a great promise that will enable us to compete with international standards in ten years,” he adds.
Bhattacharya counts Makdee and Mahek Mirza as the CFSI’s recent toppers. The latter has been included in a teaching course in the US. All of Sivan’s films, including Keshu, have won prizes at major fests.
“CFSI has some rare gems in its library and attempts are being made to restore and release these films. I hope it happens,” she adds.
About the CFSI’s future plans, Bhattacharya says the organisation aims to support and produce excellent work and “find marketing channels for our films... that’s the key issue. Where the bigger picture is concerned we need to create children’s culture and children’s space in each and every Indian state,” she says. At the end what really matters for a fun movie is how long you can keep the little ones engrossed, and laughing.
As the immortal Roger Rabbit in Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit puts it, “I'm a Toon. Toons are supposed to make people laugh. You don't understand. Those people needed to laugh... That’s right. A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have. Laughter is the most important...”
. Excellent creative skills
. Great imagination – to create a world of fantasy or something which can keep children engrossed for hours
. Ability to transfer the (script) writer’s thoughts and feelings to the big screen
. Good with research – in case a period film is being shot
. Good team leader, who can motivate actors, technicians and others on the sets to deliver their best
. Good financial skills. To make a movie within the given budget and ensure finances don’t spiral out of control
How do I get there?
Doing a course in animation or filmmaking from a top institute in India or abroad helps. Assisting a well-known director later can also give you a good idea of how a movie is to be made.