By Roshni Chakrabarty
The children’s animation industry in India has long been dominated by foreign characters of international fame. Local successes are very few and far between and are easily forgotten. Mickey Mouse was created in 1928, while Tom and Jerry were born in 1940. Even the recently popular ‘Doraemon’ started off as a manga in 1969, and was later turned into a TV series in 1973.
It takes a long time for a cartoon show to garner massive popularity. Besides, the cost of producing such a cartoon is quite high, while the success rates are low. As a result, Indian children have long been familiar with only some very popular international cartoons, which are at times, dubbed in Hindi, as procuring these shows from abroad is more economical than creating fresh ones.
Ek Anek Aur Ekta, the first Indian animation released in 1974 was only seven minutes long. The very first animated Indian TV series Ghayab Aya was telecast on Doordarshan in June 17, 1990. However, these were the only Indian animations available at the time.
In the 90’s Doordarshan, being the only primary channel for Indians, telecasted animated series such as Mowgli, Tale Spin, Duck Tales, and other Disney cartoon shows. Soon, Cartoon Network became the first 24-hour cartoon channel in India. Within a few years after that, there cropped up a number of TV channels for kids such as the Disney Channel, POGO, Nickelodeon India, Hungama TV, Animax India, and Toon Disney, which primarily showed cartoon series apart from game shows and educational programs.
Despite the country’s rich television and film history, Indian animators used to routinely be hired by foreign production houses to work in the backend. This resulted in a lack of story-telling sense among them. Besides, children don’t mind if a cartoon character doesn’t look Indian, and as such, there was little to no demand for Indian originated content.
In the recent times, however, despite the economic constraints, the Indian animation industry is slowly and steadily churning out cartoon series based on Indian characters and derived from Hindu mythology.
1. Chhota Bheem
This series, since its first appearance on the Pogo channel in 2008, has made a massive climb in popularity. Now, Chhota Bheem merchandise is all the rage among kids.
Created by the CEO of Green Gold Animation Rajiv Chilaka, ‘Chhota Bheem’ features the very brave, intelligent and extremely strong nine-year-old Bheem, who lives in the fictional town on Dholakpur in rural India. Bheem’s character is evidently based on the super-strong Pandava brother from Mahabharatha.
The cartoon series follows Bheem and his friends in their efforts to assist Dholakpur’s Raja Indravarma in protecting the city-state and even neighboring kingdoms from various forces of evil. It also shows the rivalry between Bheem and Kalia Pehalwan, a jealous ten-year-old bully who goes around the town with his sidekicks Dholu and Bholu. Their plots to defeat and embarrass Bheem never succeed.
2. Mighty Raju
Also produced by Green Gold Animation, this is a spin-off of the Chhota Bheem series. The series, focusing on 4-year-old Raju with superhuman strength and a strong moral code, is more of an animated film series as each episode is of one hour.
Raju’s mother Sandhya, while pregnant with him, had mistakenly consumed a compound called Neutrino, created by Raju’s scientist father Swami. This resulted in Raju being born with super powers which he uses to fight his father’s former partner and scientist rival Karati. Raju tries to do good in the world without expecting any reward, and while risking his own safety.
3. Roll No. 21
Airing on Cartoon Network India, this award winning series features a modern take on the Krishna-Kansa rivalry and is a hit with school-going children as it deals with the problems a student faces.
‘Roll No. 21’ shows Kansa reincarnated as Principal Kanishk of the Mathura Anath Ashram (Mathura Orphanage and School) who plans to take over Mathura and the world with support from his demons and minions. However, his plans are always foiled by Kris, the reincarnation of Krishna, who is a student at the orphanage. Kris keeps the goodness alive in the orphanage children and uses his wit and mythical powers to fend off Kanishk’s evil plans.
4. Little Krishna
This 3D computer animated series, which started airing on Nickelodeon in May 2009, was created after extensive and thorough research into the legends revolving around the childhood pastimes of Lord Krishna. It goes beyond the popularly known tales to present a truly exclusive content to the audience.
‘Little Krishna,’ depicting the traditional tales from Krishna’s childhood and his interactions with the Vrindavan villagers, is based on the writings of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana, the Srimad Bhagavatam chronicles, and seven years of research work by ISKCON Bangalore devotees. It then underwent a further two and a half years of production and research work by BIG Animations.
The show combines motifs of Indian design with classical Western styles to produce a contemporary format. Though it was primarily created in English, it was later dubbed in several other Indian languages, including Hindi.
5. Krishna Balram
This is yet another Hindu mythology-based production by Green Gold Animation, which depicts the childhood pastimes of Lord Krishna and his brother Lord Balram. It shows Krishna and his friends, including Radha, embarking on thrilling adventures based on Lord Krishna’s time-honored tales.
6. The Adventures of Tenali Raman
This was the first Indian animated television series to gain this much acclaim and was made available in both English and Hindi languages. Produced by Toonz Animation Studios, the series aired on Cartoon Network in June 2003.
It depicted the tales featuring Tenali Raman – a much loved character from Indian folklore. It was one of the first Indian produced cartoon series acquired by Cartoon Network to increase its hold on the Indian audience and also make the channel more relevant to the Indian market.
7. Chorr Police
This funny cartoon series by Green Gold Animation airs on Disney XD only in Hindi.
Anthony, a Mumbai slum dweller, who steals from the rich and gives it to the poor, is called the Robinhood Slumdog of Mumbai. Each episode begins with the ‘Chorr’ Anthony stealing something and trying to escape the crime scene with the ‘Police’ Lovely Singh, a muscular Sardar in police uniform, chasing him. Anthony, at the end of each episode, narrowly manages to escape.
Very realistically, Lovely Singh is said to have come to Mumbai initially to be an actor, failing which, he joins the police force.
8. Motu Patlu
The India CGI animated Sitcom television series, adapted from the classic comic strip on Lot Pot Magazine, premiered on Nickelodeon in October 2012.
The cartoon series features two close friends Motu and Patlu, living in the fictional city of Furfuri Nagar. ‘Jon the Don’, who longs to be a well-known criminal, along with his henchmen, form a villain group whose plans are always foiled thanks to the duo. The episodes show how the two friends land in hilariously troubling situations, usually initiated by Motu, and how Patlu solves the problem, often depending on sheer luck.
The series theme song ‘Motu Aur Patlu Ki Jodi’ is sung by Sukhwinder Singh.
9. Kumbh Karan
Broadcasted by Pogo, this series was released in June 2010. The show follows the twin brothers Kumbh and Karan, living in a small colony named Ajab-Gajabpur.
The plump 10-year-old Kumbh is lazy, sleepy and hungry. He is extremely strong but has a soft heart. His character is evidently based on the mythic giant from Ramayana, Kumbhkarna, who was one of Ravana’s brothers. He slept for half a year and could only be awoken with the aroma of food. On the other hand, Kumbh’s brother, Karan, is agile and smart. The cartoon series depicts the various quests the brothers embark upon along with their pet porcupine Kaddu, and their friend Tara.
This 2D animation series was initially a comic series named ‘Cricket Miracles’ developed by Toonz Animation. It was then turned into an animated series which aired on Discovery Kids.
‘Howzzattt’ depicts the adventures of a group of cricket crazy youngsters calling themselves ‘Gulab Nagar Junglees’ who coach under Sweety Aunty and play matches against bullies who refuse to adhere to the rules of the game. Each episode shows a cricket match against different opponents as the children overcome various obstacles to attain success. Most of the time the challenge comes in the form of Thakral, a rich neighbourhood businessman who longs to acquire the Gulab Nagar Society land.
Owing to India’s cricket craze, the cartoon series quickly gained popularity leading the producers to launch ‘Howzzattt Game’ for Android mobile phones.