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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 May 2006, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Bollywood stars lend their voices

By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

Hanuman cinema cutout
Hanuman - the start of something big for Indian cinema?
India's animation industry is set to get a shot in the arm with several well-known Bollywood actors agreeing to lend their voices for a new animation film to be made by an American director.

The director of the animated series Spiderman and The Starship Troopers, Vincent Michael Edwards, says it is an Indian project and is scheduled for a year-end release.

Initially the actors were reluctant to sign up for the movie.

"They did not want to lend their voices to what they thought would be a 'B' grade animation film," Mr Edwards said.

"However, once they realised this was going to be a top class product that would help rather than hinder their careers, they were happy to do it."

While Hollywood stars have often lent their voices for animated features, Bollywood stars are yet to catch on.

'Profound difference'

Top Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan and his son Aryan had dubbed the Hindi version of Disney/Pixar's feature The Incredibles in 2004, but there are very few other instances of actors voicing Indian animation films.

Mr Edwards said he is working with an all-Indian staff and the talent and quality of work is on a par with that found in the United States.

But he believes it will be sometime before the industry becomes capable of making its own high-end features.

There are a number of talented artisans that work well under guidance but they need more time to be able to come up with a good product that is globally marketable
Director Vincent Michael Edwards

"There is a profound difference between working with a fairly conceived blueprint and conceptualising one.

"There are a number of talented artisans that work well under guidance but they need more time to be able to come up with a good product that is globally marketable."

The Indian animation industry has already been globally recognised for its quality work at low costs, with many international production houses and entertainment companies such as Walt Disney outsourcing work.

Industry estimates state the cost of making a full-length animated film in India will be almost 60% cheaper than a similar film made in the US.

Major deal

And the potential for growth is tremendous.

In its annual report on the Indian entertainment and media industry, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry has stated the industry can grow by 35% and reach an annual turnover of 42 billion rupees ($933m) by 2009.

Presently, it is estimated at 12 billion rupees ($279m), just 1% of the global animation content development market estimated at 1,125 billion rupees ($25bn).

Mumbai's Crest Animation Studios has done work for many international producers.

Recently, their US subsidiary RichCrest Animation signed an agreement with Lionsgate Entertainment in Los Angeles for jointly producing and financing three full-length animated films.

With constant upgrading of skills we will make our own quality animation features very soon
Crest Animation's A K Madhavan

Chief executive A K Madhavan says at present, India lacks "the world market sensibility in story telling techniques and (pre and post) production skills".

Despite that, he is upbeat.

"With constant upgrading of skills we will make our own quality animation features very soon."

A full-length indigenously-made animated film, Hanuman, was released last year and has had a successful run at the box office.

Many problems

Based on the life of an Indian deity of the same name, the film appealed to children and especially parents, who thought it was a great way of introducing Hindu mythology to their young ones.

The makers, Percept Picture Company, have now announced a sequel to the film to be released next year.

Percept's Chitra Subramaniam
Percept's Chitra Subramaniam says Hanuman defied expectations

Percept's feature films business chief, Chitra Subramaniam said after completing the film they had difficulty finding a distributor because no one wanted to touch an animated 2D film.

"We had no big names associated with the film, it was not in the league of Shrek or Finding Nemo and people were sceptical about Hanuman clicking with the audiences. Now they can't get enough of it."

However, film critic Indu Mirani believes it will be sometime before people warm up to animated features made in India.

"In the end, whether it is animation or Bollywood, people are looking for a good story.

"Our film-makers are very bad at selecting stories and tend to stick with Indian themes that lack universal appeal.

"So until we get that right, no amount of quality or star power will help get the kind of audience they are looking for."

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