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Famous's House of Animation

When I took on the job as Festival Director of the Week With the Masters Animation Celebration and its India & Southeast Asian Animation Competition (INSEA) three years ago, I had little firsthand knowledge of animation in India. And most of what I knew related to the growing number of studios trying to break into the market for service work. So, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find a small, but vibrant independent sector flourishing almost unknown to the outside world. It centered in Mumbai (Bombay) and included many graduates of the animation program National Institute of Design (NID), and was nourished by the commissions from MTV-India and its rival Channel [V], which is part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. media empire. And the favorite Indian studio of both MTV-India and Channel [V] seemed to be the Mumbai-based Famous's House of Animation, a division of Famous Cine Labs & Studios Ltd.

E. Suresh Vaibhav Kumaresh
Creative Director E. Suresh. Vaibhav Kumaresh animating a Nissin's Top Ramen Mind Your Head spot.

Famous first came to my attention with Narayan Shi's The Freedom Song, a delightful Indian version of The Emperor's Nightingale, a short film which shared the Grand Prize at the 2000 INSEA Competition with Whose Reality?, a film by NID student Vaibhav Kumaresh; Kumaresh, in turn, was Famous' animation director and supervised the animation of The Freedom Song. This, plus the remarkable series of commercials and station ID's the studio submitted the following year in the newly-established commercials category of the INSEA, including the hilarious clay-animated Poga MTV India station ID, confirmed that Famous was a studio to watch.

Narayan Shi's The Freedom Song
Publicity still for Narayan Shi's The Freedom Song. A maharajah and a parrot are the main characters in this version of The Emperor's Nightingale.

I will not go into much detail here about my thoughts about the company, which I have written up extensively in a forthcoming article for the Asian Cinema Journal and in more abbreviated fashion in the next issue of Animatoon. However, I should outline some of the studio's history.

MTV Poga ID Tortoise and the Hare Amaron auto batteries spot
The Poga station ID promotes a new form of Yoga, combining traditional Yoga with pogo sticks. It was directed by MTV-India's creative director Cyrus Oshidar, a key figure in Indian animation. The Tortoise and the Hare Amaron auto batteries spot for O&M, Mumbai. Famous has had considerable success of late with its clay animation spots. It has also started working in 3-D computer animation as well.

Famous Cine Labs & Studios, which was founded in 1946 to service the needs of India's huge live-action film industry, got into animation in 1998 when it hired NID graduate E. Suresh to produce a TV series based on the popular Amar Chitra Katha comic book. The series never got beyond the pilot stage, but a commission to do a TV commercial for Novartis Pharmaceuticals led it to become one the best commercial houses in South Asia. And Its work in this area is clearly world class. However, Suresh indicates Famous is still interested in developing and producing its own TV series. And given the new interest by Cartoon Network India in buying local shows, this hope is not unreasonable.

Channel [V]'s Simpu Nissin's Top Ramen Mind Your Head commercial
Ad for Channel [V], featuring Simpu, the good maths teacher, and his students featured in a series of station ID's. From one of the series of Nissin's Top Ramen Mind Your Head commercials.

In any case, the work of Famous and of others, such as Arnab Chaudhuri and Cyrus Oshidar, creative directors at MTV-India and Channel [V] respectively, are indicative of the artistic energy that is bubbling beneath the surface of India animation. The creative energy of the graduates of the NID's animation program needs to find an outlet beyond what the increasing number of service studios there can provide. Whether or not these energies will bear fruit in the same way that graduates of animation programs like CalArts and Sheridan did in North America in the 1980s is too early to say.

Smirnoff Vodka commercial
A clay animated Smirnoff Vodka commercial for JWT.

— Harvey Deneroff
February 9, 2003

2003 by Harvey Deneroff


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