John, Priyanka and Ashutosh Rana in Alibaba and the 41 Thieves!

By Money Sharma & Mrigank Dhaniwala, Bollywood Hungama News Network

UTV's 3D animation fantasy Alibaba And The 41 Thieves - the story of a boy who gets embroiled in the legendary Arabic tussle - is currently under production at Chennai based Accel Animation Studios and is expected to be ready by the year end.

Written and directed by Soumitra Ranade of Jajantaram Mamantram fame, the film boasts of a voice cast including John Abraham, Priyanka Chopra, Ashutosh Rana, Atul Kulkarni, Saurabh Shukla and others. In an exclusive interview with Bollywood Hungama, Soumitra shares his vision behind the film and tells us why he believes animation will catch on as a medium of storytelling.

Tell us about the Alibaba And The 41 Thieves.
I have taken the legendary Arabian tale of 'Alibaba And The 40 Thieves' and added a modern angle to it, wherein a kid from Mumbai reaches the fantasy land. The film is about his interaction with Alibaba (John Abraham) and the villain Abu Hasan (Ashutosh Rana), the evil and brutal leader of the 40 thieves.

You have assembled a star-studded voice cast for the film.
We have John Abraham as Alibaba, Priyanka Chopra as Marjinah; Ashutosh Rana, Atul Kulkarni, Raza Murad, Saurabh Shukla and Mukesh Tiwari. In fact, the voice-overs are the first thing we finished, as they have to be complete for the animation to begin.

In your opinion, is the Indian movie-goer warming up to animation?
Yes. It is true that some recent films have not worked, but there are other smaller projects that have. Animation is a new medium for the Indian audience and filmmakers. It will take a while to catch on.

Anyway I am used to this cynicism. When I was making Jajantaram Mamantram, a lot of mainstream Hindi film producers laughed at me and ridiculed me. They thought children's films were the sole responsibility of CFSI. Why would anyone in his right mind want to make a film for children? They wondered.

Besides the obvious need for indigenous children's films they completely missed the commercial angle. Today children's entertainment is one of the biggest industries in the world. Animation will arrive here in India too...it HAS to. That's the historical inevitability.

What is Alibaba's USP?
Every film needs a good script. The rest depends on how you transform the script into the moving image. If you are able to do that successfully, then you have a good film on hand. Alibaba has a strong script and we are pretty confident about the output. Animation, in this case, is just a form of storytelling.

What is the visual treatment for the film, given its Arabian moorings?
Animation does need a lot of detailing. We have, in our attempt to model a fantasy Arabian world, created extensive architecture, costumes and make-up for the characters. The Islamic/Arabic look-and-feel is one space which has not been explored much internationally, besides a few films like Aladdin, etc.

We have used motion capture for the film. This technology gives you the realism of the human body and abstraction of animation. It's a wonderful form and only about ten films in the world till date have used this technology as extensively as we have.

Making any animation film is not an easy task. In Alibaba, we are attempting something that hasn't yet been achieved in India and will not be repeated at least for a few more years.

What is the producer's involvement in the project?
UTV is an amazing production house. Once they take on a project, they believe in it completely. In the last few years they are the ones who have given us Rang De Basanti, Jodhaa Akbar, Aamir, A Wednesday and Dev D besides so many other very interesting and commercially viable films. They give you adequate creative space. There is a certain civility with which they make their films. And believe me they will make a serious mark in animation too. Both Alibaba and Arjun are very high end films not just formally but more importantly content wise.

Are you working on any other projects?
Alibaba is keeping me busy right now, though it's impossible to keep your mind away from new stories. One is obviously thinking of the next one.

Your expectations from the film?
Superhit.

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