By Priyanka Khanna
New Delhi, Oct 19 (IANS) With reigning romantic couple Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor lending their voices in the big-budget Disney co-production "Roadside Romeo", Hindi cinema's big daddy Yash Chopra adds a glamorous touch to the hitherto niche genre of animation with his first venture in the field.
"Roadside Romeo", which marks the entry of the Hollywood giant in Indian cinema in the avatar of a co-producer, is the most-hyped animated film to hit the theatres in this part of the world.
"Roadside Romeo" is getting released on a Diwali weekend, which is traditionally reserved for heavy-duty productions as the festive season guarantees big box-office gains. It is also a time when audiences expect nothing but the best of cinema, which is as much a religion in India as is cricket.
"If industry old-horse Yash Chopra has chosen an animated feature as his best product fit to be released during the holiday season, then it is even more confirmation that animators are the newest stars of Bollywood," says a trade analyst.
The 3-D animation venture "Roadside Romeo" has Saif and Kareena lending their voices to the animated characters Romeo and Laila, respectively. The character names themselves are an amalgamation of English and Hindi literature and epitomise hopeless romantics. The fact that the two are the most-talked about real life couple, gives the first-ever romantic fully-animated Hindi film that added edge.
While Indian animation companies have been proving their mantel in Hollywood productions like "Spiderman-3", "Blood Diamond", "Chronicles of Narnia", "One night in the Museum", and "28 Weeks Later" and Indian-made animated television programmes like "Piggley Winks", "Jack Frost", "Ali Baba", "Clootie and Dumpling", "The Three Amigoes", "Cyber Dodo" and "FrogSkool" have been ruling international airwaves, Bollywood has taken its own sweet time to warm up to casting animated characters in the lead and propping them with some serious money.
Animated films have always been used as a medium for entertainment and public information, but only in the late 90s the medium began to be looked at as a money-spinner in India. The key catalyst was the huge overseas market for which India proved to be a cheap production alternative.
Veteran filmmakers like Ram Mohan, who is regarded as the father of Indian animation, always felt that the digital miracle workers should not confine themselves to introducing visual effects of international standards in Bollywood films but acquaint Indian viewers with the magical world of animation.
"Hanuman", a fully-animated film based on an Indian mythological god, was the first box-office hit that made Bollywood producers sit up and take note. And then when Walt Disney bought the rights of the film, animation outsourcing firms turned to production.
"This is the way to go for maximum growth. Creative co-production gives greater control and ownership and it takes the companies up the value chain," said Sunil Mehta, vice-president of National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), the main industry lobby.
The trend is expected to help India's animation and gaming market quadruple by 2009 and employ about 30,000 animators, says Nasscom.
Indian companies such as UTV Software Communications, Toonz Animation, Pentamedia Graphics, Crest Communications, DQ Entertainment and JadooWorks have signed deals with firms such as Walt Disney, NBC Universal and Mattel to share copyrights and profits.
Top Bollywood filmmaker Ravi Chopra is making an animated film about the Hindu god Krishna to be released soon. UTV's animation division also plans to make cartoon feature films.
The biggest converts, however, are Karan Johar and Rajnikant. While the very successful young filmmaker, who has made hit family dramas like "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai", "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham" and "Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna", Karan will direct an animated film, the highest paid Indian superstar Rajnikant has been roped in by Adlabs to play the lead in an animated movie.
Till then it is time for Romeo and Laila to romance on the rooftops of Mumbai.