Animation films best for transcending barriers, prejudices

MUMBAI: The technique of animation is one of the best mediums of films for social communication in that it is non-confrontational, transcends cultural, borders or language barriers, and appeals to audiences of all ages.

While one cannot avoid showing violence in animation or other films since this is a part of society today, it should be done without glorifying it to the extent that people – particularly children – become insensitive to streaks of violence.

This was the general consensus of an open forum organised by the Indian Documentary Producers Association (IDPA) on "Animation and Social Communication" presided over by renowned animation filmmaker Ram Mohan.

Noting that the animation industry in India has grown into a multi-million dollar enterprise, Mohan said that animation had first become institutionalised in the country when the Films Division set up an animation studio in the 1950s with the clear aim of using it as a vehicle for social messages as the medium has an inherent quality that makes it ideal of this purpose. He also rued that there was a dearth of talented people in animation though there was no shortage of ideas.

Answering a question, he said it is not fair to use animation films as a baby-sitter if the parent or adult is busy with other work, since the child watching such films may not be able to get the right kind of message. It is necessary for an adult to be present to interpret the film when young children are watching it.

Referring to the violence in animation serials, he said one cannot avoid violence which is a part of society, but it can be ensured that there is no glorification. Furthermore, while every story has to have a hero and a villain, it is necessary to see what they are fighting for. He said that the private television channels clearly go in for what is the cheapest available programme without being choosy.

He referred to series like Sesame Street which are devoid of violence and have proved popular in the west, but failed in the Indian version Gali Gali Sim Sim.

Reeves Lehmann, Chief of Films at the School of Visual Arts in the United States, agreed and added that The Simpsons proved very popular and full of important social messages though it does not have any violence. Even Disney is now into making films that do not have unnecessary violence. But he agreed that the TV animation series and the animation games are full of violence.

He admitted that the animation series had originally commenced in the US only as publicity for various toys like He-Man, Superman, Spiderman, Batman and so on.

Though there had been some problem two decades earlier to get people interested in animation, this is not the case at present. He stressed that animation is a universal format which got resurgence in the late eighties when some studios in the US decided to make full-length feature films beginning with a film called Mermaid. More people had then entered this field to learn the art.

Though it is often thought that with the coming of computers, traditional animation has become outdated, this is not so since that kind of animation is still more popular than computerised filming. In fact, many filmmakers prefer to combine different forms of animation in the same film, he added.

He agreed with Mohan that there is a shortage of good story writers for animation films.

Several persons including filmmakers and mediapersons who spoke complained about the violence in TV series and also lamented the fact that institutions like the Films Division had reduced the number of animation films made every year. Many also said that the channels including Doordarshan are driven by commercial considerations, and therefore, only show what they feel would prove popular.

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