MUMBAI: Who would have thought that the person holding a master’s degree in computer science from a prestigious US University would commit to the lesser known field of animation and return to his homeland? And yet today, Rajiv Chilaka stands redeemed for a choice he made nearly 17 years ago.
India’s most successful animation company was the entrepreneurial venture of this man who runs the show with his elder brother Srinivas. The founder and CEO of Green Gold animation, Chilaka moved over from engineering to studying animation at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco in 2000 after giving three gruelling years to a job as a software engineer.
The inspiration came to him after watching his first animated film – The Jungle Book. It gave rise to a spree of movie and cartoon watching such as Spiderman, Tom and Jerry, etc. Chilaka knew he wasn’t a great artist so he took engineering as a career. The final switch came when, during one of his slow boring days as a librarian, he read Walt Disney’s book where he spoke of the power of entertaining kids and not considering money as a driving force. He decided that if not art, he could at least tell great stories.
While studying his post graduate degree in the US, Chilaka applied to learn animation but without a scholarship, he had to cough up a whopping $20,000 as fees each semester. His brother refused to lend him money and advised him to finish his masters, work for a few years and give wings to his animation career. Chilaka was convinced.
When Chilaka broke the news about setting up Green Gold Animation to his family, he instantly got the maternal support but not surprisingly, his father was adamantly against it. Needing his father’s blessings, Chilaka managed to persuade him with the business plan, which he himself felt was a pathetic one.
He flew back to India and settled in with his parents in their new house, an option his father gave him understanding the difficulty he might face in finding his own accommodation and paying rent initially. With four to five employees, his journey began.
If today India still lacks great animators, imagine the situation back in 2000. Chilaka says that they had to train everyone who joined. Everything was work, even if it was as simple as a business card or brochure. He even purchased a digital camera to look tech savvy. What he ensured was good quality work at a feasible budget leading to a happy client and no complaints.
The company came close to shutting nearly 25 times in the eight years in between. They had worries – expensive orders or unpaid dues and one by one dejected employees started moving out when he couldn’t pay them on time.
The real tipping point came years later in 2008 when Chhota Bheem first got airtime on Pogo. Ten days before it went on air, Chilaka’s new office was gutted by a fire and a big potential investor developed cold feet while the lenders demanded their dues. “It was a brand new building which we built so luckily no one moved into it. We were going to move in three days later,” Chilaka says. Everything was damaged - the interior, centralised AC office and it was not just the loss of money but also of time and efforts. “But a lot of vendors supported and understood that we were in trouble. Turner didn’t panic and supported us instead,” he adds.
Recently, Chilaka added another feather to his cap, with the newly launched service studio-Golden Robot Studio with Samir Jain, Chand, Ritesh and Abhishek. “Right now we have 120 team members and we have planned to add another 70-80 people in the team,” he reveals.
The challenge now was to orient people to the new culture of being self-sufficient and creating original IPs. “It was also difficult for the employees to join a new startup company, but all the employees are happy working here and of course the brand name of Green Gold helped as everyone wanted to work for us,” says a joyful Chilaka.
His latest home-grown IP shows include Kalari Kids, a show that rediscovers Kalaripayattu, a lost martial art form of Kerala. With the purpose to educate through entertainment, the animation studio is making an exclusive series for Amazon Prime. Green Gold also sealed a deal with Netflix to digitally broadcast Mighty Little Bheem—a spinoff of its popular character Chhota Bheem.
The series created by Green Gold Animation are Vikram Betal in 2004, Bongo on DD National (2004–2006), Krishna on Cartoon Network (2006–2007), Krishna & Balram - Cartoon Network (2009), Chhota Bheem - Pogo TV (2008), Chorr Police - Disney XD (India) (2009–2012), Mighty Raju - Pogo TV (2011), Luv Kushh - Disney XD (India) (2012–2014), Discovery Kids (India) (2015-2016), Arjun: The Prince of Bali - Disney Channel India (2014–2016) and Kalari Kids.
In 2018, Green Gold will premiere two theatrical releases - Chhota Bheem Kung Fu Dhamaka and a tentative title for a mythological movie—Mahiravana. Both films are likely to be launched during the summer. Chilaka refused to speak on the other shows which are still in pilot stage.
For the torchbearer of Indian animation, we hope his pot of gold never runs out!