MUMBAI: When it comes to producing animation series, very few can hold a candle to Cosmos Maya. Founded in 1996 as Maya, the animation studio has progressed over the years from creating a single intellectual property Motu Patlu in 2012 to a handful of them in India and overseas.
Operating out of Mumbai and Singapore, Cosmos Maya has grown leaps and bounds over the years, always being the trendsetter in the Indian animation industry and now it is en route to rubbing shoulders with some of the prominent studios internationally.
Following the resounding success of Indian animation productions like Motu Patlu (MP), ViR – The Robot Boy, Kisna, Shiva, Bure Kaam Ka Bura Natija, Kyun Bhai Chacha, Haan Bhatija (BKBNKBCHB) and Guru Aur Bhole (GAB), the studio also branched out into crossover Indian animation productions with Eena Meena Deeka (EMD) and the soon to launch Tik Tak Tail which are Indian shows for global audiences.
And it’s not just domestically where Cosmos Maya is leaving its footprint... It currently has three international co-productions Captain Cactus, Atchoo! and Help Me Ganesha, in different stages of production and development.
The journey started when Anish Mehta came in and took over as CEO of the company and he decided to get things moving at a blistering pace. In the five years since he has been at the helm, Cosmos Maya has produced 12 shows and 1000 plus episodes. In the world of animation that kind of a performance is unparalleled – possibly for any studio not just in India but globally. And continuing on it's growth trajectory, the company has confirmed contracts and execution plans for around 400 odd episodes within this year.
What started off as a dream with a handful of team members, is now a fully evolved studio with equipped with systems and processes to handle continuous and simultaneous workflow on account of multiple projects; with a scalable model for growth, with 100% utilised production facilities, both in house as well through a multitude of vendors to whom production work is outsourced, within India and in several parts of Asia. Add to that a well-entrenched penetration in the global markets through its highly developed international distribution and marketing network, and Cosmos-Maya is all set on the growth path.
The long term vision of the company entails a plan to produce an independent world-class Hollywood feature film, something that BlueSky did with Ice Age. This is the next target that Anish intends to achieve five years from now.
“We have a great team out here. Be it creatives, production, operations, digital or marketing, each member in the super core team brings in the same passion that helps us create the difference. Then there is the core team which takes the vision to the next level from an execution perspective, while keeping the passion levels intact. And then there are over 600 odd people, each one again working with the same madness," says a visibly proud youngish academic looking bespectacled Anish Mehta.
“At Cosmos Maya, the way we approach an IP is keeping in mind what is going on in the market and how do we bring in the next new trend,” explains Anish. “Balancing both of these things is what we focused and continue to focus on, a perfect combination of creative and business acumen.”
This includes selecting innovative subjects and concepts. The first IP that rolled out was a first of its kind for India as it featured two adult protagonists behaving like silly kids and was titled Motu Patlu. “It was India’s take on the evergreen franchise Laurel & Hardy,” says Anish.
Cosmos Maya invested in creating a pilot for Motu Patlu and then approached broadcasters – a process which the studio follows to this day. Viacom18’s kids channel Nick bought into it. And Anish’s baby has not looked back since. The Motu Patlu franchise has only grown. Cosmos Maya has 300 plus episodes of the series (600 stories altogether) in its catalogue, 13 TV films and one theatrical film, Motu Patlu – King of Kings.
And, why not?
Motu Patlu over the past five years has been a TRP topper for Cosmos Maya and the channel’s creative & programming head Anu Sikka is happy that they have a winner on their hands. So much so that she has signed a long term contract for both Motu Patlu and Shiva with the studio, ensuring that many more episodes and films of the franchises continue to regale audiences. And Anish has a deal with Viacom18 to develop another one.
Currently, work is on to spin off two series from the Motu Patlu franchise. Anish was willing to talk about one which is being driven by the studio and features characters who have gained popularity with Indian kids: the adorable police officer – Inspector Chingum & Guddu Ghalib – the timid circus lion who became the protector of the jungle in the feature film Motu Patlu – King of Kings. He did not disclose much about the other, cryptically saying that “the new shows will be with a major digital partner and will be digital first productions.”
He points out that the company has a three pronged strategy: keep domestic productions such as Motu Patlu, Shiva, GAB, and BKBNKBCHB which have an earthy Indian appeal going successfully. “Then there are shows like Eena Meena Deeka, Tik Tak Tail (which we will be launching soon) don’t necessarily look Indian because they have a wider appeal globally; and lastly there are the international co-productions” he further explains.
The India centric shows which can travel to about 20 odd countries on an average fetch revenues in the range of around Rs 3 million per episode; while category toppers and milestone makers like Motu Patlu of course fetch at least a 30 per cent higher revenue than this average. On the other hand, cross-over shows that can travel to over 50 countries have a revenue potential of Rs 5 million per episode. And then the third category of shows, the ambitious globally targeted ones like Captain Cactus and Help Me Ganesha hold a revenue potential of around Rs 10 million per episode.
Amongst the more ambitious international projects is the one featuring a cactus called Captain Cactus which is at pre-prod stage and is being developed under the creative supervision of Olivier Jean Marie the creator of Oggy & the Cockroaches. An announcement about a worldwide distribution partner should be made by end-August, and Asian partners are expected to sign on the dotted line by end-September.
Anish is hopeful that Captain Cactus will bring about a revolution in global co-productions since it has got the best of both worlds - that is a strong Asian studio, a European creator and European distribution partners. It is also in talks with a couple of broadcast or digital partners worldwide.
“From a show perspective we have Olivier Jean-Marie with us who is known for a certain style of story-telling and people jump at the chance of working with him,” he expresses. “So we are quite confident that Captain Cactus will deliver.”
Anish and team at Cosmos Maya are banking on a new IP inspired by Lord Ganesha which it is developing in a co-production with Gerhard Hahn of Hahn Films. The co-production with the German creator who is one of the more respected animators globally is tentatively called Help me Ganesha.
“We are very confident that we, with Gerhard Hahn as a partner, will take it on a never seen before global level,” says a sanguine Anish.
The company is doing well on the digital front too with its IPs on YouTube. Its channel WowKidz has been growing at a rapid clip despite being a late entrant. At last count over 1.5 million subscribers had clocked up around 1.6 billion views for the over 3000 videos that Cosmos Maya has on the channel. Amongst its foreign imports is a show called Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 which is being promoted with the help of Motu Patlu and is raking in good views.
“ViR – The Robot Boy has been one of the most important IPs on WowKidz, as per the data analytics from YouTube and we are creating spin-off content from this show for WowKidz,” says Anish. He mentions that because ViR, is a digital phenomenon, a further push for content creation will be given, and new episodes of it will be produced. With spin-off content and a digital first next season plan in place, ViR is going to be one of the key focus IPs in the days to come.
Its second channel WowKidz Rhymes has 130,000 plus subscribers and caters to the pre-school kids need for freshly narrated nursery rhymes – a slot that the Chennai-based ChuChuTV has very cleverly exploited. Currently, its popular characters Motu Patlu and VIR the Robot boy have been used to recite the nursery rhymes in an engaging manner. More content around Imli is in the pipeline. With innovation in mobile gaming industry, another focus is towards WowKidz mobile games, engaging kids more towards the popular IPs.
WowKidz will also introduce another division- WowKidz edutainment for kids for toddlers and pre-school kids to learn alphabets, numbers, shapes, values and general awareness in form of rhymes and shows.
With so much on its plate, the studio will need to scale up in terms of manpower and further strengthen its infrastructure. A dedicated new facility is coming up in Mumbai near its operational headquarters in Film City. Additional captive satellite units are also coming up in Hyderabad and Kolkata. The goal is to add around 300 professionals to its 550 strong artist pool.
Anish believes that the founders of Maya – Ketan Mehta and Deepa Sahi – wanted to do something; hence they set it up.
“Their dream went on to become an industry,” he says. “I am hopeful that AR and VR (a content area that the company has recently started investing) too will help us polevault to another level. Our animation business too is looking very good. With so many avenues for our content in place, it is indeed one of the best and the brightest phases for the animation industry.”
Amen to that!
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