Long ignored, Indian animation has finally come into the limelight with Nikhil Advani's "Delhi Safari", which won the best animated film honour at the 60th National Film Awards. The director says Indian cinema, celebrating 100 years, still doesn't recognise the power of animation.
"There is no belief in animation. If you look at the last year's top 10 animation films, they are only Hollywood... Hollywood approaches an animation film like a mainstream Hollywood film," he said.
The 42-year-old, who started his career as an assistant director in Sudhir Mishra's "Is Raat Ki Subah Nain", worked under the Dharma Productions and assisted Karan Johar in "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" and "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham".
In 2003, Nikhil made a successful directorial debut with the Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan starrer "Kal Ho Naa Ho". But his subsequent directorial ventures "Salaam-e-Ishq: A Tribute To Love", "Chandni Chowk To China" and "Patiala House" failed to click at the box office.
Success came to him when he wielded the megaphone for "Delhi Safari", an animated journey of animals and birds from Mumbai to Delhi. It is the country's first stereoscopic 3D animation film that came out last year.
Explaining the term "stereoscopic 3D animation", he said: "If you see 'Tom and Jerry' and if you see 'Chhota Bheem', these are 2D films. But thanks to technology we can make a 3D film, in which we can give roundness, so it looks like that the animated character has a body. So, a stereoscopic film takes you into the world instead of the world coming to you."
Advani says animation is a "very tough genre" and gives credit to the entire team for the success of "Delhi Safari".
"I can't take any credit for 'Delhi Safari'. I would love to say, I am proud of it. But honestly, I think everyone, including me, gave it their best. It was a tough genre for me to come to terms with how to approach it as a filmmaker, it was a tough genre for the producers as well."
It was such an uphill task that it took Advani six years to complete the project he started in 2006.
"It went on for six years because the money ran out, and also because that's the kind of time it takes to do quality animation. So, when the film came out, the first thing people could not believe is that it was made by an Indian animator, it has been done by an Indian company... because the quality of animation is equal to any Hollywood standard," said the director.
Comparing the Indian film industry with Hollywood, he said "their marketing budgets are very high, and we had no money to promote the film".
He thanks the National Awards for instilling filmmakers' confidence in the genre.
"Nobody promoted the film because there was no money to promote the film. Thanks to the National Awards, I think it is going to be easier for an animation company to make a film."
He said if "Delhi Safari" was his first real step as a filmmaker, with "D-Day" he is taking it one step ahead.
According to a report by FICCI-KPMG, the estimated size of the Indian animation industry is around $200 million (about Rs.1,100 crore) but there is little focus on the genre. Some recent hits include "Roadside Romeo", "Bal Ganesh", and "Return of Hanuman".