Why are animation studios rushing to Bollywood films for characters?

Topics animation | Bollywood | Films

Salman Khan’s Dabangg, a successful three-film franchise, is set to morph into an animation series running into two seasons of 52 episodes each.
Chulbul Pandey will be cracking his witticisms on the small screen by April next year.

Salman Khan’s Dabangg from Arbaaz Khan Productions. “Chulbul Pandey is the perfect character for kids and family. It has a major pull in tier-two and tier-three cities,” says Anish JS Mehta, CEO, Cosmos-Maya.“It’s a great deal,” says Rajiv Chilaka, founder and managing director, Green Gold Animation. “Everybody is doing more Indian shows. Therefore, Bollywood has become a safe hunting ground (for characters),” says Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media.


Why are Indian animation studios rushing to live action films for characters? Especially because globally, “There aren’t many live-action series or movies that make it to animation, but there are many examples of animation series (Mr Bean.  

“It is difficult for a live-action film to be converted (to animation),” agrees Mehta. The Indian market, however, has turned out to be different. 

Looking for a laugh and some thrills 

Till Green Gold’s Roll No. 21 among many other shows.

Now, of the top 10 kids’ shows on TV, six have homegrown characters such as Mighty Little Bheem on Netflix is getting audience attention from across the world. “Kids’ content brings stickiness. That is why subscription services are seeing an increase,” points out Mehta.

Cosmos-Maya CEO JS Mehta signed a deal, licensing the lead character in Dabangg
Put TV and OTT together and you have a Rs 1,000-1,500 crore market. But the big money, “is in monetising through merchandise and location-based entertainment,” says Suharjono. The Chhota Bheem store at Mumbai airport is one of the busiest shops, with sales running into hundreds of crores. The Licensing Industry Merchandiser’s Association estimates that  entertainment licensing in India is just over Rs 3,000 crore. Getting a hit character then is not just about making it to the top of the entertainment heap on small screen, it also means big bucks in royalty from licensing the character for anything from water bottles and bed sheets, to watches and mugs.

The demand for more relatable local characters that can get into the top shows is immense, and Indian animation studios are happily fulfilling it. In 2012, Cosmos-Maya did 26 half hours, that is two stories of 11 minutes each, for one broadcaster. In 2019, this had gone to a gargantuan 660 half hours for a range of broadcasters and OTT platforms. The industry is always on the lookout for a character that can be spun into a large property across media. There are only so many comic book and mythological characters that can be used.

That is where films come in. If a film is successful, it is bound have an advantage — albeit under two conditions — it should be a comedy or action film, and it should be a franchise. “You can’t do this (turn a live-action character into animation) unless a film is a franchise. Dabangg three. Therefore, the characters are from franchises rather than ‘a’ film. At least two generations of kids are familiar with it. Also, since awareness is built in, using an existing character is safer from a marketing point of view,” says Kapoor.

There is a second reason why animation studios turn to films. “Animation hasn’t had success with older audiences,”says Chilaka. The market is limited to kids. Strictly speaking, Dabangg was never meant for kids. We are widening it now. We know the storytelling. If a structure is popular, we can create something wider,” says Mehta. The idea is to create something that appeals to the whole family and broaden the market.

“It is tricky when a story is moved from a comic book to series, and movies to animation or vice versa,” says Chilaka. In a market bursting with opportunities for the right characters, that is a risk studios are willing to take.

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