Soundarya R. Ashwin, daughter of Indian cinestar Rajinikanth, has pulled off many firsts with her directorial debut "Kochadaiyaan", touted as the country's first 'photo-realistic performance capture' entertainer. But pulling it off wasn't a bed of roses for the young woman, who dealt with the lack of technical expertise and worked around a "miniscule" budget to create it.
With a passion for animation, the well-informed 29-year-old is hopeful that her movie will break myths about the genre, and that it will set the stage for the "abundant talent" in the country to learn the technical innovations which are globally taking filmmaking to another level.
In an exclusive tete-a-tete with IANS in the capital, where she was present to receive the Technical Innovation In Film honour at the NDTV Indian Of The Year awards, Soundarya spoke of "Kochadaiyaan", the challenges faced by her and the prospects of animation films in the country.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. How should the layman understand 'photo-realistic performance capture' ?
A. Performance capture is a technology where we capture the performance of the actors and we attach it to a virtual image of the characters we create. It's a very technical word, but it is to highlight the fact that it is a realistic film on the lines of 'Werewolf' and 'Avatar', and not on the lines of 'The Polar Express' or 'Tintin', which are on the cartoon side.
Q. How did you come across this technology?
A. This technology came into use only after 'Avatar' (2009), where facial actions were captured in a particular technology and then used. I kept myself constantly updated on how the technology evolved, and that's how everything came together and 'Kochadaiiyaan' happened.
Q. Did the post-production work happen in India or abroad?
A. We worked all around the world. I had a 100-member team in India, and a 100-member team in China. Also, a number of people in Britain and the US worked with us. We shot in London, so a lot of people from across the world worked on the movie.
Q. In India, animation is still stereotyped as a 'for kids' genre of films. Does that disturb you?
A. Unfortunately, a majority of people in our country feel an animation film is a cartoon, which it is not. Animation is a process. I hope 'Kochadaiiyaan' breaks that myth and that it is accepted as an alternate fillmmaking medium.
I believe animation is required for films as nine out of 10 films go through immense VFX work and animation is a higher category of visual effects. I think once people accept that animation does not mean cartoons, it's going to be a very big industry.
Q. Is India well-equipped to handle a film of this scale?
A. Yes and no. From my experience of doing 'Kochadaiiyaan', I feel we lack trained technicians. It's not just having the software, it's about knowing how to use it and how to operate it. The talent is abundant. We just need to tap it right and give them the platform. I hope more films like 'Kochadaiiyaan' are made so that people have the opportunity to learn the new technology.
Q. What were the obstacles you faced due to this lack of technicians?
A. Lots, I would say. But my core team was good, and we managed to create our own pipeline...It wasn't success at every step... I think every first attempt is like that. My core team was really my saving grace.
Q. Do you believe our theatres and screens are technologically advanced to screen a movie like "Kochadaiiyaan'?
A. In India, 3D screens are not very many as we would have liked. Also, some screens in rural areas are not as well-equipped as multiplexes and that denies people the actual experience.
I don't think our theatres are as good as they can be. Even the projector quality and glass quality can improve because that's what enhances the experience. Here, 3D glasses give you a headache, and 3D films are not meant to give a headache. I feel screens can be better, and more 3D screens should come in because it is a visual experience and it is unfair to deny it to people in cities with no multiplexes.
Q. The film's budget is much lesser than a film of this scale would require. How did you work around the logistics to ensure best production quality?
A. The budget was miniscule! The time and budget that we have put into 'Kochadaiiyaan' is nothing compared to what is actually required for a film like this. A pressure that I faced while making the movie was 'Why the delay?' But it wasn't the delay...it is the process that takes such a long time to make a film like this.
But I think there needs to be a first, and then the rest of the films can follow and be better. We are happy with the way 'Kochadaiiyaan' has shaped up. I don't think we have compromised on anything. But, yes, with more budget and time, can the film look better? Of course, I am not going to deny that.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at [email protected])