INTERVIEW Director Nikhil Advani on the making of 3D animation film Delhi Safari

Delhi Safari, says director Nikhil Advani, is his gift to daughter Keya. The stereoscopic 3D animation film, which released last week, is about a leopard cub, his mother, a monkey, a bear and a talking parrot who head to Parliament to protest when builders encroach upon their forest.

“I have always wanted to make a film that my daughter could watch with her friends. An animation film with a message such as this was the ideal story to recreate on screen. Now, when she watches the film with her friends and I see the excitement when characters such as Bajrangi (the monkey, with a voiceover by Govinda) show up, I know I made the right decision,” says Nikhil, in an e-mail interview.

Speaking of his transition to animation, Nikhil, maker of films such as Kal Ho Naa Ho, Chandni Chowk To China and Patiala House, says: “Making a ‘Bollywood animation’ film and being able to communicate a message has been rewarding.” Delhi Safari was named Best Feature Film (theatrical) at FICCI FRAMES 2012.

As for the characters, Nikhil says during the process of scripting, “you visualise a face to the character, the expressions, the voice and the little extra edge he/she brings to the part. Govinda has added so much to Bajrangi. The fun, the antics all fell into place once he started dubbing. I always visualised Bagga the bear to be this loud, Punjabi character, but Boman Irani created a different character out of him,” says Nikhil.

Suresh Nair, who wrote the screenplay with Nikhil and Girish Dhamija, says that crafting the characters was exciting. Alex, the talking parrot (Akshaye Khanna), is based on a real life African Grey parrot called Alex who died in 2007. “The real Alex, whose name stood for Avian Learning EXperiment, had a vocabulary of 150 words, which he could use in the right context and in complete sentences!” Bajrangi, he says, was a “desi homage to Planet of the Apes. He is a monkey who thinks it’s time his lot took over the planet from the humans”. Some of the quirky details did not make it to the final script, though, he says. Such as the bat who would speak in reverse while he’s hanging upside down.

How was it directing five animals, especially after making films that were romances or had high-octane action? Says Nikhil: “Animation isn’t like live action where you have the luxury of another take, but the animators at Krayon Pictures, the co-producer, gave me that opportunity. Through the dubbing process, we captured the expressions of our actors. We reworked scenes and went through a vigorous editing routine. Exploring the genre of animation has been intriguing and challenging.”

Arpan Gaglani, creative director of the film, says the tone of each character was set up by the actors. “They enacted the entire movie, like a stage act, and that cemented the tone and personality of their characters. We also wanted the acting/gestures to be more Indian; we wanted our characters to strongly connect with our audience.”

Others in the cast are Urmila Matondkar as Begum, the queen leopardess, and Swini Khara as Yuvi, the leopard prince who is forced to grow up after his father is killed.