‘Understanding the audience holds the key’

Anu Sikka

Anu Sikka   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Creating content for children is no child’s play, says Anu Sikka, a pioneering presence in Indian animation industry

Anu Sikka’s career has revolved around children because she has been engaged with what kids enjoy the most — animation. Currently executive vice-president — programming, content and research, Kids Cluster, Viacom 18, which owns Nickelodeon India, Sonic and Nick Junior India, Anu was in Thiruvananthapuram to attend Toonz Media Group’s Animation Masters Summit where she was honoured for outstanding contribution to Indian animation. “It feels surreal. We were just doing our jobs and if that culminated in contributing to the industry, that gives me a huge high,” says Anu, who has worked with Hungama TV and SAB TV. With runaway hits such as Motu Patlu, Pakdam Pakdai, Shiva, Gattu Battu and Rudra under its belt, Nick has been on a roll and Anu has seen the growth of the channel and the industry from close quarters. Excerpts from an interview where she talks about creating Indian content and the challenges en route:

Local vs foreign

There was a time when most kids’ channels were totally dependent on foreign acquisition. When I joined Nick in 2006, we had original content from our parent network in the US, besides those from Japan, Korea, UK and France. Children were also happy and it didn’t matter whether the characters looked Indian or not. Although there were animation films on television, the genre was primarily mythology.

Our first step in making non-mythological, local content was the animated-cum-live action television series J Bole To Jadoo (2005) based on the movie Koi...Mil Gaya. There was a lull after that. That’s when Green Gold Animation set an example with Chhota Bheem [on Pogo]. It had an interesting combination — while the characters were not contemporary, the stories were. That was a learning experience and we felt that if stories can be contemporary, characters too could be modern. Thus we launched Keymon Ache [about a boy who has a magical school bag named Keymon], which was a decent success.

Then you had a string of successful shows...

Motu Patlu was the game changer for us. In fact, we took a big risk with the show. One, the characters were adults and there was no precedence of any animation show with adult characters. Secondly, these two characters from the comic strip in Lot Pot magazine were known to people of my generation but not to the present crop of viewers. Yet, we decided to go ahead with the adult characters but gave them attributes of children, such as innocence and warmth. The third risk was that we decided to make 78 episodes straight away, instead of the usual trend of producing 13 to 26 episodes and then repeating those episodes. We felt that children would like to see new stories. The show became so popular that we had spin-offs, television movies, 19 of them till now, and a theatrical version as well.

We experimented with slapstick chase comedy in Pakdam Pakdai, a project with Toonz Animation. The series was tough because it was a silent show and we added dialogues later. That was followed by Shiva for our superhero-loving audience. We pushed the envelope with a 22-minute episode, which was not a popular format then. We could take the risks because we had success behind us.

Other genres we took up was adventure-comedy-action in Gattu Battu, again with Toonz, and magic in Rudra. Now Nick has only Indian content and Sonic has 95% of it. Nick Junior has only English content.

Your take on how the channels influence children’s language skills?

My nieces who grew up in the US could not speak a word of Hindi and so my brother bought the whole package of Hindi animation shows for them. Another side to the trend is that parents of pre-school kids insist that children watch the content only in English and not Hindi because they believe a child will easily pick up communication skills from those shows.

How competitive has the industry become?

There is immense competition. There might be over a dozen national channels that cater to the kids’ category and most have Indian content and regional language feeds.

Yet our shows are not on a par with international content?

That is because of the quality of animation, which has a direct relation to the kind of investment we can afford to make. We can’t compare the two. At the same time, there is no generic taste as such in the Indian context. Children living in metros won’t be watching the same content as those who stay in small towns.

What is the key to creating content for kids?

You need to have a good story. The first step in creating such content is to understand the audience. There is a risk involved in animation, but it should always be a calculated risk. We should know what is going in their lives. You have to think like them. It is not child’s play because it is difficult to keep pace with their changing behaviour, attitude, likes and dislikes and lifestyle.

Your favourites

I enjoy watching kids’ content more than those for adults, be it our shows or those on other broadcasters. I like Shaun The Sheep, which we acquired from the UK eight years ago.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 6:16:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/anu-sikka-on-her-tryst-with-indian-animation/article27145287.ece

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