Mumbai Local

‘Dharavi was a reality check; we are just so far removed from them’

Torill Kove says short animation is a perfect mix of storytelling and drawing.— Photo: Rajneesh Londhe

Torill Kove says short animation is a perfect mix of storytelling and drawing.— Photo: Rajneesh Londhe

Torill Kove is not your average tourist who visits the hotspots of Mumbai. One of the first things the Norwegian-born Canadian animator, who won an Academy Award for her animated short film, The Danish Poet in 2007, did was to visit Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia.

“It was primarily to put a human face to a way of life I know nothing about,” said Ms Kove, 57, who was in the city for the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival and to conduct a workshop for design students at Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay.

A person of few words who lets her work speak, she gets animated when talking about the ride from the airport or Dharavi. Landing in Mumbai close to midnight, she was yanked headlong into the chaos that defines Mumbai. “We were in a car that just crawled and crawled; there were notorious bikers with two children in front and women behind them; it was possible to have a dialogue with them while travelling separately,” she says, her reticent eyes conveying her horror at her introductory ride, her first in the city since 1980. In a rare interview, she says Oscars do not automatically lead to million-dollar deals.

Why did you want to visit Dharavi?

A friend of ours had been here recently, and she had told us about this tour that had been recommended by the Canadian consulate. So we also did it. There was a kind of curiosity. I walked around feeling really nervous; I felt self-conscious about being a tourist in such a cloistered space. I was worried about being threatened; I was also very worried about seeing things that would disturb us, especially as we had our 13-year-old daughter with us. And yeah, we got mobbed. I am glad I did it because it’s part of the reality of the world. Millions live like this, but we never get to see it. It’s surreal. A reality check. We are just so far removed from them. It’s healthy to be reminded that these people are many more in number. I know I am never going to complain about my apartment being too small. We found some incredibly nice people there, some playing cricket, some joyfully smiling.

A lot of your work is drawn from your experiences. Will Dharavi reflect in your work?

Yes, it will somehow creep into my work, for sure.

How did you get into animation?

I had an early mid-life crisis at 30. Somewhere deep inside me, I wanted to draw. For me, short animation is a perfect combination of two things: storytelling and drawing. At that point, I was ready for anything. I simply loved the magic of doing animation and still do.

Your work is defined by engaging storytelling. You lean more towards creative than technological influences. How do you decide the balance?

I’d always give more importance to storytelling as against technology. Animation is a very forgiving art form. It can tolerate many imperfections. Now we have technologies that can smoothen out the imperfections. We also have more variety. But none of this has improved the story telling. In all visual art forms, you see a lot of fascination with making new visuals but they go short on the content. At a seminar recently, I was told there were so many animators and all kinds of people to do special effects but they did not have people who could tell their story well.

Typically, animated films have a huge fan following among children. So children’s stories are a favourite with animators. But your stories revolve around the family. You have never aimed at children in particular. Is that a conscious decision?

I don’t work with any target group in mind. I just say what I want to say.

You have been nominated for Oscar twice, for My Grandmother ironed the King’s Shirts in 2000 and Me and My Moulton in 2015. In 2007, you were pitted against favourites like Walt Disney. But you won. How did that feel?

I was surprised. Those were big names, and there were so many members from the Walt Disney Pictures on the Academy Award board. I’d thought it would be difficult to beat them.

How did the Oscar help?

It would be arrogant of me to say it didn’t open doors for me; it gave people confidence in me though the Oscar does not get you million dollar offers like Hollywood but I get to keep doing what I like to do.

You are an independent animator, working with the National Film Board of Canada and a Norwegian studio, Mikrofilm. Not being attached to a studio means not being covered. How does that work for you?

It’s a challenge to work by yourself. Films are expensive to make. NFBC likes to spread it out. There are many dogs fighting for the same pie. So it’s tough. I am just extremely fortunate to be able to ask for funding from two countries.

The writer is a freelance journalist

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Printable version | Jul 2, 2022 7:30:12 pm |