For a country like Pakistan where film industry has been on the decline for the past few decades, taking a step away from the norm usually doesn’t happen. And when it does, it is met with opposition. After 13 years, Pakistan is once again bracing for a change and this time, the change is animated — in the form of 3 Bahadur — the first feature length animated film produced in Pakistan.
Not many know but it was veteran ad maker Saeed Rizvi who ventured into animations in the 1990s, making Pink Panther and Ninja Turtles dance with Babra Sharif in one of the songs of Sar Kata Insaaan (1994). The technique of mixing live action with animation was earlier perfected by Robert Zemeckis in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1986) and although there was a huge gap between the quality of the two products, it was the idea that made the Pakistani filmmaker stand out.
“These days, filmmakers have access to internet and programmes but in the 70s, we didn’t have that luxury. During my internship as a Camera Assistant, I became infatuated with Cartoon animation through a book I purchased and was fascinated to read about the techniques that the animators at Walt Disney Studio used to combine life with animation in Mary Poppins in 1964!” Saeed Rizvi, a veteran of over 2500 TV commercial remembers.
“In the 1980s, I went to London and took training on Aerial Image Optical Printer and used that technique in a commercial on TV which was incidentally the first time anyone had done that in the subcontinent. The success of two commercials – Pak Land Cement and Saadi Gardens – that had superior special effects encouraged me to venture into films and that’s how Sci Fi Adventure Shaani (1989) was conceived. I decided to go for live action combined with animation. The song in Sar Kata… might look outdated now but that was 20 years back.”
Things changed drastically for animations and animators in Pakistan after the success of Commander Safeguard. Rehan Alavi, a member of the original Commander Safeguard team explains how the superhero became a super phenomenon. “We started Commander Safeguard as a Health and Hygiene program for School Kids and at first it was mostly explained through presentation by charts. In 2004, Imtisaal Abbasi (now Creative and Business Head at IAL Saatchi & Saatchi) gave ideas regarding an Animated Series featuring Commander Safeguard and the superhero was born. In a short span of time, Commander Safeguard became the talk of the town.”
Saeed Rizvi recalls an interesting quote by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg where the man behind Jaws, E.T. and Jurassic Park terms making films for children better for business, since a child brings a set of parents to the cinema as well.
Indirectly, 3 Bahadur will do exactly that for Pakistani cinema if all goes well because parents will accompany children to the theatre to view history in the making; the first-ever animated film produced in Pakistan and the business might double. But why would kids, who have been hooked to English cartoons and Japanese animated series, switch to something local? Because everybody loves a good Super Hero, and Burka Avenger proved that correct!
Pakistan’s first animated series too be aired regularly on local television, Burka Avenger was the brain child of pop singer Haroon Rashid of Awaaz fame and became an instant success due to its message (education for all, especially girls) and interesting characters (everybody hates Baba Bandook). Featuring the voiceovers of Ainy Jaffri and Hamza Ali Abbasi, BA is in its second season and has won many awards internationally, becoming a proud product from this country.
Music composer and animator Abbas Ali Khan, who was behind the animations of Jalaibee, feels that with the success of Burka Avenger, Jalaibee and the release of 3 Bahadur, the future of animation in Pakistan is safe. “Animation is considered expensive in Pakistan but that’s because we don’t have many avenues at the moment; the price depends on the content. If we are talking about characters like the ones in Avatar or robots like Transformers, then obviously a relatively higher budget will be required. But if the content demands something within the budget, then it can be managed. I had a great time working on the Jalaibee animation which was both challenging and exciting.”
Animation and Pakistan have had a win-win relationship as well. Pakistan’s import to Hollywood, Mir Zafar Ali was the Technical Director of the team that won the Oscars for Best Visual Effects for The Golden Compass in 2008 and followed it with Disney’s Frozen last year. His success story along with that of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s is likely to give Pakistani filmmakers something to dream about.
Abbas Ali Khan agrees. “I think the future of animation in Pakistan is bright; animation is already being used in commercials but with the rise of Pakistani cinema, we will get to see more of it on Silver Screen. Let me tell you, making a full length animated feature film like 3 Bahadur is not a joke; it is an amazing effort and we must all look forward to it.”
3 Bahadur will be released on May 22 all over the country and will feature the voice talents of international star Alyy Khan and local artistes Behroze Sabzwari, Zuhab Khan, Khalid Ahmed, Mustafa Changazi and Kulsoom Aftaab. Directed by Academy Award winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the film is fully animated and is likely to break new grounds for Pakistan, where animators are either working in commercial offices or are out of work.
Saeed Rizvi feels there is a long journey ahead for Pakistani filmmakers before they can move on the road towards animation. “The world of animation in Pakistan has not yet been explored. We need filmmakers who can conceive subjects on animation which is not possible because we are still working in 2D animation. Going abroad for studying techniques is one option serious filmmakers must undertake because filmmakers from India and Iran continuously upgrade themselves whereas we don’t. I recently returned from a tour of United States myself and plan to to combine liveaction with Animatronics, something that hasn’t been tried yet in Pakistan.”