In Conversation with Kireet Khurana, Leading Animator & Filmmaker

Kireet Khurana has impeccable credentials as a leading animator and filmmaker. His current feature film T for Taj Mahal is creating waves at various international and Indian film festivals. He directed India’s first live-action and 3D animation combination feature film ‘Toonpur Ka Superrhero’ starring Ajay Devgn and Kajol. Kireet Khurana is a High-Honours graduate from Sheridan College, Canada. Thereafter, he directed 2 films for the prestigious National Film Board of Canada and UNICEF.Kireet has won more than 30 awards, including 6 President’s National awards. He has made over 20 short films on various social causes and 450+ ad films for leading brands and agencies. Kireet revealed his journey in an interview with Broadcast & Film.

Q1. An animator, filmmaker and ad-film director. You don so many hats, Kireet!! What role gives you the maximum happiness and satisfaction?
I see myself essentially as a storyteller. I am drawn towards stories with emotions and that can make a change. And that’s my first port of call. Subsequently, whether they are documentary, animation or regular live-action feature film is inconsequential. All this creative ideation, preparing of pitches (most of them fail to find backers) and then putting it out there requires a lot of time and money. And that’s where advertising comes in. I am grateful to advertising as it’s not just been a means for a living, it has also chiselled my skills and made me acutely aware of details in a frame. So, I enjoy the creative process in all its forms.

Q2. Tell us about your illustrious journey into the field of animation and what attracted you to the field of animation
I was barely six, when I was introduced to the art of animation. The early 70s was the time that nobody in India was aware what animation is, let alone how it is done. The process of animation was a mystery to all. I was particularly lucky as my father was the Indian Animation Pioneer – Bhimsain and therefore the perfect mentor was available to me at my home. 2D animation is a very tedious process, where every single frame needs to be drawn. I had the right temperament and tenacity to create animation through this painstaking process. I was fascinated with the moving images and thought it was a natural extension of me. Subsequently, I took it on as a career, because that was the only thing I was good at (I was failing badly in academics). It was almost like I was made to do animation and tell stories through this medium.

Q3.Tell us about the major turning points in your career as an animator, filmmaker and highlight some of your major works.
There are several turning points in my life that I can recall. Apart from being blessed to having been born in the family of an Indian Animation pioneer, when I was 23, I got admission into Sheridan College, where I did a 3-year program in Animation Filmmaking. This experience was transformative for me and I was the first Indian to have studied animation filmmaking abroad, that too from the finest in the world.

Subsequently, as soon as I graduated in 1995, I had the opportunity to work as a director with the National Film Board of Canada on a very prestigious human rights project “Rights from the Heart” series in which 21 nations from across the world participated and was India’s first animation co-production. I was honoured to be chosen for the project to represent India.

Setting up my own company in 1996 2nz Animation (which went on to make more than 400 successful ad films and became one of the biggest names in the animation Industry), incubating and starting TASI (The Animation Society of India, ) in 2001 along with other like-minded individualswere key milestones. Creating and Directing ‘Adventures of Chhota Birbal’ (India’s first animation character to be licenced way back in 2002) was a huge milestone and way ahead of its time. The series premiered on Cartoon Network.

Subsequently of course came TOONPUR KA SUPERRHERO (2011), India’s first live-action and 3D animation combination feature film starring Ajay Devgn and Kajol, which became iconic in its own right.

When we were running our own animation studio – 2nz Animation, we were supporting a lot of talent with meaningful internship and resources to support the short film movement.

In 2014, my animation short film KOMAL on Child sexual Abuse made waves internationally, dubbed in 30 languages, shown in 120 countries, won me my 6th President’s National award and was made compulsory viewing in schools. This film is still seen today by almost all children in schools today

Q4. How do you think the animation has panned out in India when you compare it with the West? Where do you think Indian animation is lagging behind in comparison?
Consider this. When I came back from Sheridan College in 1995, there were barely 8-10 animators in the country and only one studio – Ram Mohan Biographics run by the father of Indian animation. Today there are more than 100,000 technicians and artists working in various fields with an estimated $1.5 billion revenue. We are also a major outsourcing hub.

In terms of indigenous animation movement too, we’re doing reasonably well as most kids’ animation channels have a lot of Indian original content. So, although our market share in the entire international pie is about 1% and we have a long way to go, we are in a place where there is enough momentum to build a robust industry and start playing the IP game in a few years from now.

Q5. What are your future goals as an animator and a filmmaker?
As I said, I am attracted to stories. When we were running our own animation studio – 2nz Animation, we were supporting a lot of talent with meaningful internship and resources where we supported the short film movement. A lot of NIDians did their internship with us and made a few short films. In 2011, we made a conscious decision to shut down the animation studio and focus on storytelling irrespective of format. I see myself increasingly as a person who likes to make engaging films on empowering stories. We also support animation filmmakers with scholarships in my father’s name – BHIMSAIN EMERGING TALENT Award and our tie up with WHISTLING WOODS are primary examples of that.

I am also pitching a couple of animation features, but funding is tough so we keep trying.

Q6. What genre of filmmaking inspires you?
The one that is inspiring and empowering. I like impact films which can change society in a small, meaningful way.