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Anime in a desi reel

With luminous frames dipped in soft pastels, mature cinematography and characters sporting large, emotive eyes and pointed features, Karmachakra: Episode Zero looks every bit Japanese. Except, it’s entirely made in India by the Delhi-based Studio Durga. While watching a 20-minute pilot episode that the makers released earlier this year, it might take a few minutes to adjust to the fact that the characteristically Japanese cast converses in flawless Bengali (with English subtitles). But once you’re past that, it’s a delight to note how the backdrops, characterisation, dialogues and music — all familiarly Indian — blend with the traditional hand-drawn animation artform from Japan.

Director, producer and founder of the studio, Rajorshi Basu, tells us they’re ready to wrap up production work by the month-end, and are aiming for a release by the end of 2020.

Basu shares that his tryst with the culture goes back a long way. “Up till my early teens, I used to illustrate my own comics. Then, I discovered manga and anime. From Dragon Ball Z on Cartoon Network, and shows on Animax to discovering anime on the Internet, I’ve had a lot of influences since then. Some of the biggest ones include Shinichirō Watanabe, who directed Cowboy Bebop, Satoshi Kon of Perfect Blue and Masaaki Yuasa of Mind Games, other than thousands of manga,” the director tells us. Apart from the pretty art and evolved storytelling, it is the music that has drawn him to anime, says the Berklee College of Music pass-out, who always wanted to make his own film.


“The story of Karmachakra has been in my head for half my life now. In 2016, I decided to bring my love for anime, music and film together,” he says. Set in contemporary India, the plot, written by 29-year-old Basu, follows an orphan girl trying to find her roots, and draws inspiration from psychology, Hindu mythology and cybertechnology. These influences can be seen in the gripping 20-minute pilot segment in which we get a fleeting glance into the protagonist Ganga’s past in an orphanage with her childhood friend, and her present life as a university student. “This is the first of a three-part series. It is a mystery drama with certain supernatural, cybertechnological and pop-psychology elements. Although the story of the first film is self-contained, to understand the world of Karmachakra, you have to see the whole series,” he reveals.

Since every frame is hand-drawn, it took Basu years to find the right animators. “The core animation is done by Samadrita Ghosh and Monideep Chakraborty. The final look is done by me,” he adds. After his core team of six was in place, he was able to rope in stalwarts from the Bengali film industry, including Swastika Mukherjee, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Mir Afsar Ali, Tanusree Shankar and Barun Chanda to lend their voices.

Rajorshi Basu
Rajorshi Basu

Basu, who has funded the whole project, claims that they are in talks with a few platforms to release the film. There will be a Hindi dubbed version, too, we are told. The timing couldn’t be better as the past few years have seen Indians go beyond kids’ shows to warm up to anime. Fans across the country have united to ensure big ticket reels such as Weathering with You and Dragon Ball Super: Broly get an Indian release. “Right now the manga and anime community in India is very tight-knit. Two to three years ago, we had brought out a trailer to test the waters but there wasn’t much buzz. When we launched the official trailer and then the pilot episode, it generated great response. So we’re lucky that this worked out,” he signs off. We’ll
be waiting.

Log on to Studio Durga on YouTube to check out the pilot episode and updates

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