Thursday, June 15, 2023

The remarkable tale of The Legend of Prince Rama describes how the Japanese cartoon Ramayan, which was not well received in India, subsequently became popular


Even as we talk about the quality of Adipurush's CGI, the 1993 Ramayana: The Indian artists who worked on The Legend of Prince Rama sent hand-drawn sketches to the Japanese studio via courier.

The most recent Ramayana retelling starring Prabhas, Adipurush, opens this weekend and is getting good reviews at the box office. When Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan was shown on Doordarshan in the 1980s, it was clear to everyone that the epic Ramayana has a very strong connection with the Indian audience. While India witnessed the destruction of the Babri Masjid and demands for a Ram temple in Ayodhya, and while the epic of Lord Ram had reached every Indian household via television, a little-known Japanese film called Ramayana: It was attempting to establish itself in the country as the Legend of Prince Rama. This was mostly made in Japan and is probably the best animated film about the Ramayana ever made. It was directed by Koichi Sasaki and Ram Mohan and was made by Yugo Sako.

The majority of us are familiar with it as the "Japanese Ramayana" or "Cartoon Network Ramayana." In the early part of that decade, the film had a difficult time in India and was released in Japanese theaters in 1993. The film, which was produced in Japan by the Nippon Ramayana Film Company Ltd, had a massive budget of $6.7 million at the time. The Japanese animator Yugo Sako first visited India in the 1980s and had the idea to make the movie. During his subsequent visits, Sako learned about how the story affected the masses of India when Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana stopped the country from moving every Sunday. He collaborated with Ram Mohan, widely regarded as the founder of Indian animation, to create a feature-length film that would summarize the epic.

Sheila Rao, the late Ram Mohan's wife, told Scroll that Sako was "impressed with the fact that here was a huge epic that was also a great story with deities and people, birds and animals, magic potions, war, and motion." Sako was impressed with this, Sheila Rao said. Although the Indian side was less than enthusiastic, the two animators wanted this to be a joint venture between Japan and India. According to Rao, the Service of Data and Broadcasting pushed Smash towards making enlivened stories on Panchtantra. In India, the idea of animating God was not widely accepted, and the idea of letting foreigners interpret the epic sparked some concern. The film's assistant producer, Kenji Yoshii, told Kyodo News that Indians' reluctance was actually quite understandable. “It was only natural for the Indian government to feel shock and worry,” he stated. "It was as if Indians were making an animation on the Japanese imperial family."

According to Ram Mohan's son Kartik Mohan, the Vishva Hindu Parishad did not like the idea and prevented its implementation. Professor BB Lal introduced Sako San to the VHP in the early 1980s, and even before my father became involved, Sako San had secured their approval for the project. Even Sheila Rao recalled a similar incident during her conversation with the publication, stating that the VHP advised Sako to meet Rajshri's Tarachand Barjatya and that he contacted Ram Mohan through him.

It wasn't easy to make a film with artists from both countries in the 1980s because technology wasn't as advanced as it is now. However, Yugo Sako and Ram Mohan persevered, and the end result was nothing short of extraordinary. The Japanese studio received hand-drawn drawings from Indian artists, and the subsequent conversation was also brief. Yoshii disclosed this to Kyodo News. "We were discussing images that we received via courier. There were no mobile phones, faxes, or emails." The Indian team was in charge of the scenario, art settings, recording of dialogue, and music, according to the movie's official website. The Japanese team was in charge of the storyboards, background, original drawings, animation, coloring, photography, and editing. The film's music was composed by Vanraj Bhatia and dubbed into English, Hindi, and Japanese.

However, despite the film's exceptional quality, it did not receive the kind of reception they had anticipated in India. Ramayana: In 1997, The Legend of Prince Rama had a limited theatrical release in India but was poorly promoted to attract audiences. "For a number of reasons, Ramayana was never properly distributed, let alone marketed, on its Indian release," Kartik Mohan stated in the same interview. The movie was shown in a few metro theaters, but it was gone in a few weeks. However, the film found its audience after it was shown on satellite television. In actuality, the Indo-Japanese Ramayana became a popular holiday season television special and lasted longer than most live-action feature films, he stated. In contrast, the movie had a year-long run in Japan to commemorate its 25th anniversary.

Ramayana: The Indian animation industry could have learned a lot from The Legend of Prince Rama in the 1990s. Because the film was entirely made in Japan, the Indian animation industry never got the boost it would have gotten if the two countries had worked together on it. PM Narendra Modi visited Japan in 2022 and met with the executive producer, Atsushi Matsuo, and Yoshii. This gave the film a second chance. "People living thousands of kilometers away from us in Japan, who don't know our language, who don't know much about our traditions, their dedication to our culture, this reverence, this respect, is very commendable – which Indian would not be proud of that," Modi said upon his return during Mann Ki Baat.

Despite the fact that Cartoon Network no longer attracts the same number of viewers as it once did, Ramayana: You can watch The Legend of Prince Rama online. Although the film did not receive a traditional release in this country, anyone who grew up in the 1990s probably first encountered the mythological epic through this film. It continues to evoke fond memories at a time when a number of new retellings are being developed, one of which, Adipurush, will be released on Friday.

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