Friday, May 23, 2014

Babu Gosha and the adventure of pitching

So I've been working on this idea of creating a universe with food - a story for children - to make them understand conflict through food items.

Although I worried, and still worry that me being an ex writer for Savita Bhabhi will be something that might lead to me being totally lynched for writing something for children. But still I started developing my idea - even accepting the idea of using a pseudonym - and finally came up with a complete story.

The most interesting character in the story was Babu Gosha - who is not a nashpati, and he really doesn't like it much when people call him that.

Babu Gosha, is a silent meek wannabe in the world of gastronomy. he wants to make it and is ready to go to any lengths to do that...

To develop the character the Babu Gosha further, I started making these one page strips - which I shared on Facebook -

So, after writing a final plot, and making these strips, I decided to tell the story from the perspective of Babu Gosha, but still keep the theme of conflict at the backdrop. 

To make children understand the value of grey in a world where everything is presented to them as black and white.

So I wrote to Turner - Cartoon Network to pitch them the idea as an animated show. Now, there are some nuances to pitching an animated show - the biggest of them is cost - everyone who has pitched an animated show knows that. 
My plus was that the whole show was set against a white backdrop and, only line art - color was to be used as a special effect.

 They were kind enough to reply but they sent in this pitching document - which is the most absurd document I've read so far. It has some terms like - 

Translation: Whatever  you send, if we make similar later, you can't do anything. This clause gives us the right to COPY - legally.

Translation: If you have a problem, sue us in Hong Kong. Bloody Hong Kong. Ha hahaha we know you don't have money to buy a ticket to Bhutan, Hong Kong to rehne hi do! (Also the company has substantial presence in India, I mean they have offices in multiple cities for god sake? do their employees sign similar contracts?)

So I refused, but then I felt like, chalo risk le lete hain, and I went ahead and sent them one of the nicest looking pitches I've made - a nice picture book.

I waited for a few weeks, and then I got this reply :-

Besides bad contracts, another fetish of corporates is to reply (when they choose to) -  in lingo and one lines. No engaging anyone. That is the duty of the PR firms they hire.

Now, refusal is part of the game and I understand that well enough, but some of the people I know, people who are pitching cartoon shows - and have had some success in that regard - have come to accept whatever comes on Cartoon Network India as something that needs to be pitched - basically the same thing I heard long back from some TV executives - they used to call it idiot proofing - to basically make everything clear cut simple - because the  audience is stupid.

The Indian audience, or children for that matter are not stupid. People who make three story houses, marry off their children and take care of extended family on laughable salaries are not stupid. They're just tired.

Anyways, the status quo is set.

I'm still working on the concept, adding details to it, and obviously pitching it again, with really no hope of anyone ever picking it up.

Update: Meanwhile, it seems Turner is developing another religion based show.



(haan yaar, sada hua hoon.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ending the Newslaundry Historical Comics

Note: This is an unsolicited goodbye. I am no big shot, I have won no award but I worked for sometime on something special and its closing up now. So I feel something is due.

THE RED CORRIDOR part 2 - last of the three part saga on Naxal history has been uploaded on the Newslaundry website. 

This is the last of my historical comics in collaboration with Newslaundry. 

In 2011 I quit my last job at Comic Con India after my boss told me that "He'd destroy me" after I had come in 15 minutes late.

Although  I had put in lot of work for the 2nd year of the con, I still left because slowly the vision for Comic Con India had changed and I did not feel strongly for how it was taking shape.

Another major reason was that I was not allowed to write for external organisations (The Itch You Can't Scratch is published by the same company that organises Comic Con India - in a way they were like my rich husband - publisher/employer)

The first month after I left was very relaxing - like it is after leaving any job that you've done for a long period of time - but the I knew that I did not have a sturdy ground in place (Papa ka petrol pump nahi hai). So I woke up early, kept my 9-5 routine going, and kept looking for work while I started detailing this comic book I was writing for some time.

Slowly I created a portfolio, updated my blog, and found work. 

But I had to find regular work, which came in form of Newslaundry.

In these three years - I read for the first time - complete Indian political history since 1947 - obviously in the form of INDIA AFTER GANDHI - but some parts in more detail than others - specially the parts on which I had to make comics - or I had planned comics - Kashmir, Naxals, North East, Mayawati's rise.

Anandji - a wonderful person who was working with me guided me to more interesting books - I studied the foreign policy of India, some hindi classics and Orwell - I had heard about George Orwell, but Anandji pushed me to read him - and I've not found an author I love more (Maybe Khushwant Singh.) By now I have read almost everything Orwell has written, and finishing the remaining bits at a quick pace.

Swarnabha - an animator and artist at Newslaundry was another guide - and helped me understand some minor details of art - which only a bengali could know.

Another big enjoyment was being called by so many people to meet them, after they liked the comics. These were writers, journalists and business owners.

I have been asked by many people to take these historical comics to another platform - another company - but the only reason I couldn't do it is that I am not the only reason for these comics - I only create a basic 70% of the comic - the 30% of the comic - its final polished form is the result of Abhinandan Sekhri's (editor - newslaundry) inputs and editing. He is not really the most jolly person you would meet - but he knows writing - and working with him has improved my writing so much. He did put in extra effort  - which at time would show - I believe I by far have the record of irritating him the quickest.

All the people at the office were no less. Although I went there two times in a week, and later once a month - everyone was kind to me. Except that one time Ramakantji locked me up in the office for 5 hours.

Other than knowledge these comics have changed something completely inside me - as a middle class family boy, I had a pre conceived notion of where we are at - and how we suffer - and how politicians suck out blood - the usual 90's gangster films.  But working on comics on conflict - made me understand the equation India is. And placing yourself in this equation makes you understand how small you are - it actually takes the whole debate of what's famous and throws it out of the window.

Although new angles to this equation will open soon, but now I understand.

At the age of 25, summing up the Kashmir conflict - will be an achievement I will be the most proud of - mostly because I thought I was incapable of doing so. Also, the fact that I went beyond the written word and got more details out of the verbal history was another exciting fact. Vinayak Razdan has helped in this more than I could thank him for. In the process I explored Kashmir - and after spending some weeks there after my comic - I feel as comfortable in Kashmir as I do in Delhi (Homebase), Calcutta (birthplace) and Amritsar (College).

Working on Naxal conflict was a different ballgame. It is an ongoing conflict so know what's happening, and the fact that I can't do much about it will always pain. Reading the ground realities has taken away the taste of food, or spending a lot on something luxurious, or in simple words IGNORANCE away. I still remember the first few weeks of research on the subject - and how it destroyed my mind - It still is shattered - in a way that nothing really that happens in my life seems that worry some. My trip to Bastar is pending.
Good new is that this of all the comics is the first one to be published.

Among other comics TV ki Kahani is the funniest comic I have written till date.

Why I'm ending this now?

The traffic on all the comics I did - except Kashmir Ki Kahani is around 100,000. For this long a comic this is huge - but the traffic is slowly decreasing. I take that as a sign.

Also, the fact that I am now repeating myself - if you've read the comics you can tell where the reference is going to come. And that's bad for any writer.

Another reason is that design wise I try and make every comic distinct - which I won't be able to beyond this last comic. Because this last comic was done on a shoestring budget - so the design policy was minimal - in colors, in style - to do something interesting but with less money.
And the less money policy was about to continue - and the next comic, and the next after that would look the same, which is unacceptable.

With this work, I did lot of other commercial assignments - which bought in lot of money and personal work - ideas for books, animated shows and comics that never happened.

Ending these historical comics shakes up my whole business - because this was my one regular source of income, so everything is going to change now.

Okay, now I'm not going to die today. (Well if I do, there'd be no regrets) but now a new page is going to turn. Which I have no clue about. It might be really sad and I might just silently vanish from the comics scene, or I might do some new - more interesting work.

I might want to come back to historical comics. There's still a story on North East that's been waiting.

- Sumit