Film-makers get films done within three to six months. But you have been making Roadside Romeo for ages…
(Laughs) Yeah… Two-and-a half years actually. Yes, it took a lot of love and care to make Romeo. We have enjoyed making every minute of it and now hope that the audience enjoys every minute of it.
It was with Aaja Nachle that the first theatrical trailer of Roadside Romeo was out and we were all like how come Jugal Hansraj is directing an animation film?
We were working even before that (laughs). An animation film does take ages to make. We were quietly working away. There was no point talking about it till something was ready.
But how did it happen in the first place? We all knew you as an actor…
Aditya Chopra is a very old friend of mine... We have known each other since college days. He always had this dream of making an animation film, which is made in India, made specially for Indian audience and made of a quality that can compare with the world. Co-incidentally I love animation films. He knew that. In fact, all my friends knew that even if nobody would accompany me I would go and watch animation films on my own. I also used to buy books on animation. So he wanted me to come up with a couple of story ideas… He found a lot of potential in the Romeo story. He asked me to write the script. When it got complete, Adi said why dont you only direct it… because you have written it and your heart is in animation.
How different is it to write an animation movie script as opposed to a regular one?
At the end of the day its a story with characters. It has to be a story people will enjoy. So the basic principle remains the same in both. Your characters must be loveable. If they are happy, you should be happy… If they are sad, they should be sad.
Almost all animals have been used up in the west as central characters in animation films, from fish to rats. Why did you decide to make a film on dogs?
One day I was at a traffic signal… you know how the traffic is in Mumbai… and I was stuck for a long time, I saw this group of stray dogs playing. They were oblivious of the noise and the pollution and they were having a good time. They are just there and we dont give them any attention. So I thought what if we flip the coin… and make it their world where humans are not being paid attention to.
Will you quickly go through the storyline?
Well, Romeo is a rich pampered dog whos had everything in his life. He lives in this big mansion and they have a special car for the pet. Now due to some circumstances, he lands up on the road. How he comes to terms and adjusts to his new world, how he makes friends, how he falls in love… is what Roadside Romeo is about.
What is the backdrop?
It is Mumbai only. I have tried to use the older parts of the city. They are more charming. And I have kept the skyscrapers and all in the far background. The animators from Tata Elxsi-VCL actually went in their scooters to the old parts of the city to take photographs and do research. The textures were used as reference. It was different but fun.
Can you direct an animation film?
The process is exactly the same as a live action film. Only technically its a different ball game. You have to do your shot breakdown. You have to direct the actors. You have a cameraman who uses the virtual cameras in the 3D space. You have to shoot the songs with dancers and then give the storyboard to the animators. The big difference is that in a live set, when you ask for another take, you immediately get it. Here if I ask for a change of an expression, it will take two days. It requires a lot of patience.
What has Walt Disney brought on board?
Walt Disney is actually the co-producer. Its a 50-50 venture with Yash Raj Films. They have years of experience. They didnt interfere in the making of the film because it was always going to be an Indian film made by Indians. They gave us that free hand but they gave all the technical support. They would always suggest but never impose.
The Hollywood animation films are so much about the star voices. How much would Roadside Romeo be about Saif and Kareena?
In an animation film, we do the dubbing of the film first before the animation process begins. So the actors or stars first perform in front of the microphones rather than on a set. Now we use their performance as the basis for the animation. So a lot of the characteristics of the actors are used in the characters. Naturally, its important that the actors are good. Not just Saif and Kareena, everyone has added a lot of energy to Romeo.
Here in India, an animation film is still looked upon as a niche childrens film and not the big summer movie like in the West. Will Roadside Romeo change that?
We are trying to. In our minds, we have made a story which will appeal to the entire family. Everyone should come in together, have a good time and leave the theatres with a smile on their faces.
What next? A live action film?
I would love to act again. I havent had the time to take up a big role. I would also love to make another animation film. And, of course, would love to try a live action film.