Please tell us about yourself

Today Ishan Shukla stands proud, basking in the afterglow of having made Schirkoa, one of the most critically acclaimed animated shorts to come out of India. The film is the first of its kind to have qualified for the Oscars in its category (Best Animated Short Film) from the country and has won laurels and awards across the world. But the journey to making history was not an easy one for Ishan.

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The writer, director of the film, Ishan, born and brought up in Pilani, dropped out of the enviable engineering degree course at BITS, Pilani, in favour of his creative, imaginative self. He tried to get admission into one of the fine arts colleges, but failed and landed in Singapore to pursue a course in animation, his passion. After a seven year stint in the highly developed animation industry of Singapore, he returned home to support family.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

When I was in school, I used to make my own comic-strips and hence this craze in me was from starting. At the end I ended up in engineering college; I became a part of my college’s drama club, and started to write my own plays therein while I was the head there, this actually opened a new perspective for me to create my own journey.

It was in Ishan’s second year of college that he realised he simply was not cut out to be an engineer. “When I joined BITS, I was immediately attracted to the creative arts and signed up for drama club,” he says in an interview to The Better India. It was also at this institution that he realised his affinity and love for animation. Hence he decided that it was time to follow his passion and dropped out of college.

Along with his brother’s help, Ishan then enrolled at the 3D Sense Media School, Singapore, in 2008. Once he completed his diploma, he got a job in Singapore which played a seminal role in his development as an all-rounder when it comes to making animation films. “The kind of projects I was getting from the company required me to do everything from the beginning to the end including story boarding and editing. I learnt a lot about making my own film in that time,” he notes.

How did Schirkoa happen?

While commuting in Singapore, he said he was surrounded by the banality of perfection and the main concept of the film was formed. It is a 14-minute short about a society where perfection has been achieved and there are no distinctions based on colour or race because everyone wears a bag over their head (and are called bag-heads). The film also explores themes such as immigration, and Ishan says that the Syrian crisis helped shape his ideas about the world. He developed the story initially as graphic novel and notes that he will be expanding the short into a full length feature film in the future.

The four years that it took Ishan to make the film were also peppered with tragedies and victories. For one, he got married with his wife taking over as the film’s producer. But it was also during this period when his father fell ill and he quit his job in Singapore and relocated to Pilani to take care of his father. After running out of funds in India, he took up a full time job that had him working six days a week. This meant he had to become even more disciplined. He would wake up at 2am and work until his day job began, and then worked whenever he had free time.

Ultimately the hard work paid off. Schirkoa premiered at the Oscar-qualifying ‘LA Shorts’ festival in September 2016 where it won the ‘Best Animated Short’ award.

What Changes do you feel after the success?

After getting a success in the short film industry, I don’t feel any kind of change in the industry towards me, now also when I go to the film festivals, I am still ignored some of the time with the people, I still have to answer many emails, and try to convince for my story, and still get many rejection emails on my mailing list. I am still having only my project, and still, in India, I don’t have any job in a good project based on Definition. When basically I made the film, I simply wanted to make a film. I didn’t know how the animation industry in India was.  Even If the film has a good story we have to struggle. I made the film, just to understand how the animation in film works. The first movie for me is a Garage project, and I was working on it secretly, and people started to look me as a guy who plays a video game. After 3 years I thought that the film is doing good, and the best a film can do is to qualify for an Oscar. Then I started to get the movie qualify for an Oscar.

Is the animation progressing at a higher rate after Bahubali?

Yes absolutely, even the Jungle Book, and the Dream Works Bengluru has done with the VFX part, I am quite amazed. Hence it’s a yes that Animation is on a higher rate of progress, but still Bollywood needs masala, not just animation. The scene for Individual Animation is still nowhere in India.

What is your take on Funding part in India?

Once my films made to the market, then I started getting mails from platforms that will take the film and sell it to distributors. My film was brought by New European films, and they liked my film. But in India I never got any such distributor approaching me directly to sell my film, and hence I would say that in European people see each and every film and try to market it in the place where it can do, but in India the scenes are different and people here are not interested in doing the same.

What are your plans to be in India, and how to work ahead?

I did get recognition in India. Even if I get the recognition, or I don’t and same for funding then still I will be working on the films. In terms of ecosystem, it is complicated, and still in India the heavy VFX films are taking the sweet spot, but not the Animation part. In next coming years we will be getting many VFX heavy films from India also. But for individual Animators films, it is still a long way to come. Even the students of Animation are working to go for a Job for such VFX Heavy films.

Tell us about your Journey from an Engineer to a CGI Film Maker

When I was in school, I used to make my own comic-strips and hence this craze in me was from starting. At the end I ended up in engineering college; I became a part of my college’s drama club, and started to write my own plays therein while I was the head there, this actually opened a new perspective for me to create my own journey.

What is your inspiration behind the story of your movie?

The Inspiration for the movie came from my job, when I landed in a job in Singapore, and everyone has a feeling that once you get a job, you have money and everything, and at the first day I realized about school’s motive to train them, so they can be good players at the job. I saw people in train looking into their phones every day, and he thought if he did changed the city with people with a bag on their head, nothing will change. All this turned into something which is the Movie made by me (Ishan Shukla). You must see the movie in order to actually understand this.

How was your experience learning the Animation in Singapore?

I come from a middle class family, and you know if you are from the same background and when you are learning something that too abroad then you have a huge sum involved, and which results into a pressure to learn and complete the objective you are there for. I had to find a job in Animation, and it’s not engineering that you can get any job after the degree.  From childhood I had a willing in my heart to tell stories to others, and this was my passion. In any college you go, you are not going to learn what you are going to use exactly, and as I knew much about the industry, I took whatever the college peeps wanted to say, but at the weekend I used to work on my own projects, which kept me going.

Mr. Shukla’s answer was “Thanks God” just for the cause that once you publish a film, you have to take many rejections, and I faced rejection from 100’s of clients, and just after a month when I got a mail for acceptance, it was a joyful moment for me as my hard work was finally going to be in front of the public. That moment was a proud moment for my family, and even for me.

Advice that you would like to give to young Film Makers.

Nowadays people need things quickly; everything comes with an investment not only in Money, but also in terms of time. You have to be patient, and keep it for a long run. “To Master any piece of art it takes years.” You must ask yourself on why you are making a film, you must keep on searching for the right thing you need till you get the same. You must do one thing at a time, if you are a cinematographer be it, don’t try to become an actor, director or anything else.

One last thought which Ishan Shukla gave to young film makers is that you must not be shy to put your film in front of the public. The only way to get feedback about your film is to make it public; you cannot just make it out to people’s choice by just showing it to a selected mind-set of people. Ishan Shukla had been an inspiration for many people, just for the cause that he is the first Independent film maker from India going to an Oscar, presenting his short film. If you are an emerging short film maker then be determinant and keep working on your project, and you will get your success one day.

“I know there are a lot of people who go deep into specialising in one thing, and there is also value in it, but I would say that right now the best thing to do is to become a generalist. Someone who is a jack of all trades. That way when you are making your own film, you can do everything. And also in the marketplace, there is a lot of demand for generalists,” he notes.

And for those who are itching to follow their passions? Ishan says the key lies in being proactive instead of waiting for inspiration. “People tend to go and study something or go looking for inspiration, but if you are passionate about something and want to do it, then you should just do it. Often times, you learn so much more in the middle of doing what you love and making mistakes as you go along.