“3 Bahadur is not a film, it’s a movement,” says Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, when asked how the idea of the movie originated. “When we were young, we had Uncle Sargam, Ainak Wala Jinn etc. to relate to, but kids of today have nothing except dubbed cartoons from India or the West. They don’t have their own characters which is what propelled me to take charge. Since I have always been a firm believer in the fact that cartoons are family entertainment — everyone watches them — and that there is a child hiding within us, I decided to pursue the idea which is now in cinemas, finally.”
For an accomplished film maker who won an Academy Award in 2012 for the documentary Saving Face, wasn’t going into animations a step back? “Not at all,” she disagrees. “I am a storyteller, and film makers should always innovate and take risks; be it animation and documentaries. The most fun has been the uncertainty behind the film, and as time progressed, the uncertainty became certainty.”
3 Bahadur is the story of three kids who defy the odds to rid their town of evil spirits with the help of their superpowers, something one usually sees in Hollywood flicks or in Western animated feature films. Sharmeen believes that since it wasn’t tried in Pakistan that didn’t mean that it was forbidden to venture into uncharted territory. “The theme behind the feature is that fortune favours the brave and with a catchy title like 3 Bahadur, we have tried to instill the belief in children that they can overcome any obstacles if they try hard. Through this movie, we will educate them that everybody is a Bahadur; each one of us has a superpower and together we can achieve anything if we set our mind to it.”
What makes the director so sure that the film will succeed in the presence of Bollywood’s Bombay Velvet, Hollywood’s Mad Max: Fury Road and even local competition such as Revenge of the Worthless? “Our target market is entirely different from these three movies; our film has comedy, emotions, passions and message whereas the beautiful songs by Shiraz Uppal will surely stay with the audience for some time.” Sharmeen explains. “And then there has been the marketing which has been one-of-its kind in Pakistan. Besides being the first animated feature film, it is also the first Pakistani film that has gone through 90 schools within the country with a special message for kids; the first three minutes of the film have been released; a smartphone game (both Apple and Google Play) has been introduced featuring the central characters whereas a comic strip has regularly been printed in Dawn’s Young World magazine for the past few months.” That’s not all, an international fast food chain has launched a Bahadur meal and popular biscuit brand have repackaged their product in anticipation of the film’s release, which is something that hasn’t been done in Pakistan before. “Furthermore, we are trying to innovate and that’s why the 3 Bahadur merchandise featuring T-shirts and cushions etc. as well as activity books are now in stores so that when kids go to bookstores, they have local characters to choose from instead of Dora and Ben10!” she added.
First-time projects have first-time difficulties; what does the Oscar winner have to say about that? “The whole film was a difficulty if you ask me!” she laughed. “Abroad, making a film with a dozen animators is considered an impossible task but we managed to do it in Pakistan,” says Sharmeen, adding, “I must thank all those who went out of their way to help us; the head of Pixar assigned Apurva Shah to me for guidance when I informed her that I wanted to make an animated film in Pakistan. Then there was Dan Golden who did the film’s sound design, John Angier who came onboard for the background score and John Bowen who did the 5.1 sound mixing — all these people did it for the love of it. They just said yes to my email because they all wanted to be part of Pakistan’s first animated film. Trust me, the incredible sound design and the battle scenes will remind you of Hollywood movies and the kids will love it!”
Oscar-winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy talks about her latest venture 3 Bahadur, Pakistan’s first full-length animated film about three kids who defy the odds and fight evil with the help of their superpowers
Veteran actors Khalid Ahmed and Behroze Sabzwari as well as international artiste Alyy Khan are part of the cast, as are a handful of newcomers. Sharmeen believes that the selection of cast was done by the entire team and they tried their best to get the most appropriate voice for the characters. “I am not an animator and for that I must thank my team especially Kamran Khan who did the animation direction and Salman Nasir who did the art direction. It’s very important to have a good team because they did a marvelous job from scripting the dialogues to selecting the artists for voice overs. They owned the project like I did, because they wanted it to be a victory for the animation industry.
“As for the cast, after we had shortlisted them, I called up Behroze sahib who loved the idea of the film and was instantly on board and after a little direction, became the character Deenu; same goes with Alyy Khan and Khalid sahib who play villains in the film. It is interesting to note that the three kids who give voiceovers look exactly as like the 3 Bahadur,” she said with a smile.
The 3 Bahadur have superpowers — Amna has super speed, Saadi is good with numbers and Kamil has super hearing — which one is the closest to the director? “Obviously the girl, as I am very fond of female superheroes myself,” pat comes the reply. “Even the international media is now promoting the film which is good because a Pakistani film hasn’t received this exposure before release before. The buzz is very strong; a couple of years back, that wasn’t the case. We must realise that even in India, animation hasn’t been done that much.”
Toy Story, Shrek and Madagascar are Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s favourite animated films — and all of them have sequels. Does that mean that 3 Bahadur might turn into a franchise? “It’s a surprise!” Sharmeen says with sparkle in her eyes. “Watch the film if you want to know. All I can say is that when people will leave the theatre, they will say that they have seen something special.”
3 Bahadur has been released in Pakistan and Sharmeen hopes it will do well. “The box office success of 3 Bahadur will not be my success only, it will be the success of an idea; a thought that we can do all of these things. Similarly, many parents don’t let their kids still go to cinemas in Pakistan; if 3 Bahadur can get kids of impressionable age into cinema then it’s a win-win situation for me,” the director concludes.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 24th, 2015