Singham wears a police uniform, has the tattoo of a lion on his right arm and huffs, “Aata majhi satakli!” every time he’s angry. Only this time, he’s not fighting the corrupt police system, but an ancient invading king with large fake teeth. Next week, he’ll deal with tree-munching aliens from the planet Krokota who communicate via dance.
Little Singham, an animated series based on Rohit Shetty’s 2011 cop film, released on Discovery Kids in April last year. Every episode sees ‘India’s youngest super cop’ outsmart, but more often than not, out-punch increasingly inventive villains alongside his crime-fighting monkey sidekick, Chikki, while spouting dialogues like, “Agar police ki sunte baat, toh na khaate meri laat.” Soon after it aired, the channel experienced a 400% jump in viewership. The number of brands seeking a partnership doubled to 50. Ad revenues grew by more than 500%. “The original agreement was for 156 episodes. We delivered those in 13 months and signed another for 216 episodes and five tele-features. It’s a big property. In the first week of launch, Discovery went from being the number 9 kids channel to number 2,” says Tejonidhi Bhandare, COO, Reliance Animation.
The channel’s next move was to reach out to Excel Entertainment with the idea for animated kids’ show Fukrey Boyzzz, based on Mrighdeep Singh Lamba’s cult 2013 film Fukrey and 2017 sequel Fukrey Returns. Reliance, in the meantime, signed a 208-episode contract also with Excel to develop Golmaal Jr., based on Shetty’s multi-crore grossing Golmaal franchise.
“Little Singham set us on a path where we were very comfortable investing in local animation in India. That strategy has become an aggressive stance now. We’re not only creating content but also marketing it,” says Uttam Pal Singh, Head – Discovery Kids, Discovery Communications India.
No Child’s Play
What led to the show’s massive success? A well-researched strategy, for one. Prior to 2018, the channel began investigating why it had still not cracked the code to connecting with children since its India launch in 2012. “One of the key things we found was that kids in the age group of 4-8 identify with figures who help them shape their character, whether it’s an older sibling or a mythological character or, as they grow older, Bollywood,” says Singh. When Reliance, intent on the idea of building a bigger brand, approached them with the idea of Little Singham, it was an ideal fit. The show effectively captured the 4-8 age group, something Singh attributes to its “heroic appeal, patriotism, style quotient and action.”
By contrast, Fukrey Boyzzz’s sitcom-style brand of humour is aimed at children aged 8 and older. The series, which began airing in October, retains Choocha’s trademark “oioioi”, Hunny’s fascination with interpreting his absurd dreams and Bholi’s bad-girl swagger from the movies, but imagines what the characters would be like as children. Each 11-minute-long episode follows Hunny’s attempts to get the scatterbrained Choocha out of various jams such forgetting to wear his school uniform or ordering jalebis without having the means to pay for them. “We think younger kids will also enjoy it because it depicts teacher-student relationships. The nostalgia factor will appeal to parents,” says Singh.
The kids’ market is a massive one – data from BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) shows that average weekly impressions for the kids genre grew to 778.4 million in 2018 – and as competition grows, expect to see a lot more of these shows in the near future
The family audience is also what Golmaal Jr, which premiered in May this year, tapped into. “Kids are one of the biggest consumers of Hindi movies in India. So, adapting the characters from Golmaal, one of the most popular movie franchises – not just among grown-ups, but also kids – to an animation series was a natural progression. Today, kids are not just looking at superhero flicks and slapstick comedies, but also at stories which are more relatable and that’s where Golmaal Jr. comes in,” says Anu Sikka, Head of Content, Kids Entertainment Cluster, Viacom18. The show depicts Gopal (played by Ajay Devgn in the films) and Madhav (Arshard Warsi) as the mischievous leaders of rival school gangs locked in an escalating prank war. It aired at 1.30 PM, a slot that saw the channel’s third-highest viewership numbers for that week.
The Write Approach
Making a massive Bollywood franchise kid-friendly comes with its own set of challenges. No blood, scary creatures, superstitious beliefs, tantriks, chudails or dayans and no references to sex or gore – the list of don’ts is a long one. “There was a lot of debate over how much violence we could show because little Singham fights the bad guys every episode. He doesn’t carry a gun in his holster. Instead, there is very exaggerated action where he just looks at the villain and their pants fall down. Or he stomps his foot and everyone goes flying,” says Sonam Shekhawat who conceptualized the show and is one of the writers on both, Little Singham and Golmaal Jr.
No gambling or references to the lottery meant that a major plot point from Fukrey had to be dropped for its animated version. The labour-intensive and time-consuming process of animation also leaves little scope for the introduction of new characters, says Rohit Gahlowt, who’s written 45 episodes so far. Other rules include no hitting, bullying, harsh punishments by teachers or potentially dangerous activities – so the show can’t depict kids sitting on the school roof, for example. “Excel Entertainment was very clear: Don’t harm our brand, build on it. Make it funny. Don’t change our characters,” he adds.
The number of restrictions on kids’ content prompts writers to come up with creative ways to circumvent them. While the makers of Golmaal Jr wanted to retain the humor associated with Lucky (played by Tusshar Kapoor in the films), they didn’t want to give the kids the impression that it was alright to make fun of people with speech-related disabilities. The solution? Lucky’s speech is hampered by the lollipop that’s perpetually in his mouth instead.
An Animated Future
The kids’ market is a massive one – data from BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) shows that average weekly impressions for the kids genre grew to 778.4 million in 2018 – and as competition grows, expect to see a lot more of these shows in the near future. “Our ambition is for Discovery Kids to be one of the top 3 kids’ channels in India. We’re working out what the next big thing for us could be,” says Singh. Nickelodeon has confirmed plans to add 150 hours of content to its 500-hour library next year, of which Golmaal Jr will be a substantial part.
These shows are also slowly creeping into the digital space. All episodes of Little Singham are available internationally on Netflix. Golmaal Jr is also on VOOT. “The bulk of viewership does come from TV, but VOOT Kids works as a huge advantage for us. It offers kids the freedom to choose and view the shows at their own pace and time,” says Sikka. Even YouTube helps – the official Little Singham song has 37 million views on the platform. The only episode of Golmaal Jr uploaded to the Voot Kids channel has 2 million.
This massive reach is also what attracts production houses, who see these animated shows as a way to build their property into something more lucrative and tap into a whole new audience. “(With Fukrey Boyzzz), we could take the story forward and get the audience Discovery talks to. If we can convince them to buy into our characters, this will help us when we do Fukrey part 3,” says Ritesh Sidhwani, Excel Entertainment Co-Founder.