At the end of Lust Stories’ opening credits, set to Sameer Uddin’s background score, four fingers of a hand unfurl sequentially in what seems to be a nod to the anthology’s four directors – Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar – after all, their names appear alongside. A beat later, the fifth finger unfurls, leaving us to wonder if there’s more to that image than meets the eye. The aha! moment comes a full hour-and-half later in Johar’s segment Ice-Cream, when we see Megha, played by Kiara Advani, methodically count to five to illustrate how long it takes her husband (Vicky Kaushal) to wrap up his amorous activities.
This is just one of the many references meticulously packed into the nearly two-minute-long sequence and why title designer Pratheek Thomas hopes you don’t click ‘skip intro’ while watching the film on Netflix.
The National Institute of Design graduate and his wife, Tina, founded comic book publishing house and animation studio Kokaachi in Kerala in 2014. They made their foray into movies with the Mamooty-starrer Gangster, for which they did 13 minutes of animation depicting the hero’s origins and the film’s climax. They followed it up with work on Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani (2014) after they convinced the director that they were a better fit for the job than a gaming company. When the film was remade as OK Jaanu (2015), they put their distinctive spin on the opening credits too. This year, they designed the title sequence of Saif Ali Khan-starrer Kalaakandi, thanks to Neil Bhooplam, who introduced the film’s director Akshat Verma to their comics.
Working with Netflix, however, was a completely different ball-game. “We had four months to execute OK Kanmani’s sequence as it was more complex and required both 3D and 2D animation. For Kalaakandi, we got a little more than a month. We were given 10 to 14 days to work on Lust Stories. Netflix had a strict deadline, but we were able to get it extended to 20 days,” said Pratheek.
The lack of time became one of the project’s major hassles. “Usually, when you have two weeks for a project, you should lock down the concept within the first three to four days, but for this project, it took us a week. We struggled with the stylization and treatment as we were really pressed for time. ”
He said that after they watched Lust Stories, the initial idea was to do a series of animated stills from the film, but Tina insisted on connecting those images to tell a visual story. “Each film had its own distinctive elements and we loved all, especially Johar’s. He’s a superb writer. The anthology was unlike anything Bollywood had ever done and we knew we had to do it justice,” said Pratheek.
Other challenges included being careful to not reveal key elements of the stories and working with a remote team. “Tina and I are not artists, we’re writers. So we had to communicate the type of transitions we wanted to the animation team we were working with and all of them live in different parts of Kerala. All communication took place either over the phone or online.”
Being given a free hand helped with the creative process, as did the illustrations of French artist Malika Favre, which Pratheek turned to for inspiration. “We knew that people wouldn’t get a lot of the references until after they had finished watching the film but we thought of them as appetizers. Their job was to introduce people to the film without giving anything away,” he said.
Is there a reference that the audience is likely to miss even upon repeat viewing? “In the beginning, a girl is spying on a couple with the help of a mirror – a reference to Kashyap’s segment – but if you look closely, you’ll see that the couple is eating ice cream – a reference to Johar’s.”
The sequence also fills in some of the gaps in Banerjee’s segment – Reena, played by Manisha Koirala talks about how her affair with Sudhir (Jaideep Ahlwat) started when he saw her crying at a party, but it’s the opening credits that illustrate this scene.
“Netflix has not only given us a bigger platform with which to reach viewers, but it also enables them to rewind and watch the sequence again after the film ends, which is something they can’t do in a theatre. We hope they come back,” he said.