Two-time Limca Book of Records holder Charuvi Agrawal is putting India on the world animation map
YS Life caught up with illustrator and artist Charuvi Agrawal, the co-creator of Disney+Hostar’s animated web series The Legend of Hanuman, to discuss work and inspiration.
Friday May 19, 2023,
6 min Read
Filmmaker, animator, sculptor, and multimedia artist Charuvi Agrawal rose to fame with her short-film, Shri Hanuman Chalisa (2012), which won the FICCI Best Animated Frames and ANIMA+ awards. Agrawal then went on to co-create Disney+Hotstar’s animated web-series, The Legend of Hanuman (2021), which was ranked as the #2 most-watched show across all streaming platforms in India.
“Our industry is patriarchal in nature…In the initial years of my career, there was a constant struggle to gain the trust and respect of clients and industry professionals due to not just my age, but also gender,” Agrawal tells YS Life during an email interaction.
Advocacy group Women in Animation suggests that more than 70% of animation and art school students are women, and yet, as of last year, only 28.1% of them made it to the workforce.
However, gender-related challenges did not stop the 39-year-old from aiming for the stars. She made it to The Limca Book of Records twice for her invention of a new artform Claytronics, and for building a travelling exhibition, Bells of Light. Bells of Light was a 25-feet interactive installation in the form of a sculpture of Shri Hanuman, made using 26,000 bells.
Born and raised in New Delhi, Agrawal considers herself fortunate to have parents who encouraged and motivated her to explore arts. Starting from a rather young age, Agrawal exhibited her artwork for the first time when she was still in school. In standard seven, she started creating clay figures merely as a hobby, and it went on to pave way to the Limca Book of Records.
In 2007, Agrawal was facilitated at the Coca-Cola’s ‘Incredible India @60’ festival in New York as one of ‘The emerging 10 who could transform the global artistic landscape’.
An alumnus of Sheridan College in Canada, Agrawal started her career as a filmmaker with the National Board of Canada. Winning a couple of awards there fuelled her desire to focus on the cultural stories of India. In 2009, she founded Charuvi Design Labs (CDL)–an animation studio and design lab.
Recently, YS Life got in touch with Agrawal to know more about her discovery, inspiration, and work.
Edited excerpts from the conversation:
YS Life (YSL): Where do you seek inspiration from?
Charuvi Agrawal (CA): As a creative process, I immerse myself in the world around me, seeking inspiration in every encounter, place, and circumstance that affects our society and environment.
With a keen eye for detail and a curious mind, I observe the people I interact with and the experiences that shape my world. My artistic vision is shaped by both my personal interests and the message I wish to communicate to my audience.
I thrive on the challenge of finding the perfect medium to convey the emotion and meaning of my work. For me, every creation is an experiment, a chance to learn and grow as an artist.
YSL: Can you recall the most unique source of inspiration?
CA: Once I was staying at a remote mountain site and noticed the unique Fibonacci series-based natural designs on the fallen leaves. I started picking them up and studying the patterns. That, along with a play on colours, were the basis of some of the sculptures that I had conceptualised and designed at that time.
YSL: What was the turning point in your career?
CA: It was the stereoscopic animated short film Shri Hanuman Chalisa, which was screened in about 50+ film festivals and ensuing Graphic India-produced series for Disney, The Legend of Hanuman.
YSL: What made you start CDL?
CA: My career began with my first film, 10th Avatar, released in 2007. It gained more recognition than I had expected at international film festivals. Upon my return to India, I started receiving offers to create 3D animation films, including one to produce animated visual poetry on a pre-recorded soundtrack composed by the late Aadesh Shrivastava.
The subject was mythological in nature, and the preconceived notions attached to animation storytelling in India presented an additional challenge. However, I accepted the project and aimed to create a piece that would become an artistic statement and be loved by the masses. That marked the foundation of CDL.
YSL: What exactly is Claytronics?
CA: It is a unique art form that blends the creative techniques of cartooning with the traditional medium of sculpture. Claytronics is basically creating humorous 3D miniature sculptures to tell a topical story.
I have created a miniature of former PM, Dr Manmohan Singh, depicting him as a puppet, another one of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, which depicts him on a rocket with a comb in his pocket. I have also created miniatures of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mother Teresa, Veerappan, Osama Bin Laden, Sonia Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh, Dr Salim Ali, George Bush, Bal Thackeray and IK Gujral.
YSL: Between filmmaking, painting, and sculpting, which one do you enjoy the most?
CA: Filmmaking is the most enjoyable for me as it encompasses all of the others. While it is mostly done digitally, the medium has many other creative facets besides fine arts and visual arts.
YSL: What has been the most challenging project so far?
CA: Shri Hanuman Chalisa is both the most challenging and the closest to my heart. It was the first project of CDL. For starters, script is not linear but filmmaking typically is. So, solving that issue was an exciting process.
However, the greatest challenge was finding investors and financiers when the producer backed out mid-way. The expense was huge for a small studio like ours. Standing on the summit after that tedious climb gave a satisfaction that I cannot put into words.
YSL: Your advice to aspiring artists?
CA: The world of animation is ever-evolving and there are new things coming up every day. One must keep learning and updating their skill set and tap into the pulse of trends. It is also important to nurture good relationships and build a good network. Plus, focus and hard work cannot be substituted.
While work is a serious business, one must also have fun and embrace the whole creative process.
YSL: What is the end-goal?
CA: As a filmmaker and a studio, the mission is to create beautiful and meaningful animated films that capture the hearts and imaginations of viewers across the globe. I wish to create a diverse range of animated content that leverages the latest technology and storytelling techniques to entertain and engage audiences across multiple platforms–TV, film, digital, and live events.
Through strategic partnerships and collaborations, we aim to extend the reach of our IP and create a vibrant ecosystem that includes merchandise, toys, theme parks, and other immersive experiences.
Agrawal recently concluded a project for Invoxel Technologies at the five-day national philatelic exhibition by The Department of Posts in Delhi that was attended and appreciated by President Droupadi Murmu. It was designed as an interactive virtual museum housing stamps exhibited across three galleries in a space inspired by a general post office. In 2023-24, its core focus is to produce animated TV shows, and CDL is working towards the same.
(The story was updated with the image of Dr Abdul Kalam's miniature).
Edited by Megha Reddy