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Korona: In Conversation with Animation Filmmaker Debjyoti Saha

We live in defining times. Times of staying indoors, of streaming news, of opinionated beings, of misinformation, of information overload. With regular life seemingly halted, many of us are either binge watching or turning on the news to stay updated about life outside. A pandemic rages outside and a war is being waged globally to contain it from spreading. As major streaming platforms let loose a host of new programming for those cooped up indoors, many of us are turning to the news that most likely than not spreads to a feeling of loneliness, helplessness and even alarm. It is during times like these that hope and a reality check comes from unexpected corners. One such reality check we found came in the form of short animated films by the Kolkata-bred, Mumbai-based animation filmmaker Debjyoti Saha whose latest series entitled ‘Korona’ sets the reality in perspective in a funny, tongue-in-cheek style while homing in a message to stay calm, fight the stereotypes and being informed during these raging times. Here are the excerpts from his interview with TheVibe.

Early Start

Debjyoti’s journey started in 2012 while he was pursuing a Bachelors in Animation and Multimedia from St Xavier’s College, Kolkata. “It wasn’t until early 2015 that I realised my love for the medium. So in 2016, I enrolled in a Masters course of Animation Film Design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. For the next three years, I fearlessly made a bunch of mistakes, some of which I’m proud of and was glad to meet so many inspiring people in one place. I worked at Disney India as part of my Graduation Project, with the people I look up to and graduated in 2019. I’m currently based out of Mumbai, working with ESPN India, juggling between work and various personal projects.”

Project Korona

The word ‘Korona’ in Bengali means ‘Don’t’ and is a pun on the pandemic. Musing on the times we live in, Debjyoti’s series thinks through every day situations before stumping you with the understated message of his animation films. Take, for example, a short animation piece he did on the typical Indian auntyji who comes across a person from the North-East while out shopping for essentials. Her shock on realising who it was helping her unexpectedly at the store is a reflection of the droning news of the “China virus”.

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Korona. Sound On 🔊 Some people seem to celebrate April Fool’s all year round. Difficult situations bring out the worst in us. But a sight so ugly, we didn’t quite imagine. We talk about culture, binging on noodles and biryani, we claim momos and dumplings to be our favourite, we rush to the hills for a vacation every chance we get, we sip their tea, we complement their love for poems and music, their people and their culture and then when the time comes we call them names, spit on them, we address them as a community inferior to ours. We are a society obsessing over the color of our skin, the clothes we wear, the money we earn, the language we speak and the Gods we pray to. We tell their story for them, without knowing anything about it. That’s our society. Perhaps we forget that this global crisis is the only thing that doesn’t discriminate. It hits all equally. For this one time only, we have a chance to stand up together as a community and atleast not add to anyone’s burden, if we can’t help them in their worst. Aunty is a fool. Don’t be like aunty. Be better, we are in this together. #animation #2danimation #animationfilm #indiananimation #corona #korona #coronavirus #covid_19 #lockdown #racism #racist #racistmeme #indiansareracist #coronajihad #islamophobia #incredibleindia #aunty #classdivide #classist #dontbelikeaunty #stopracism #aprilfools #foolsparadise #harrassment #art #artoftheday #artistoninstagram #animatorsoninstagram #catsuka

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Debjyoti muses, “During these tough times, people, irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, sex etc. are acting quite stupid, doing exactly what they are not supposed to do. And my work is essentially documenting it through a series of short animated films. The films touch upon various deep-rooted problems that were, perhaps, always present in our society which have been highlighted during this time of the global pandemic; starting from the propagation of extreme fear, the ridiculous exaggeration of certain ‘tasks’ requested by the government, and bringing out the deep-rooted xenophobia and racism at a time when we need to stay together. The films are hardly an exaggerated version of the same.”

News & Views

As you watch Deb’ short animation sketches you notice the deliberations that are reflective of the society at large and more importantly the media. In times of over information, it might seem a regular media-detox is just what the doctor’s ordered, and the artist shares his insights in a similar vein. He quips, “In 2020, we receive most of our information through mainstream and online media. Which is why it is a very important responsibility for them to communicate the right information and for us, to responsibly verify the authenticity of it before consuming and propagating the same.” Yet the reality is different.

He says, “News, nowadays, is not free. It is strongly opinionated and biased. It is almost a reality TV show, with exaggerated theatrics, filled with high testosterone and very little information, extravagantly packaged to make it more consumable by the general public. As a result, people do not have a choice or much room for holding any alternate theories in their mind. We don’t tend to see or think beyond the screen. With that being said, there are various sources for consuming information, few of which are not backed by any political or financial stronghold, and thus, communicate news without bias. With the help of the internet, more and more people are voicing their alternate opinions on various subjects which helps to break out of the preconceived mindset and let real news flow more organically.” The artist remarks how there may still be a silver lining to this rather dark cloud, adding how more than a media-detox, ‘selective hearing’ may just save the day from anxiety.

Selective Hearing: A Cause for Joy

As we suffer from an information overload whether on the Internet or the airwaves, becoming overwhelmed is but a most likely reality. The artist agrees to say, “There is no dearth of content nowadays. The world seems to deal with something new every day. Especially on social media, where everyone puts forward their personal opinions for the world to see. As we scroll through social media, one post makes us feel angry, the next sad and the next video of a cute puppy makes us feel delighted. This can be quite overwhelming even in a short session. But even though we don’t have a say on someone else’ right to free speech, we do have the boon of selective hearing. Which is why, it is for us to form a personal opinion on things to the highest degree of truth to avoid being overloaded with unnecessary information.” He warns, however, “That’s always a thin line.”

The Death Knell of Misinformation

We have a good reason to believe that we are gamed to a high level of degree. Information and misinformation can either lead or rightly mislead us from forming an informed opinion of the reality. As Debjyoti is quick to explain, “People are gullible. They mostly believe what they see or hear without verifying the authenticity of the information, simply because that’s too much work. It is our responsibility to verify the information before consuming and propagating news.” In fact, the rise of ‘Whatsapp University’ is just the moot statement. “Whatsapp University”, a term rightfully coined, is where people freely distribute personal wisdom and unauthenticated articles on anything and everything. Most of the time, these news pieces are politically charged, taking advantage of people’s lack of better knowledge and spreading misinformation very quickly.

How Korona Project Takes on The Stereotypes

As the artist explains, “The characters that the films in the Korona series portray are slightly (arguably) more exaggerated, simplified versions of people in real life. They are animated manifestations of personal experiences. They are simple, the protagonists have a singular motive stereotyped with respect to the particular theme of the films to get the message across. They are an honest account of what is happening in today’s society.” The themes and rhetoric of these films are simple. They are meant to entertain while educating. And they fulfil their role in doing justly so. And the success of these videos and their ensuing virality is testament to its resonance amongst the Instagram-first janta.

As Deb points out, “Our society is extremely diversified in terms of economy and intellect. Opinions are (unconsciously, sic) based on religion, class, caste, money, gender etc. So much so that what holds true for me, might not even hold for my parents or my siblings. It is very difficult for us as a society to come at an equal level of opinion and maturity. However, what we can strive to do is spread as much right information across various sectors of the society so that fewer people are ill / misinformed about various subjects. This is everyone’s equal responsibility. Social media, even with a limited reach, does have the power to spread information to large communities quickly. The proper use of the internet will surely uplift the situation today.”

With a word of hope, Jyotideb promises to bring out more of these short films. “There are more films in the “Korona” series that I’m working on, simply because there is a lot of content out there and certain subjects that need to be touched upon. One thing’s for sure, as long as people keep acting stupid, there’s not going to be a lack of content.”

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