Kokaachi Studio, run by Pratheek and Tina, has worked on ‘Lust Stories’, ‘Ghost Stories’ and, more recently, ‘Paava Kadhaigal’, apart from a few other films.

Pratheek and Tina with their four dogs at Studio Kokaachi
Features Art and Animation Sunday, February 21, 2021 - 16:40

Do you ever miss the spiral, the mosquito-coil-like spiral, that takes you back in time? Till just a few years ago, filmmakers depended on it for cutting to the back story. But now, the beloved coil has been replaced by a clever storytelling technique that is extremely versatile. We’re talking about the use of animation for such purposes. Directors have employed it for different situations, from summing up historical events (Kaala) to condensing or glossing over gory narratives (Oor Iravu ending in the Paava Kadhaigal anthology), and so on.

Behind some of the recent animation seen in films, especially anthologies, which have become a successful trend on social media, is a Kochi-based publishing house/animation studio called Kokaachi. Pratheek and Tina, the couple who founded Kokaachi in 2014, started it as a publishing house that made comic books.

We reached out to speak to one of the founders over the phone but as our call extended beyond 20 minutes, we could hear a couple of the famous four — Dash, Bolt, Sox and Surumi — barking in the background for some attention. Dash, Bolt, Sox and Surumi, we’re told, are an integral part of Kokaachi Studio (Kokaachi three, four, five and six respectively), and sanity keepers who have also inspired (unpublished) comic books.

At their quiet — the silence broken only by the (in)famous four — studio, Pratheek and Tina are working on the title animation for an upcoming anthology film by Dharmatic Entertainment (Dharma Productions’ digital venture) called Ajeeb Daastaans. There are also talks with another Hindi and Malayalam film. They’ve also got the fourth volume of their popular Mixtape series in the works and a couple of other exciting projects. Most interestingly, they also make matchbox-sized comics called the Matchbox Comix.

“We’ve got a 35-page story called Raja that is being illustrated by Priya Kuriyan. We’ve also got a set of three books, coming up in different physical formats, which tell stories about climate change. Three artists – Upamanyu Bhattacharya, Gitanjali Iyer and Soundarya Raman – have worked with us on it,” Tina tells us.

Then there’s the ambitious eight-part Malayalam comic series called IDIVETTU based on the life of a local thief from Kerala and his con-woman girlfriend who are involved in a major heist. “Pratheek is writing it and I’m doing the dialogues. Mohith O is the artist and Ijaz Mohammed is the colourist. This was supposed to have been released last year but we had to postpone. We’re now working on the second issue of the book and once we reach the fourth issue, we’ll begin releasing it every month,” Tina adds.

In the beginning, it was Pratheek who started a comic publishing house in 2011 called Manta Ray along with his friend Dileep Cherian. Although they did well, they had to close three years later. But Pratheek and Tina wanted to continue their journey in visual stories and thus began Kokaachi in 2014. Their first release was Mixtape, a collection of short comics by different authors, that was a continuation of what they did at Manta Ray and a sort of an ode to the ‘90s.

“We have a lot of young writers who love the medium of comics but it’s not a format that’s easy to invest a lot of time on. Small stories are easier. That’s how we decided to make Mixtape. We didn't know if it’d work, it was an experiment,” Tina explains.

And it was at the launch of Mixtape volume 2 that they would be introduced to the idea of making animation for films. And it so happen that the cafe at which they launched volume 2 would be owned by Malayalam filmmaker Aashiq Abu (Mayaanadhi, Virus, etc).

“Aashiq Abu called asking if we could work on an animation portion that would feature in the film. Our first work was in the Malayalam film Gangster,” Tina says. Then through artist Sandhya Prabhat, who had illustrated a story for their Matchbox Comix collection, they would be introduced to Madras Talkies, right in time for OK Kanmani. “They were looking for someone to design the game visuals and that is how we worked in the film for the game design and end credits animation,” Tina adds.

Their entry into Bollywood was through the Hindi remake of OK Kanmani, OK Jaanu. A year later, Neil Bhoopalam who found their comics at a bookstore in Goa. “He introduced us to filmmaker Akshat Verma (Delhi Belly) and we worked with him on Kaalakaandi,” says Tina. Then came the anthology series starting with Lust Stories, Ghost Stories, Paava Kadhaigal, and Pitta Kadhalu. They also did the titles for Gully Boy, which came out in 2019.

We ask if she foresees India making more animated films, like Studio Ghibli in Japan and Pixar in the US. Tina is of the opinion that change has already begun. “We admire the kind of work done by Ghost Animation. They did a tour with four animated short films before the pandemic and they’re working on a feature-length film too. Upamanyu, one of Ghost’s co-founders is also worked with us on one of our new books. I also see many young artists on Instagram who make short animated clips and those tiny snippets are changing all the misconceptions we have about animation,” she asserts.

But the journey is not always a breeze. While there’s the definite high of creating new stories, Tina talks about some of the challenges in the field, especially with being a comic book publisher. “Comics is already a slow-growing genre in India. On top of it, when some book stores had to close down due to the pandemic, the business suffered further. Thankfully, we have our own online store that has helped us reach readers during this time,” she tells us.

But the landscape is changing even as we speak. “Even until three years ago,” Tina continues, “most comic content in India was mythology. We’re not fans of the genre, our stories are on real people. But we’re seeing many young artists self-publish their works and that is a very encouraging thing. In 2011, when Manta Ray came out with the comic HUSH, ours was the only Indian book at the first comic con in Delhi. The book sold 100 copies in just a day and Pratheek had to take down addresses to courier copies later. But now, we’re seeing the culture changing. In the last decade, we’ve seen people becoming more receptive to this medium,” she explains.

Nevertheless, Pratheek and Tina, who both come from different backgrounds — while Pratheek studied mechanical engineering and then product design at the National Institute of Design, Tina worked as a hardware engineer at Wipro — are sure of continuing the journey. “Both of us left well-paying jobs to follow our passion. There have been instances, especially when it comes to the financial side of life, where we’ve considered going back to a ‘secure’ job… but we realised that we will probably regret that decision… we want to tell stories for as long as we can,” she says.

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