The day that Thallumaala, a Malayalam film with Tovino Thomas and Kalyani Priyadarshan in the lead, came to movie theatres last month, a bunch of young artists went to watch it in different cinema halls across the state, some with their families, some with friends. They waited for the movie to be over and the end credits to roll on the screen, so they could point their names out to the people who came with them. The credits finished rolling and the theatre turned dark, but none of their names appeared on screen. The animation team, led by Kokaachi studio and comprising a lot of youngsters, went away dejected. The whole department was missing from the titles.
Calls were made, frantic messages and emails sent. Tina and Pratheek, founders of Kokaachi, did all the following-up they could in the days that followed. Their concern, they tell TNM, was that the young artists should get their due credit. They understood, they say, when the people who picked up their calls – an assistant director (AD), followed by the chief AD and then the producer Ashiq Usman – told them it was a slip on their part. A mistake. They were ready to wait for the Netflix release of Thallumaala in September, being assured that the mistake would be rectified then. It was not.
Thallumaala, an action comedy directed by Khalid Rahman, had received a lot of appreciation at theatres despite, or owing to, its unconventional storytelling – nonlinear narration, characters slipping from scene to scene, flamboyant dressing, cartoonish stunts and loud fights. Up to 21 of these shots were animated by Kokaachi. Muhsin Parari and Ashraf Hamza wrote the script and Ashiq Usman funded the film.
“We emailed Ashiq and called him up. He wasn’t well at the time. We followed it up with him later and Ashiq said that he would try his level best [to include the names in the Netflix release]. We knew from talking to our friends in the industry and from our own experience of working in films that all you had to do was send an extra file, and Netflix could add our team’s name to the end credits. But after that, Ashiq stopped answering our calls. And when the movie was released on Netflix, our names were still missing. This was not an honest mistake anymore, they had ample time and we had contacted them many times,” Pratheek says.
Animation team of Kokaachi who worked for Thallumaala
Left to them, they might have let it go. But the young team with them – Alendev R Vishnu, Athul Jayaraman, Mohith O, Ijaz Mohammed, Sachin Sreekumar, Yamini Sujan, Triparna Maiti and Swathy Pushpalochanan – was not going to. One week ago, the team put out an Instagram post, writing, “When the powers-that-be refuse to acknowledge your contribution, your names and even your existence… you must stand up and shout it out loud”, adding a credit video with their names.
Two days after that, the official page of Thallumaala put out an apology, acknowledging the work of Team Kokaachi, saying that it was an honest mistake, missing their names in the credits.
For the artists who spent many late nights and days working for the film, it was too little too late. “We can understand that it was an honest mistake the first time they made it – for the theatrical release. But they had a lot of time and urges from our side to correct it for the Netflix release. All it took was sending an extra file,” Tina says.
After their first post, many artists reached out to them, saying this had happened to them too. They couldn’t keep quiet anymore. Two days ago, team Kokaachi put out a second post. More detailed, explaining the sequence of events, interspersed with the film clippings. “In our 8+ years of creating opening titles and animation sequences for close to 25 feature films + web series across multiple languages, this was a first. But, how could it have happened? We had emailed our team’s names before we delivered the final files. We had double-checked with the film team to ensure that they hadn’t missed the email,” the post says.
They add pointedly, “When the same mistake was REPEATED again and again and again… It’s no longer an “honest” mistake (sic).”
Kokaachi, as they mention in the post, has worked in different film industries and multiple formats. Films, big and small, have always included their names in the credits before this, they say. They designed a few maps for the upcoming big release Ponniyin Selvam and the production team had asked their names for the credits. Thuramukham, a Malayalam film by Rajeev Ravi, put their names in the poster for their work in the opening and end sequences. For Thallumaala, they did 21 to 25 shots, including the last minute ‘favours’ the production team asked for, after they submitted the work.
“Not just in the end credits, even the videos and posts they put out – including the trailer and music videos – did not contain the names of the animation department,” Pratheek says.
Watch: Trailer of the film
Some people asked them if it was not enough that they got the payment. No, they say, credit matters. Especially for the young team who worked with them, into the night, who took their families to theatres to see their names roll and went home hurt.
“If it was an actor’s name that was spelled wrong, there would be every effort to get it right. Maybe they think it is alright to ignore the technicians. Animation artists don’t have a union either,” Tina says.
A week earlier, the team that subtitled the Malayalam dialogue to English for Netflix had come out saying that the streaming platform had messed up the subtitles, editing it and “butchering it” without their consent. Muhsin Parari, one of the scriptwriters of the film, had shared the post.
The Kokaachi team points out that the same reaction did not come for the goof-up of missing their names. They are most hurt by the lack of response from the team they worked so closely with during the project. The people who responded within seconds or minutes of a message or email would not even take their calls now. “At least if Ashiq explained to us what happened [during the Netflix release], we would have been pacified. But it is disrespectful to simply ghost us,” Pratheek adds.
When we contacted Ashiq for a response, he said that he is in Amsterdam.