Jumping Off The Page With Studio Kokaachi — From Comics To Credit Sequences


Screen + Sound + Stage

Text by Prachi Sibal. Photographs by Rose Tommy.

Tina and Pratheek Thomas at their workspace of their Kochi house.

Tina and Pratheek Thomas had been born on the identical day, 4 years aside. And that is simply one of many many coincidences that ties them collectively. Both storytellers at coronary heart, the 2 first exchanged glances whereas furiously scribbling away of their particular person notebooks on a prepare journey from Bengaluru to Kochi in 2010. At the time, she was writing a script for a tv present, he was engaged on a comic book e-book. They would get married within the following yr.

By happenstance, their small enterprise, a comic book e-book publishing home, was launched on February 14, 2014. They known as it Studio Kokaachi, after a not-so-beloved monster that’s a part of Malayalam folklore — and who they had been launched to as kids. Both Tina and Pratheek keep that the kokaachi has been misrepresented in widespread tradition and, in actuality, will not be a scary monster as it’s generally believed. And they’ve taken it upon themselves to unfold phrase about this little-known side of the imaginary monster’s persona.

The kokaachi monster kinds the brand for Studio Kokaachi.

Studio Kokaachi isn’t Pratheek’s first brush with the world of comedian books. A comic book e-book fan by means of his childhood years, he graduated from NID (National Institute of Design), Ahmedabad and went on to work at ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) in Bengaluru. “I was working with the design wing and was involved in a project pertaining to country-wide theme parks that were to have Krishna as a central character,” he says. An unlucky layoff and months with out a job again in 2008 led him to embrace his past love, storytelling.

Manta Ray Comics — a partnership with good friend and fellow comedian e-book nerd Dileep Cherian — was thus born, with its first e-book Hush popping out in January 2011. “My brother is an ad film-maker and he had an idea for a short film. I wanted to adapt it into a comic so he could pitch it to producers,” Pratheek says concerning the first title.

In 2012, when Tina was working at Wipro in Bengaluru, she remembers Manta Ray being “like the baby at home”. Her first cartoon appeared in The Small Picture, a weekly contribution by Manta Ray Comics in Mint, in the identical yr. Commenting on social and cultural points, it ran for greater than three years.

The cowl of Mixtape Vol. 2 that was republished by Studio Kokaachi in 2014.

Incidentally, it was with this outing that Manta Ray first gathered acclaim; helmed by Cherian, it stood out notably for its simplistic out-of-the field themes and artworks. In a market saturated with mythological and superhero tales, this was genre-bending.

Manta Ray printed Mixtape Vol. 1 in April 2013 — it comprised 4 particular person black-and-white graphic narratives, illustrated by a mixture of upcoming and well-known artists. Each was priced at a mere 55 rupees for the digital model. Mixtape Vol. 2 — in an identical format — adopted on the finish of the yr: the result was 5 brief tales revolving round eclectic narratives; these included a person chasing a pickpocket, a biting satire on social media and a story of affection gone unsuitable.

But the couple quickly realised that creating and publishing comedian books isn’t simple cash. It did, nevertheless, make them a distinct — and extra profitable — trade, one which that they had by no means imagined making an attempt their hand at.

Onto The Silver Screen

Left to Right: the Mixtape sequence; a collage of frames from the animated sequences within the 2015 Tamil movie OK Kanmani and its 2017 Hindi remake OK Jaanu.

The launch of Manta Ray’s Mixtape Vol. 2 at Malayalam film-maker Aashiq Abu’s Cafe Papaya in Kochi led to a proposal by Abu, who was eager on collaborating with the duo for his 2014 Malayalam movie Gangster. Calling themselves Studio Kokaachi now, their first steps into the world of movies led to a whopping 11 minutes of animation that coated the prologue and the climax.

“Aashiq Abu also wanted us to write screenplays for a new project. It didn’t end up happening but we had already moved to Kochi from Bengaluru, to work with Abu,” remembers Tina. Studio Kokaachi’s first comedian Mixtape Vol. 3 would solely be printed in October 2016. This could be adopted by An Autobiografly, an autobiography of a housefly, and the accordion-style Matchbox Comix Vol. 2. The giant gaps between releases is attributed to their ventures being self-funded.

For Mani Ratnam’s Tamil movie OK Kanmani (2015), Studio Kokaachi created each 2D and 3D animated recreation sequences that supported the protagonist’s — a gamer — character arc in addition to the 2D finish credit. For the Hindi remake OK Jaanu (2017) the 3D sequences had been accomplished in collaboration with Splat Studio, and the 2D sequences with Dreamcatcher Studios, whereas the opening credit score sequences had been created in collaboration with Plexus Motion.

A piece in progress: pages from Sound Of Her Silence, one of many tales within the yet-to-be-released Mixtape Vol. 4.

Soon after, actor Neil Bhoopalam found Mixtape Vol. 1 at a restaurant in Goa. He confirmed it to director Akshat Verma, who was enthusiastic about making a graphic novel primarily based on their upcoming movie, Kaalakaandi (2018), additionally starring Saif Ali Khan, as publicity materials for it. Although it didn’t materialise, Studio Kokaachi was roped in for the movie’s title sequence in 2017.

Breaking Into OTT

Gully Boy (2019, on Vimeo): the opening titles by Studio Kokaachi

Tina and Pratheek stepped into the OTT title credit area with Lust Stories, the 2018 Netflix anthology produced by Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP Movies and Ashi Dua’s Flying Unicorn Entertainment. Since then they’ve created the title credit for six extra productions for Netflix — the Tamil limited-edition anthology movie Paava Kadhaigal (2020), the Hindi-Telugu bilingual Pitta Kathalu (2021) and the Hindi-language productions, Ghost Stories (2020), Ankahi Kahaniya (2021), Ajeeb Dastaans (2021) and the not too long ago launched Lust Stories 2. “For both the Lust Stories, we used elements from the various films and stitched a narrative for the title credits. We tried to evoke the mood — the world and the characters are what we can play around with. Paava Kadhaigal comprises four short films about honour killing and the title credits give you a glimpse of the mood that lies ahead. The films were very dark. The opening credits feature the journey of a woman from birth to motherhood. We connected all the illustrations using the colour red. Red plays an important part in a girl’s life — from menstrual blood to sindoor and the wedding sari,” says Tina.

Film-maker Zoya Akhtar initially reached out to them to animate the brand for Tiger Baby Films, her manufacturing home that was launched in 2019 with Gully Boy, after which requested if they might do the title sequence for the movie as effectively. “When we got called for Gully Boy we did not realise how big it was,” says Tina.

Left to Right: a shortlist of title fonts for Gully Boy; the ideation pocket book for the movie’s title sequence.

From animated sequences in OK Kanmani and Abu’s Gangster to animated typography in Gully Boy, their repertoire was steadily increasing. Gangster had a graphic novel-inspired type. OK Kanmani has stylised, recreation sequence-like animation. Lust Stories has a minimal design type. They’ve additionally accomplished the animated brand for a Hollywood studio that hasn’t been launched but.

Despite the rise within the scope and amount of their work, Studio Kokaachi continues to be simply made up of Tina and Pratheek. Graphic designers, illustrators, artists and animators come on board primarily based on the calls for of the tasks they tackle. Their workplace premises have remained shut for the reason that pandemic. The couple now works out of their house the place they reside with their 4 rescue canines. “Both of us are writers and storytellers, we are not illustrators or animators. We conceptualise, write and provide the necessary direction to the projects, and collaborate with animators and artists for the rest of our needs,” says Pratheek, including that they’ve gone from working with animation studios to now additionally handpicking freelance artists for particular tasks now. “We work with studios or freelancers based on the volume of work. OK Kanmani and Gangster were exceptions where we were going beyond our mainstay — title credits — and creating longer animation sequences. We needed studio support to render them within our three-month deadline.”

Tina with sketches for A Thousand Years, an upcoming comedian e-book.

Standing Out In The Clutter

Cracking an idea for a movie or sequence stays their greatest problem and may take weeks. Not everybody desires animation within the title sequence or is prepared to share footage from the movie for a similar. “For The Empire, the Disney + Hotstar web series, we presented 10 concepts, and all of them were rejected by the makers. We had run out of ideas and then at midnight, I wrote down the word “Empire” on a blackboard. The phrase has six letters and there have been six Mughal emperors. It was like an epiphany,” says Pratheek concerning the credit score sequence the place silhouettes of the faces of six Mughal emperors flip to disclose the title of the sequence.

Studio Kokaachi hopes to veer in a brand new inventive route with each mission, however they select to avoid reside motion. The credit for the Indian Modern Love anthologies, which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2022, performed with inventory photographs, whereas these for Rocket Boys (2022-’23) had been hand-drawn with minimal animation, an enormous departure in type from their earlier work. “We don’t have the skill set for live action and it makes no sense for us to outsource it,” he says. “The other challenge is dealing with production houses that come to us without understanding the limitations of our field. For example, given that they were hand-drawn, we could replicate Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh’s facial features only to a certain extent,” they are saying, referring to the Rocket Boys opening credit.

But this SonyLIV net sequence turned out to be their large break. “With Lust Stories, people noticed us but we didn’t get calls for too many projects. But when actors began to tag us on social media after Rocket Boys, there was a sudden explosion of interest,” Pratheek explains. Their work had now reached essential mass.

Left to Right: Pratheek at work; his writing desk.

“We don’t quite know how it happened but we have somehow become synonymous with title sequences. We are not in Mumbai. We don’t go out and pitch. We are not very active on social media –– we are not even on WhatsApp,” he says, including that the conceptualisation and execution of title sequences as mini movies are in sync with their primary ability set as storytellers.

In their seventh yr of making title sequences, Studio Kokaachi is awaiting the discharge of their twenty fifth mission, Pippa, a movie set throughout the 1971 Indo-Pak battle. Then there’s Shiladitya Bora’s Bhagwan Bharose, the twenty fifth UK Asian Film Festival’s closing movie, which bagged the Best Film award in May. “We’ve also created an animated logo for Earthsky Pictures (Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari’s production house),” says Tina.

The Art Of Credit Sequences

Pratheek’s web page layouts for Hush.

Title sequences in Indian movies have included — from animation, handwritten slides and catchy music for aeons now. They have been a technique to preserve audiences entertained.

In earlier occasions, the tone, music and textual content usually conveyed the emotion of the upcoming movie and ready viewers for what was in retailer. “I personally prefer credits where a little bit of the movie is shown. It captures the interest of the viewer,” says Bollywood buff Dhruv Somani. Earlier, he says, viewers wouldn’t thoughts lacking the top credit score sequences however with film-makers selecting to run elaborate finish credit in recent times, that is not the case. “In Bollywood, this is also where you would sometimes find the hot-ticket number that is popular with the masses,” chimes in Puneet Rakheja, who used to run the weblog Taking Credit in 2013-’14, with the intention of decoding credit score sequences in movies.

“Though it’s not recognised by the Academy yet, the title sequence is an art form in its own right. The opening credits are the first visuals you meet in a film. They can perform various roles — as a narrative device that pushes the story along, an introduction to the characters and big-ticket actors, and so on. Lately, some are using these title sequences as a way to pass on subtle clues about an anticipated plot; for instance, in Game of Thrones, at the height of its fervour, there were plenty of blogs and videos devoted to the now iconic title sequences,” provides Rakheja.

The credit score sequences in Bollywood movies and OTT sequence largely stay in English, with the identify of the movies being spelt out in Hindi and Urdu at occasions. Down South, the credit have all the time been displayed within the native languages. “In Kollywood, all the credits would appear in Tamil and only the names of the key cast and crew would be mentioned in English. The background music is often punctuated with dramatic silence for big names like, say, K. Balachander,” says film-maker and tutorial Okay. Hariharan. He believes simplistic titles are the best way to go and brings up Sholay (1975) for example, for its use of primary title playing cards — names handwritten on playing cards and photographed — that had been removed from ornate and but efficient. “There is no ideal credit sequence. There are effective or ineffective title sequences,” factors out Rakheja.

And standout sequences have stayed with audiences by means of the years.

In the 1978 Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Don, the pre-credits scene has him throwing a briefcase on the goons. It explodes and leads us to the credit score sequence, which opens with a combat. Presented as colored movie negatives, the credit, accompanied by the theme tune, set the tone for the high-paced chase that’s about to comply with.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, film-maker, movie historian and founding father of the Film Heritage Foundation, cites the instance of the 1966 movie Teesri Manzil the place the opening credit finish with a lady falling off the third storey of a constructing in an effort to construct suspense.

“The earlier title sequences mostly made use of title cards. The 1936 Devdas used an art deco typeface – that was popular then – against a black background. In the 1955 version, the credits appear as the pages of a book are flipped,” says Rakheja. “The remarkable expressionist frame of a pair of eyes and a dozen hands in the 1957 film Do Aankhen Barah Haath was striking; the opening sequence uses 12 handprints as a canvas for the credits.”

Somani recounts the presence of background music within the credit of black and white movies of the ’50s. “When Eastmancolor came into the picture, title credits became more eye-catching. The ’80s saw some of the most memorable sequences thanks to Nasir Hussain, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Raj Khosla and the Ramsay Brothers,” he says.

A double unfold from Hush.

The credit score sequences had been usually employed to create an environment of suspense. “Those for low-budget horror films by the Ramsay Brothers brought with them a certain curiosity and evoked a mood that would lead viewers into the film without bringing in any elements of gore. Raja Nawathe’s 1965 thriller Gumnaam, on the other hand, had blood splattered across the screen, blatantly denoting a sense of mystery,” he says.

Fast-paced sequences with acceptable music had been for thrillers and horror whereas animation was reserved for comedies. In Sai Paranjpye’s Katha (1983), the credit score sequence tells us of the hare-and-tortoise fable with hand-drawn illustrations. It units a comic book tone and stays a thread by means of the movie, reoccurring on the finish.

The Effects Of Digitalisation

The digital age that set its stamp on the 2000s noticed a brand new sophistication creep into title sequences. The manufacturing worth was higher and music was generally commissioned particularly for the credit score reels. According to Rakheja, there has additionally been a shift in the direction of creating larger-than-life imagery. He cites Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017) for example; it used its title credit as a plot gadget that gave viewers a glimpse of key occasions from the earlier movie. “Its title sequence animated scenes from the first film which lent them a larger-than-life feel,” he says.

From the ’90s onward, there have been solely a handful of references that they discuss. “In recent times, Farah Khan started the trend of creating end credit sequences that the audience would stay back to watch, we see it in Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om,” says Somani, referring particularly to the latter, the place a number of of the solid and crew, together with technicians and spot boys, make an look. The sequence closes with the grand entry of the director in an auto. It was a tribute to the solid and crew of the movie that suggestions a hat to the glory days of the Hindi movie trade.

The finish credit of Zoya Akhtar’s Luck by Chance (2009) additionally made a mark for its innovation. The credit score reel that the movie closes with encompasses a single lengthy shot of Konkona Sen Sharma in a black-and-yellow taxi, with the town of Mumbai within the backdrop. From a starkly completely different style, Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), with its rugged, textured title playing cards, and Black Friday (2004), the place the title of the movie foregrounds the smoke-filled photographs of the 1993 Bombay blasts, are equally memorable.

A tough sketch from A Thousand Years.

Then there’s the flip facet to digitally produced credit score sequences. While embracing the digital instruments out there to create progressive and high-quality titles, most critics admit that the non-public contact is slowly disappearing. “All credit sequences have started looking the same. The artistic interpretation is lost. Since it was not an easy job earlier, everyone thought of innovative, original ideas to make them stand out,” Dungarpur says. “It’s the same with film posters, you can’t match the hand-drawn ones from the early days. Also, when was the last time you saw a film’s interval being announced with a bang?” says Dungarpur, who has been sustaining a private archive of the ending photographs — particularly, “The End” frames –– of Indian movies.

The Resurgence

Left: Tina assesses tough sketches from Mixtape Vol. 4 and A Thousand Years.

A big development that has emerged with OTT movies and sequence is the outsourcing of credit score sequences to studios and producers past the silos of movie circuits. With OTT platforms arising with new releases each week and competing for viewers consideration, the pie is changing into bigger and there’s a chunk for everybody.

As a outcome, quite a few VFX companies have sprung up. Mumbai-based Plexus Motion, finest identified for his or her title credit for each the seasons of Netflix’s Sacred Games (2018-’19), Gangs of Wasseypur and Angry Indian Goddesses (2015), was additionally born in 2014. More not too long ago, Koffee With Karan (2004-’22) outsourced its credit score sequence to the Chennai-based Whoa Mama Design. Mumbai-based Harkat Studios, launched in 2017, has created title sequences for Bombay Begums (2021), Trial by Fire (2023) and Guns and Gulaabs (2023), all of that are viewable on Netflix.

“We’ve done credits for two Tamil films but they were over six years ago. Dharma Productions got in touch with us after happening to see our brand videos and edits on social media. They were taking a chance,” says Shaun D’Sa, co-founder and artistic head, Whoa Mama Design. He provides, “Karan (Johar) liked the concepts that we shared. He was keen on a red-carpet scene. We worked on the storyboard, scripts, choreography and set design, and shot the sequence at the YRF Studio in Mumbai.”

The early work of Vijesh Rajan, earlier than he based Plexus Motion, contains Gangs of Wasseypur, OK Kanmani, and MTV India’s The Dewarists (2011-’16) and Bring on the Night (2012). With Plexus Motion, he went on to provide atmospheric title sequences for one more Kashyap movie Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016), apart from miniseries like Ghoul (2018) and Leila (2019).

Rajan’s strategy to Gangs of Wasseypur was novel and tried to present a contact of a Western, albeit within the heartlands of India. “I saw so much grit and texture on set. I wanted the sequence to reflect that and the credits set up the tale of the place and the people. The music had to indicate that it is a dangerous place to be, that the people are dangerous. We decided to go with a large textured typeface,” he says, recalling how they might rub sheets of paper with the title textual content on the bottom for the rugged, aged look. “We would crumple paper and then scan it. For over 10 days, at Kashyap’s office in Mumbai, we were just rubbing paper across different surfaces to get the right texture. No two frames looked the same or had the same texture,” he shares.

“When Plexus was working on Netflix’s Decoupled, the directors came with a brief that clearly stated the need for something fresh for each episode. When a couple splits up, it’s not just them, all their belongings get split up too. We came up with eight executions of the title sequence. A different object in the opening credits of each of the eight episodes alludes to the separation by moving away from its counterpart,” Rajan provides.

Sacred Games, one other early piece of labor by Plexus, obtained rave evaluations for the music — by Alokananda Dasgupta — employed in its title credit. Here, the mandala and the haunting music creates a palpable stress. “Each episode has its unique mandala with elements from Hindu mythology embedded in it. It is colourful to begin with and then the colour starts to fade away. It signifies the underlying darkness that is unleashed as the storyline progresses. We were told it needs to have some angst. That’s when we started doing these sharp edits,” he says of the considering behind the sequence.

With the sequence, Rajan’s crew tried to beat the system; particularly, the Skip Intro possibility on OTT platforms. They achieved this by creating title sequences that modified with each episode, a stratagem that they might replicate for Decoupled in 2021. The Skip Intro characteristic works towards the animation artists. It additionally creates a brand new set of challenges, of bringing in selection with every episode. Lending the correct quantity of drama to the titles is essential; they need to not overshadow the precise content material or reveal spoilers. Titles seem at a quicker velocity these days — you possibly can lookup the credit on-line and therefore the titles serve a extra aesthetic and fewer practical function now. Nevertheless, Rajan believes that participating credit are right here to remain. The skip possibility on OTT platforms will not be a deal-breaker. “It pressurises studios to be more creative,” he says.

Surging Ahead

Studio Kokaachi’s journey with credit score sequences and comedian books isn’t going to finish anytime quickly. Their first Malayalam comedian sequence, the upcoming eight-part Idivettu, is “a heist story”, Pratheek says excitedly. “It’s about a boy who comes from a lineage of thieves and wants to grow up to be the greatest thief in the world. He becomes a thief but he isn’t very good at it. When another smarter, more successful thief shows up, he is forced to go to extraordinary lengths to prove himself as the best thief in his small town,” he provides, whereas making an attempt to not reveal all the twists and turns within the e-book.

More than 9 years after they reclaimed the scary boogeyman of their childhood, the duo is setting the document straight. Another upcoming comedian, There’s No Such Thing Called A Kokaachi, revolves across the monster. “The upcoming book has been scripted and the illustrations are being worked on. We are aiming for a mid-2024 release,” she provides.

There’s additionally Raja, a comic book e-book that Pratheek and Tina are writing collectively for the primary time. “The 40-page graphic narrative is inspired by Pratheek’s maternal grandmother and her dog,” says Tina, including that it’s slated to be unveiled in two months’ time.

Over the previous couple of years, their lives might have taken a extra filmi flip than that they had chalked out for themselves — they nonetheless can’t fairly wrap their heads round it – however the two insist that Bollywood calls for however, they’re publishers and storytellers first. Upcoming OTT tasks apart, Mixtape Vol. 4, they remind us, is ready to be born.


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