MAMUN M.ADIL: When was Unicorn Black, the company that created Burka Avenger, launched?
AARON HAROON RASHID: Unicorn Black was established at the beginning of 2012. It is a multimedia production and tech company. It is my own company; I founded it and run it. We are working on a bunch of interesting things; games, a really cool website for musicians and animations. We also have a recording studio. It is full of talented young Pakistanis and we turn our ideas into realities.
MMA: What are the other projects that Unicorn Black has worked on?
AHR: Quaid Se Baatein – a series of public service messages. It is about a little girl who has a poster of the Quaid in her bedroom. The Quaid appears to her in dreams from the poster and she asks him various questions. In one episode, her father tells her not to play with her best friend because she is ‘different’ in terms of her religion. In her dream, Mr Jinnah tells her that Pakistan is for everyone, and that we need to be united. So far we have produced two three-minute episodes which have been aired on Geo.
MMA: How did the idea of Burka Avenger come about?
AHR: I have been a musician for many years and I have produced and directed many of my own videos. I was interested in making movies and with my experience I thought I could pull it off, so I started short listing some ideas. One of them was Burka Avenger; I had read about girls schools being closed down, and I thought it would be interesting if a school teacher, as a main protagonist, protected a school. However, I thought a movie would be a large undertaking and I had been hearing about the popularity of iPhone games, so I teamed up with some people and started working on a game. As matters progressed, I decided I wanted to do a back-story for the game, which I initially thought would be a three-minute live action back-story, but then I decided to stick to the animated realm. Once the animation came together I was so blown away by the product that I decided to turn it into a TV series. As a result I put together a team that was so talented and passionate that we became even more ambitious about the project.
MMA: What happened to the game?
AHR: We have added some elements from the animated series into the original version of the iPhone game and we are fine-tuning it. We are also working on an Android version. In the meantime, we have also uploaded games on the Burka Avenger website.
MMA: On which channels is Burka Avenger being aired?
AHR: The first episode was aired on Sunday, July 29 on Geo Tez, with a new episode aired every Sunday and repeated four to five days a week. Every episode is 22 minutes long, and the first season has 13 episodes, which has never been done before in Pakistan for an animated series. The series will also be aired on Geo News and Geo Entertainment; these are the Group’s top three channels. Geo News will also run stories that relate to each episode. So if the episode is about child labour, Geo News will do a short news story on the topic. Consequently, Burka Avenger will be advertised on the Geo network’s channels.
MMA: How else is it being promoted?
AHR: What brought us a lot of publicity was the coverage in the local and international media, which propelled Burka Avenger worldwide, and helped it go viral. We also have a very effective social media campaign, and every week we get roughly one million post views on our Facebook page, and our likes are increasing by 25,000 a week.
MMA: How easy – or difficult – was it to sell the series to a channel?
AHR: It wasn’t hard to sell. I didn’t actively promote Burka Avenger. By the time we had created the first few episodes Geo had heard about them and the channel came to our offices and they loved it and came onboard. Unicorn has given Geo the exclusive rights to air the series for a period of time.
MMA: Who is the target audience?
AHR: Initially, we thought it would be children aged between eight and 12, or six and 14 but what we have noticed is that all age groups are enjoying the series. I think it is ideal family entertainment as there is slapstick comedy that kids enjoy, along with wit and humour for adults.
MMA: Do you think that people in the upper SECs will enjoy it, given the series is in Urdu?
AHR: Definitely; a lot of educated people in Pakistan and overseas have written to us to say they are happy that there is finally a cartoon in Urdu that keeps our values and culture alive. They appreciate the fact that it is in Urdu and that the series is 100% Pakistani. This is something that I am very proud of, because there is a lot of negativity about Pakistan abroad. People have even said that Disney can learn a thing or two from Burka Avenger.
MMA: Why did you choose the burka for Jiya’s disguise?
AHR: The burka for me was a convenient disguise and was something people can relate to; we stylised the costume; it allows the Burka Avenger to glide from rooftop to rooftop and to conceal the books and pens she uses as her weapons.
MMA: What sort of issues is the series exploring?
AHR: The first episode centred on Jiya (Burka Avenger’s alter ego) preventing the school from being closed down, another was about discrimination. In that episode, the villain Vadero Pajero is trying to get Mooli and his family kicked out of Halwapur so he can build a hotel. The [animated version of the] band Josh shows up, and they sing a song of unity and peace. In another episode, Vadero Pajero’s factory is spewing toxic waste, animals are mutating and the trees are dying. The episode focuses on the environment; another episode tackles bijli chori. While the episodes are entertaining, there is a message in each one of them, which I think is important especially for kids who don’t have the opportunity to read much and learn morals and ethics from books.
MMA: What’s next for Burka Avenger? Is season 2 in the pipeline?
AHR: Probably; a lot of brands have approached us and expressed an interest in sponsoring it. I don’t think the name Burka Avenger will be tagged with the name of another brand, but we are open to sponsorships because it will help us improve the quality of the product. I am also keen about making an animated, full length 3D movie – that is something that really interests me. Several people have approached me as far as a live action movie is concerned, including people from Bollywood. If it is made into a live action movie, it will require more investment. At this stage I am more interested in the animated movie. Afterwards maybe a live action movie which, if well made, could be very entertaining and interesting.
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