May 22, 2015 marked the release of Pakistan’s first 3D animated feature film, 3 Bahadur, directed by Academy Award winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and produced by Waadi Animations (a joint venture between ARY Films and SOC Films).
Although the last few years have seen a revival of Pakistan’s filmmaking industry, making an animated film locally was a feat that was yet to be attempted.
When asked why she chose to opt for animation, Chinoy says, “Although Pakistan has a very young population and a booming media industry, we have stopped producing quality content for children. After exploring a range of options, from live action to animation, I kept going back to animation because of the sheer amount of imaginative freedom it offers.”
Using the classic theme of crime-fighting superheroes that has inspired and captured the imagination of audiences for generations, 3 Bahadur is the story of three children, Amna, Kamil and Saadi, who discover they have superpowers and decide to use them to battle the evil lord Mangu and save their hometown Andher Basti from his malevolent designs.
Scripted by Kamran Khan, the film is anchored in the ideals of courage, heroism, loyalty and friendship. The objectives of making a film targeted at the next generation went beyond entertaining children.
“We wanted to convey the message that there is a hidden superpower in every child and by recognising their potential, children have the power to change Pakistan’s destiny, without waiting for a superhero to come along and save the day.”
— Jerjees Seja, CEO, ARY Digital Network
Although this was not ARY Digital Network’s first experience in releasing a movie (the network has collaborated in the past to launch Jalebi), the network’s involvement so far had been limited to sponsorship initiatives and obtaining distribution rights for the film.
Given that it was the first project of its kind for both Chinoy and ARY Digital Network to be undertaken in Pakistan, the entire journey, from conceptualisation, filming, post-production and release was wrought with challenges.
Chinoy recalls the various issues the team encountered in the three years it took to complete the project.
“It was an uphill task; we had to put together a team, learn how animation works from the initial sketch to the final shot and experiment with a medium that is both expensive and time consuming.”
— Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
The lack of an infrastructure supporting 3D animation, as well as a severe dearth of training institutions from where voice talent for each character could be sourced, further added to the difficulties of bringing 3 Bahadur to life.
While the animation was done in-house by Waadi Animations, the colour correction and sound recording was outsourced. Given that animation and child-centred content is uncommon in Pakistan, searching for, screening and finalising the technological partners for the film proved to be quite a task. Eventually, Darkroom, a Pakistan-based company, was selected for the colour correction, while Soundsquare, based in the US, did the sound recording.
Even after finding the ‘right people for the right job’, the next hurdle was the high production cost of 3D animation, combined with the uncertainty of how the film would be received by the audience and the box office collections it would generate.
According to Seja, “For a project that took three years to complete and an investment ranging between Rs 80 and 100 million, finding sponsorships for the project was imperative.”
English Biscuit Manufacturers (EBM) came on board as the main sponsor. According to Zulfiqar Ali Ansari, Head of Marketing, EBM, “At EBM we believe it is our corporate social responsibility to promote positivity at all levels of society, particularly when it comes to children and there is no better way to do this than through an inspiring and relatable audio-visual story.”
This is not the first time EBM has ventured into sponsoring children’s animated films. The company had previously sponsored the release of Rio, and its sequel, Rio 2, in Pakistan. However, for 3 Bahadur there were two more other sponsors (P&G's Safeguard and McDonald's).
In an effort to maximise the reach of 3 Bahadur, ARY Digital Network, in collaboration with their promotional partners, executed a 360-degree marketing plan. The media mix included conventional ATL (print, TV and outdoor), as well as groundbreaking BTL activities. These included a range of specially customised 3 Bahadur Gluco biscuits, with the packaging reflecting the design elements of the film. Furthermore, each wrapper had a unique code printed on the inside and the children who messaged this code to 8013, were entertained with riddles, jokes and stories based on the theme and characters of the film. From the entries received, a handful of randomly selected children were given free tickets to the film as well as branded merchandise.
According to Seja, Gul Ahmed’s involvement with the project also played a crucial role. “Gul Ahmed is our official merchandising partners and every outlet of the brand has a section dedicated to an assortment of 3 Bahadur merchandise.”
The BTL activities included a nationwide awareness campaign which was launched three to four months prior to the release of the film. Seja says, “We visited over 100 schools to introduce the concept of superheroes to children. We created mascots of the film’s main characters and they became a big attraction for the children during our visits.”
Then to further engage young audiences, 3 Bahadur’s release coincided with the launch of its own video game, which could be downloaded free of cost from either iTunes or the Google Playstore. The popularity of the game can be gauged by the fact that within a few weeks it had been downloaded more than 150,000 times.
Executing the most extensive marketing campaign ever for a Pakistani film paid dividends and although at first 3 Bahadur was allotted limited shows, as the film was competing against five other international, big-budget releases, by the second week, as interest in the film increased, cinemas across Pakistan began screening the film extensively.
As of September 2015, 3 Bahadur had registered box office collections of Rs 65 million, making it the highest grossing animated film in Pakistan and beating Rio 2’s previously held record.
In this respect, Seja points out that “unlike most commercial projects, we deliberately restricted the number of sponsors of the film, despite an extensive list of advertisers who had expressed an interest in promoting the film.”
He further elaborated that content integration was the primary strategy, whereby advertising messages were incorporated within the screenplay and dialogue of the film.
Looking to the future of locally produced animated movies, Seja is optimistic, “Despite the technological and creative challenges that had to be overcome, the unprecedented success of 3 Bahadur has opened up new horizons of creative expression for filmmakers as well as integrated marketing opportunities for brands in Pakistan. A sequel to the film is already in the works and we are aiming for a 2016 release.”