The history of animation in India can be traced to the early 20th century. Precursors to modern animation such as shadow puppets and slide shows entertained audiences before the advent of the cinema. Pioneers such as Dadasaheb Phalke, Gunamoy Banerjee, K.S. Gupte and G.K. Ghokle kept the tradition of animation alive during the first half of the 20th century. Such individuals were usually self-taught and were inspired by foreign cartoons.[citation needed]


Even before the birth of animation, shadow-puppet traditions used images to tell stories. A notable example is tholu bommalata ("the dance of the leather puppets") from the state of Andhra Pradesh.[1] The puppets used were large, had multiple joints, and were coloured on both sides. This meant that coloured shadows were projected onto the screen.[2] Performances were accompanied by music. Folk tales and various epics such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana were dramatised.[1]

The Shambharik Kharolika was another means of entertainment that pre-dated the age of the cinema.[3] A series of hand-painted glass slides were projected using an apparatus called the "magic lantern". Mahadeo Gopal Patwardhan and his sons were responsible for popularising the medium across parts of India in the late 19th century. Patwardhan initially took it up as a hobby after being inspired by his friend Madan Madhav Rao Vitale, who was an engineer.[4] Eventually, elements such as dialogue, narration, lyrics and background music were added.[3] The first public show was held on 20 February 1892 in Kalyan, Mumbai. The first grand tour ended on 27 December 1895 at the 11th session of the Indian National Congress in Pune. The slides depicted various tales from the Ramayana, Sita Swayamvar, Mahabharata, Sati Anasuya, Raja Harishchandra, Shekhar Dashratha and the circus. The circus slides were sponsored by the proprietors of the Chhatre's Grand Circus. Works by painters Raja Ravi Verma and Madhavrao Dhurandhar were also recreated.[4]

It is said that Raja Harishchandra's story in the form of an animated slide show was an influence behind prolific filmmaker Dadasaheb Phalke's first movie Raja Harishchandra,[4] produced in 1913.[5] Raja Harishchandra is notable for being India's first indigenous silent feature film.[5]

Often referred to as the father of Indian cinema,[6] Phalke dabbled in animation as well. His 1912 short The Growth of a Pea Plant introduced the concept of time-lapse photography,[7] with one frame shot per day.[3] In 1915 he produced the animated short Agkadyanchi Mouj (Matchsticks' Fun).[8] He had probably been inspired by Émile Cohl’s matchstick film.[9] This was followed by Laxmicha Galicha (animated coins), and Vichitra Shilpa (inanimate animation). Phalke was forced into making shorter works such as cartoons and documentaries since the war in Europe had slowed imports, including film.[8] Unfortunately, animated works such as Agkadyanchi Mouj and Vichitra Shilpa have not survived the ravages of time. However, Phalke’s craftsmanship can still be seen in the title sequence of his last silent film, Setu Bandhan, made in 1932.[10]

In 1934, the first Indian animated film with a soundtrack, On a Moonlit Night, was released.[11] The film is often credited to composer and orchestra leader R.C. Boral, but this attribution may be erroneous.[12]

The Pea Brothers, directed by Gunamoy Banerjee and produced by New Theatres Limited, was released in Calcutta on 23 June 1934, making it the first Indian animated work to be released in theatres.[7][12] The film was between 3 and 4 minutes long and used drawn black and white images. The plot consists of a pea-pod which opens up to release 5 peas, and from these peas emerge five small toy-like figures that play with one another. The film was basically an experimental attempt and hence lacked a proper storyline. It resembled the tradition of Disney and other foreign animators, whose films were released quite often in Calcutta.[12]

Pune-based Prabhat Film Company's Jambu Kaka was released in Bombay on 15 November 1934.[3] The short features a jackal and was animated by Raghunath K. Kelkar.[10] Around the same time, K.S. Gupte and G.K. Gokhle were teaching themselves animation by watching American cartoons. Their first experiment in animation was called Shikaar ("The Hunt").[3]

Other shorts from the period include Bakam Bhatt by Kolapur Cinetoons, Lafanga Langoor (1935) by Mohan Bhavani, Superman's Myth (1939) by G.K. Ghokhle, and Akash Pataal (1939) by Mandar Malik.[3]

The shortage of raw film stock due to the Second World War may have caused filmmakers to choose animation as a medium.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Tholu Bommalata". Andhra Pradesh tourism. Archived from the original on 27 October 2016. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  2. ^ "Puppet Forms". Centre for Cultural Resources and Training. Retrieved 30 October 2016. The puppets are large in size and have jointed waist, shoulders, elbows and knees. They are coloured on both sides. Hence, these puppets throw coloured shadows on the screen.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Prof. Tenali, Phani; Agarwal, Swati. "Long Ago". The Story of Indian Animation. D'source. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Torcato, Ronita (25 December 2009). "Once Upon a Magic Lantern". Business Line, The Hindu. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Silent Films of India". Indian Cinema. Culturopedia. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  6. ^ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Dadasaheb Phalke". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 30 October 2016. ((cite web)): |last= has generic name (help)
  7. ^ a b Sen, Jayanti (1 October 1999). "India's Growing Might". Animation World Network. Retrieved 30 October 2016. Finally, after a lot of effort and struggle, he did make his first film, The Growth Of A Pea Plant, and again it was using stop-motion, i.e. time-lapse photography. So, did anyone realize that 1912 officially marked the beginning of Indian animation using the animation technique of time-lapse photography?
  8. ^ a b Dr. Lent, John A. (August 1998). "Ram Mohan and RM-USL: India's Change Agents of Animation". Animation World Magazine, Animation World Network. Retrieved 30 October 2016. In 1915, the father of Indian cinema, Dhumdiraj Govind Phalke, produced the animated Agkadyanchi Mouj (Matchsticks' Fun), followed by Laxmicha Galicha (animated coins), and Vichitra Shilpa (again, inanimate animation). Because the war in Europe had slowed imports, including film, Phalke was forced into making shorter works than features, so he resorted to cartoons and documentaries.
  9. ^ Wright, Jean Ann (2013). "Chapter 2: The History of Animation". Animation Writing and Development. Focal Press. ISBN 9781136144059 – via Early in the twentieth century Dhundiraj Govind "Dadasaheb" Phalke made the first animated film in India, Agkadyanchi Mouj. He had probably seen Emile Cohl's matchstick film.
  10. ^ a b "Glimpses of Indian Animation", directed by R. Swamy, Films Division of India, 1997. Accessed on 17 October 2016. May have originally been titled "The Complete History of Indian Animation".
  11. ^ Dr.Lent, John A. (August 1998). "Ram Mohan and RM-USL: India's Change Agents of Animation". Animation World Magazine (issue 3.5), Animation World Network. Retrieved 30 October 2016. The first Indian animated film with a soundtrack, On a Moonlit Night, was released in 1934, and credited to composer and orchestra leader R.C. Boral.
  12. ^ a b c Sen, Jayanti (1 October 1999). "The Neglected Queen of Indian Animation". Animation World Network. Retrieved 30 October 2016.