Ram Mohan was a veteran Indian animator, title designer and design educator, who in 60 years made the industry a billion-dollar one.
Known for creating animation sequences for feature films, he worked across government and private sectors, and nurtured a generation of top-notch Indian animators.
I recall interacting with the legend at Mumbai documentary film festivals. A humble, smiling, down to earth, fun-loving person, he was passionate about creating original content. A true storyteller, he created magic with his in-depth storyboard, beautiful characterisation, seamless animation – all integrated with his very own flavour of humour. Cartooning was his hobby and he freelanced for publications like the Illustrated Weekly of India, and also created a cartoon strip called Buddhu, the Impossible Pump Attendant for Burmah Shell’s in-house magazine.
He dropped his plans for post-graduation in Chemistry, after a newspaper announcement that Walt Disney animator Clair Weeks was to conduct animation training at Films Division in 1956. He landed a job at its Cartoon Films Unit, where he went on to learn animation principles.
Starting out by doing character design and storyboards for This Our India, an animated film adapted from a book by Minoo Masani, from 1960 to 1967, he scripted, designed and animated many of its productions.
Social communication films being unexciting, in 1968, when the Chennai-based Prasad Studios, was looking for a person to run its animation division, Ram moved on, specialising in using animation for advertising, in theatres.
More advertisers started using animation, thanks to television and Ram Mohan, with over 100 films in classical two-dimension (2D) and 3D animation in 1972, established his own production company, Ram Mohan Biographics, which worked on animated commercials, sequences, titles, and advertising shorts.
The big break came in the early 1990s, when he co-produced and directed with Nippon Ramayana Films producer Yugo Sako, Ramayana: The Legend of Rama, a 135-minute, award-winning animated feature.
In April 1997, he partnered with United Studios Ltd., and formed RM-USL Animation, India’s leading post-production studio. In 1998, Ram Mohan Biographics merged with UTV to form UTV Toonz, the animation arm of United Studios Limited (USL).
He was Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at Graphiti Multimedia, a Mumbai-based animation company in 1995, and later also established the Graphiti School of Animation in 2006, hoping to redress the quality of animation education.
His body of work included social communication animation work for Johns Hopkins University, and content like the animated series J Bole Toh Jadoo for Nick, as also animated sequences for mainstream feature films, like Pati Patni Aur Woh, Shatranj Ke Khilari, Bhuvan Shome, Biwi O Biwi, and others.
In 1974, he directed a series of educational films on population and environment, Down to Earth for the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI). In 1989, he directed Taru for the Children’s Film Society of India, on man’s exploitation of nature and its grim consequences, and in 1995, he did the animated three episodic TV series Meena (1995), commissioned for the decade of the girl child in South Asia, for UNICEF.
He later did the 13-episode Sara series on AIDS for UNICEF in East and Southern Africa, dealing with the problem of the African adolescent girl; an animated two, 24-minute episodes of Adventure of Oliver Twist for Saban International, and a 13-part serial of 24 minutes each, Jo Killat, for Singapore Television.
His awards included two National Film Awards for Best Non-Feature Animation Film, You Said It (1972) and Fire Games (1983) and the Dr. V Shantaram Award for lifetime achievement at the Mumbai International Film Festival in 2006 and the Padma Shri in 2014.
While computer animation excited Mohan, he missed the beauty of artistic judgement that came with pencil and paper. The Amul girl, the Air India Maharaja and the famous Strepsils openmouthed MGM lion who squeaks in an advertisement for a throat lozenge, were mascots he brought to life.
Even in the autumn of his life, he had hope and bright ideas. He left a void in our hearts, with his sad demise in Mumbai at the ripe age of 88 years, but his inspiring works will live forever.