Upcoming animation The Donkey King, which is scheduled to screen in cinemas across Pakistan this weekend, has been in the news for quite some time, its teaser and trailer picking up steam weeks before its release. Yesterday it made headline news as a pre-release screening in Islamabad was organized for Sheikh Rashid, Federal Minister for Railways, and he was all praise for the effort. Sheikh Rashid commented on how much he enjoyed the film, considering that he hadn’t watched any film in the last 2-3 decades. The kids who watched the film with him were also delighted.
As The Donkey King sets out for its premiere tomorrow, one question comes to mind: will it succeed in raking in the numbers? The general public is exposed to animations of the caliber that Hollywood now produces; films like Nemo, Shrek, Ice Age, etc. are box office grossers but to date, even efforts from Bollywood have not gone down well because they cannot compete. So, is there a market for locally-made animations in Pakistan?
“I think there is a huge market for a family entertainer and that’s what this is,” director and co-producer Aziz Jindani spoke to Instep in an exclusive chat. “But yes, the challenge is the monetization. I have no doubt that if we put this on free media it would be one of the top 3 most-watched films in the history of Pakistan. But a lot of animated content is available for free viewing so convincing people, households, to go and watch will be a challenge. You have to understand that the drop size of a film like this is higher; if one man can go watch a feature film alone, spending 700 rupees on a ticket, then one child will probably go with his parents. Animations tend to get more expensive for families.”
There are elements that are working to the film’s advantage. The Donkey King is being promoted as a fun-filled film for all ages and both its characters and its music have already become very popular. Speaking of its music, the film has 3 songs, the title track by Shuja Haider, one song composed by Asrar and one by Shani Arshad. But that’s not all.
“We have actually recorded on live orchestra and that’s a fun fact because no Pakistani film has been recorded on live orchestra yet,” the director shared. “We recorded with the Budapest Film Orchestra. We composed the soundtrack here and then recorded with a 49-piece orchestra in Budapest. This was the first time that even Shani did a live orchestra.”
The story is quite intriguing in itself and people are wondering whether it has political undertones.
“Political, no. But there is palace politics, as there is in the Game of Thrones,” Aziz clarifies. “It’s the story of a simpleton getting caught up in a web of situations that are too complicated for him to handle. It’s an out and out family entertainer and yes, comedy is the base.”
Comedies are a cinch to work with the public and animation is a formula that Aziz Jindani has past success with; he is responsible for creating the Commander Safeguard brand more than a decade ago and believes that characters from The Donkey King will also be positioned as brands in their own. We can expect to see a lot of Mangu even beyond the film.
One wonders what landed Jan Rambo, action and comedy hero of yesteryears, in the role of Mangu. The casting couldn’t have been better.
“My real choice would have been Rangeela,” Aziz explains, “and I think that talent and spontaneity has been passed on to Rambo. Rambo shares a lot with Rangeela. The day we shot the demo is when we knew it has to be him and no one else.”
– The Donkey King premieres tomorrow and releases in cinemas across the country this weekend.