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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Rajiv Chilaka hitched his wagon to the hottest technology during the IT boom and followed his heart to experiment with his ideas. The road less taken took the software engineer-turned-animator to India’s Largest Animation Brand “Chhota Bheem” and the first ever Indian animation character to have its own line of branded merchandise. During the days of unparalleled dominance by international animated characters, Rajiv developed India's very own superheroes for the Indian kids. With hardship, toil & rejections, Rajiv's journey from the idea conception to building the largest animation production company in India that caters primarily to children was no less of a roller coaster ride. Often called as the Walt Disney of India, Rajiv has made ground-breaking contributions to the Indian animation industry. Chotta Bheem, one of the most loved cartoon characters of today, faced five years of rejection before getting a slot to air the show.

The spark...

Growing up, Rajiv was drawn to animation and comics. While working as a part-time library front desk assistant during his college days in Kansas City, US, Rajiv stumbled upon a book on Walt Disney's life. The book hooked him and inspired him to learn more about animation and filmmaking. Coincidently, Kansas City is the place where Walt Disney too started his career. After the first semester, he applied for and got admission in Florida Film School. But he did not get any scholarship for the course. Unable to raise the huge fees, he leaned on his brother for support. His brother suggested him to complete his Masters in Computer Science, work for a few years and see if the animation industry still tempts him. He followed his brother's advice and took up a job in Kansas City after the Masters. Having realised that the fire is still alive, he jumped to a company in San Francisco and joined Academy of Art, San Francisco. With expertise gained at the Academy in 2D Animation, 3D animation, Storyboarding and Storytelling, the boy who grew up watching Disney animation resigned his job and moved back to India to create Indian centric animations for the Indian crowd.

Starting Green Gold...

Giving up a cushy corporate job in America, Rajiv moved back to India in September 2000. His parents were startled at his career change. Having found that the animation industry is just budding in India, he started his own animation studio, Green Gold, in a room of his house in January 2001. He hired 4 people with multimedia background and trained them on animation software. The initial days were indeed challenging. The success stories of dot-com companies from the US around that time inspired him to work hard. Rajiv made use of the software companies which mushroomed every other day and worked on a bunch of stuff for them like designing websites, logos, visiting card, brochures, making corporate films, advertisements etc.

The never-ending setbacks...

After a year of doing these corporate services to pay the bill, he hired a few more people and upgraded his infrastructure. In 2002, he moved to his own 2D animation studio. He and his team started working on some pilots for films. They were approached to make pilot episodes of Vikram and Betaal animation series, but never heard back from them. The project was left half way then. He then created something which can be aired universally.

Cartoon Network organised an event in Hyderabad and Rajiv sneaked in to meet the team members. He was given the contact details of Programs Head and he wrote to them. He was asked to come down to the studio in Bombay and do the demonstration. The team was impressed of his ideas of the universal character, but suggested to create something local. When they saw the Vikram and Betal pilot episodes, they were amazed and asked him to build it for them. However, the price they were ready to pay was not even a quarter of the cost. So the project was dropped.

Birth of Chotta Bheem...

In January 2003, Samir Jain, the present chief operating officer, who was also a client of Green Gold joined the company as a partner and infused funds through a private limited structuring. With Samir propelling the company, Rajiv had more time to concentrate on the creative side. He learned that as the location and the supporting characters of Vikram and Betaal changes from episode to episode, a lot of time is spent on designing on each episode. This made him come up with a series where location and the supporting characters can be repeated. Also he wanted to move away from the mainstream characters in mythology that many other animation studios were doing. Thus Chotta Bheem and his friends, - Raju, Chutki, Kalia, Dholu, Bholu and Jaggu, were born. Excited about the new project, Rajiv took the tapes to Cartoon Network, Disney, Hungama etc, but faced rejections from all channels.

The light at the end of the tunnel...

Meanwhile, Rajiv got a call from Cartoon Network expressing their interest in airing Vikram and Betaal as a television movie. It was a huge success. Rajiv bagged a contract with Cartoon Network for four television films of Krishna up next, which became the top shows of the year. Cartoon Network agreed to air Chotta Bheem on its sister channel, Pogo TV, which was on the verge of shutting down. A couple of days before prospective investors were to visit and ten days prior to the day of airing, their new office caught fire burning down everything on the five stories. Everything had to be rebuilt.

In April 2008, the show went on air and the day became the turning point on the lives of everybody that stood by Rajiv. The action comedy animated series was a huge hit and is still running successfully as one of the most loved cartoon series of Indian network in the past one decade. Between 2001 and 2008, the company was on the verge of shutting down multiple times. However, there was no looking back since Bheem happened. The statistics says that 73% of Indian kids follow Chotta Bheem, the laddoo loving, intelligent kid in the kingdom of Dholakpur who likes to have fun.

Various animated TV shows such as Bongo in DD National, Vikram Betal in Cartoon Network, Krishna in Cartoon Network, Krishna Balram in Cartoon Network, Chorr Police, Mighty Raju in Pogo TV, Luv Kushh in Disney XD and Arjun: The Prince of Bali in the Disney Channel India and three theatrical movies – Chhota Bheem and the Curse of Damyaan, Chhota Bheem and the Throne of Bali and Mighty Raju – Rio Calling has been made by the company. The first feature film on Chhota Bheem hit Indian theatres in 2012. “Mighty Little Bheem” will debut on streaming giant Netflix in 2018.

In 2015, Rajiv's elder brother, Srinivas Chilaka also joined the company as Chief Strategic Officer. The company also expanded into multiple domains such as licensing, merchandising, retail stores, events, digital business and movie distribution. Headquartered in Hyderabad, Green Gold has offices in Mumbai, Chennai and overseas offices at Los Angeles, the mecca of animation, Singapore and Philippines now. Rajiv dreams of having a Chhota Bheem theme park and Indian made global release animation movies some time soon.

Personal life...

Rajiv holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, USA and a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics & Telecommunications from Deccan College of Engineering, Osmania University. He also has a prestigious Honorary Doctorate from his alma mater, the Academy of Art University, San Francisco.

Leadership style...

Rajiv consults with all of his key members before taking a decision. He encourages creativity and out of box thinking and gives a lot of creative freedom to his artists.

Awards and accolades...

School of Computing and Engineering Alumni Achievement Award from University of Missouri
ABAI Leadership Excellence award
CII Regional Emerging Entrepreneurs Award

Quotes...

The road to success is filled with hurdles to cross. Only when you face the hurdles, you will know it's the right path.
Animation is a culmination of a lot of things — you need to understand colours, art, anatomy as well as physics. It is not an easy field to be in, but if you’re passionate about it and are good at it, you will succeed.
Always make the kids curious about what is going to happen next. They have to keep guessing. If a kid can guess this is what’s going to happen, it can be tricky.
All the great achievers in the world are dreamers. If we inspire kids to dream, they will automatically become achievers.

Hope readers caught up the spark...

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