Sonam Shekhawat, an animator from Rajasthan, is the first Indian writer to win the prestigious Emmy Award for her show “All Hail King Julien” which currently airs on Netflix. What many people do not know is that she pursued a degree in Animation and Multimedia from the Birla Institute of Technology. Born in Karauli and raised in Jaipur, she began her creative journey by first writing stories and then entered the Animation Industry. Some of her notable works include Mighty Raju. She has written 50-60 episodes for Chhota Bheem, and even the scripts for four to five movies and 20-30 songs of the franchise.
From watching cartoons as a child to creating them in her adulthood, Mrs. Shekhawat has had an awe-inspiring journey so far. We at the News and Publication Society had the exciting opportunity to interact with Mrs Sonam Shekhawat. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Q1. What was your inspiration to become a cartoonist/animator as a child?
A1. Well, I was extremely fascinated by movies like Jurassic Park, Star Wars etc. When my father told me that those scenes were not real but created by a person, I decided that I wanted to be that person. I wanted to be a storyteller. At the age of 11, I started reading Harry Potter and that completely changed my life. It taught me so much about fantasy world-building and I started building worlds of my own. I was labelled as a weirdo throughout my school and college life but I couldn’t stop being that because living in all those worlds brought a lot of happiness to me. Animation and storytelling continue to inspire me even as an adult. Guess, I am still a child.
Q2. How does it feel to be the first Indian writer to win the prestigious Emmy Award?
A2. It feels good, but I never really think about it. I didn’t know for a long time that I was the first Indian to win an Emmy. It was when others started praising me, did I acknowledge it. I think I feel a void inside me because this and all my other achievements were a part of international shows. Yes, I did win Screen Awards in India for Indian shows but not a single Indian show has made a mark internationally. It’s not like that I have not written some great stories and concepts but Indian producers are still playing safe. It would be a glorious moment for me when I win an academy award for Indian content, produced in India. That being said, Emmy was a great moment and the greatest turning point in my career.
Q3. The Indian animation industry currently caters mostly to the local audience. Where do you find the industry in the next 10 years and do you think that we’ll be able to crack the global diaspora?
A3. I am trying my best. Returning to India was a bold move for me especially when I am still employed at a British company, Nucleus Media Rights. It creates drama, children and family content for the UK and European audience. Last year I pushed the company to explore the Indian market and work with some Indian producers. With the advent of OTT platforms in India, many producers have become open to producing Indian content that can travel and make an impact internationally. I am in the process of creating some animation, live-action and hybrid shows that have the potential of becoming global successes. I would love to see Indian originals shining across the globe depicting the true heritage of India.
Q4. What is your favourite animated movie of all time? Also, among the series that you’ve worked on previously, which remains closest to your heart?
A4. My favourite animated movie of all time is The Emperor’s New Groove. This movie was made way ahead of its time. The humour in the movie can be compared with what Marvel is trying to incorporate in their movies. It has excellent writing, excellent animation and excellent characters arches. It’s also a very beautiful movie in terms of artwork. Music is another significant factor. I think Mulan is a close second. It is considered a masterpiece, but for me, it was like an inspiration of what a female protagonist can be. For the second part of your question, it’s like choosing between one of my children. All the shows that I have created and written remain very close to my heart. They are my children.
Q5. How would you describe the freelance ecosystem in India? How was your experience while working as a freelancer?
A5. Well, it’s not easy to work as a freelancer in the beginning but if you are good, people look forward to working with you. You have to be extremely professional and never miss deadlines. Having a good understanding of the business always helps. Also, self-discipline is very important because there is no authoritative pressure over you. Procrastination is your biggest enemy. In short, if you are doing your job, people respect you and you can have a great career being a freelancer. For me, it was a blessing as I wanted to balance being a mother and a professional writer. Work never came in between me and my family.
Q6. What hurdles did you face and how did you pave your way through the labyrinth?
A6. There were a ton of hurdles. To begin with, no one sees writing as a career. It was hard to convince my family and it was hard to convince myself that I will make it. Additionally, I always had difficulty connecting with people. I had a hard time making friends so I was scared when I started my professional life but the hurdles simply vanished when I entered the Animation Industry because people understood me and appreciated me for being different. They made me feel at home. For the first time in my life, I was not scared of people. I was not worried about being the odd one out and I thrived in that environment. It was as if nothing could stop me. There were other hurdles like learning English, principles of storytelling, production and animation but you see I was never scared of learning. I was only scared of people.
Q7. Being a creative genius certainly has its downsides. What do you do on days when your inner ideas run dry?
A7. The only downside of having a creative mind is that you don’t see things the way others do and despite being smart, you are often seen as dumb or foolish or childish. People don’t think before hurting your feelings because probably sometimes creative people are not even considered to be humans. Anyway coming to inner ideas running dry, well, I don’t think that that ever happens. What happens is much more complicated than that. We all recognize this phenomenon as a creative block. My job is all about thinking and I think a lot, and when you think that much you exhaust your brain and your brain shuts down. Even when you are full of ideas you can’t write or create anything because your brain has simply refused to co-operate with you. When that happens, I know that I need to take a break and relax and not panic. I indulge myself in other creative things like painting or sculpting or simply playing my favourite games like Pokemon Go or Harry Potter or watch some of my favourite movies, meditate listen to music etc. It’s just like that story of the two woodcutters, where one who took stops to sharpen his axe was able to chop more wood than the other guy who didn’t take any breaks.
Q8. What suggestions/advice would you like to offer to the college students who want to pursue creative arts?
A8. First of all its a serious profession. It is not easy to become an artist or a writer. It demands a lot of hard work and years to make it to the top. College offers you time to shape yourself and master your craft. That time should not be wasted. You can’t be good at everything so pick what you want to do at a very early stage of your college life and practice it day and night, till it becomes your nature and all you can think about. Make a good resume and show-reel. Take yourself very seriously. Never walk into an interview wearing sandals or shorts. With corporates like Byju’s, Vedantu, Amazon, Netflix hiring artists and writers, you need to be presentable. A proper dress code is followed in all animation studios and only on Fridays can you dress up casually. I would also suggest college students to dream because dreams do come true.