Play Time and Story Time Are Not Passive Activities: Chetan Sharma

In an exclusive interview, illustrator and animator, Chetan Sharma, talks about his love for children’s illustration, books that inspired him and why reading is important for children

By Vani Venugopal  • 6 min read

Play Time and Story Time Are Not Passive Activities: Chetan Sharma

Chetan Sharma is an award winning animator, film maker, illustrator, writer and voice over artist. He is the co-founder and director of Animagic, one of India's most reputed independent animation studios. He has directed and produced two feature animation films, six short films, and many award winning ads. His first feature length film, Tripura, recently won the Best Animated Feature at the FICCI Frames BAF awards.

A self-taught artist, Chetan started animation at the age of 15. He illustrated his first children’s book for Karadi Tales when he was 19. Since then, Chetan has brought over a dozen children’s books to life with this vibrant illustrations. He has won the Parents Choice award for his illustrations for Karadi Tales. He also enjoys conducting workshops and storytelling sessions for children.

Chetan was one of the speakers at the Little Festival, a dedicated children’s lit fest conducted as a part of the Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest this year. He conducted a blindfolded storytelling session titled "Blindfolded: Stories Ka Pitaara, Reloaded!"

In an interview with ParentCircle at the festival, Chetan talks about his love for illustration and children’s books and why children should spend time reading.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

What sparked your interest in illustration, especially children’s illustration?

Reading books and comics as a child. Maybe I was not reading them so much as experiencing the pictures! If the pictures were well drawn, I would be totally engrossed in the world of the images. So, drawing was a natural thing for me. I always wanted to draw pictures for books and I chose children’s books because they have the most joy, vitality and imagination. Adult books often don’t have many images and are also often not too much fun!

What do you enjoy the most about illustrating for children?

The world building perhaps – even if you are not explicitly creating a new fantasy reality, the worlds that the characters live in every story are unique. For instance, consider a story about two Bhil kids in Rajasthan or one about a kid on an adventure in an imaginary place or even two different stories about kids living in different parts of Mumbai or a story of animal characters — each story has its own flavour and inhabits its own universe. This is the reason I often change the drawing–painting styles according to the story. This way, children can view the pictures as a complete story telling experience. They could perhaps imagine their own stories in those worlds. I love that it becomes ‘real’ for them (this is also true of animation) and they enjoy it over and over.

You have worked as an animator for many years. What made you return to book illustration?

To me, animation is the same as book illustration in that we are telling stories visually. Animation goes a step further in giving it the dimensions of movement, sound and time. But animation can also be a painstakingly slow process.

Earlier, I used to work on books only during gaps between working on films at my studio and as a result, there were often long breaks. However, a few years back, I grew disenchanted with some of the television animation that I was seeing in the country and realised that my own efforts were often diluted because of the collaborative nature of the animation process. I realised that I needed to shift my focus a bit and work more on illustrations as it allows me to reach children directly and give them my very best. So, while I am still hard at work on many animation projects, I am able to reach kids much more regularly through books now. 

What is a book that inspired you as a child?

Being more interested in pictures than text as a child, I was naturally very excited by comics. I loved "Amar Chitra Katha" comics because I was also very interested in history, myths and legends. Of course, I also enjoyed other comics and magazines like Phantom, Target, Chandamama, etc.

All of these were also like an art school for me as I am not formally trained in art!

At Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest 2020 you are hosting a session for visually impaired children. Can you tell us more about it?

Well, it’s a very exciting session! I’m trying to engage the children’s imagination without the use of visual elements such as drawing like I normally do. Here, we are trying to engage the imagination and make them visualise using other narrative clues, sound in particular, because it is an online session and we cannot access other senses such as smell and touch.

Of course, I am generally very animated in my manner and speech, so all may not be lost without pictures! 

How important is it for children to read?

Very important and I am not saying this because we are in a lit fest. There are so many aspects of the mind that are impacted by reading. It opens us up to new ideas that are beyond our own experience, to lives lived in different times, places, countries… all these add so many dimensions to our imagination. It allows us to feel more than we would otherwise and encourages empathy as well. I think we become much more by reading.

I would expand that to include all art actually. Not everyone may connect to reading. Music, dance, theatre, etc, are also ways to expand the mind.

Children spend a lot of time on gadget these days. How can we get them to reduce their screen time?

By engaging with them actively. ‘Play time’ and ‘story time’ are not passive activities. Even the reading habit will not be inculcated automatically if you just gift a child books. To read, imagine, and express themselves creatively —all these require gentle nurturing and prodding until it becomes a way of life rather than an ‘activity’. I have seen it happen easily with families where everybody enjoys these activities together… reading, music, dance, anything that needs active engagement.

Otherwise, gadgets are always very attractive channels for the mind (imagination) to be engaged. 'Real’ time should be more interesting than ‘screen’ time for the latter to be reduced.

Also Read:

How To Improve Your Child's Reading Skills At Home

Tips to Read to Your Toddler

10 Ways To Ensure Reading Comprehension In Your Child

Ways To Improve Reading Skills

About the author:

Written by Vani Venugopal on 19 November 2020.

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