Blue Mountain Blues: A jumbo tale in eight minutes — one frame at a time

Made using the stop motion animation technique, Blue Mountain Blues talks of man-animal co-existence in the Nilgiris.

ByPrutha Chakraborty

Published Mar 20, 2023 | 10:00 AMUpdatedMar 20, 2023 | 10:00 AM

Stop Motion Animation Blue Mountain Blues

Dada Saheb Phalke’s stop motion film Agkadyanchi Mouj (Matchstick’s Fun) from 1917 is hailed as the beginning of Indian animation. A century later, Sharanya Ramesh is ensuring the art form stays alive.

Stop motion requires the physical manipulation of a subject or an object frame-by-frame. Essentially, every image shows a small incremental movement, done by hand.

A Bengaluru-based filmmaker and one of India’s very few stop motion animators, Ramesh has now used this art form to make a short film on man-animal coexistence.

Sharanya Ramesh Blue Mountain Blues

Sharanya Ramesh

The film tells the story of how the indigenous Irula tribespeople of the Nilgiris crafted a waterhole for elephants so that all lifeforms in the area had enough water to drink.

And while The Elephant Whisperers — which tells the story of a couple from the Kattunayakar tribe in the Western Ghats fostering a baby elephant — continues to thrill Indians with its Academy Award, Ramesh’s work, Blue Mountain Blues, has earned its own fan following on Instagram and YouTube.

“Blue Mountain Blues is a commissioned film spearheaded by The Biodiversity Collaborative. They committed to promoting biodiversity research and conservation to enhance human well-being. This was one of two films that were a part of their outreach programme,” Ramesh told South First.

“My contribution was specific to visualising it and bringing it to life on film. We made this film over a few months.”

Keeping alive an art

Blue Mountain Blues

Still from Thatha’s Secret.

Stop motion as an art form has certainly come a long way today in India and has grown with technology, using software and equipment to make the process smoother and the result crisper.

But in most cases, a good crew is required to scale up and add quality.

Ramesh says she has pulled off a few projects by herself, but wouldn’t recommend it to others unless they are backed by qualified people.

“Nothing like having a team to really bring finesse to the work,” she says.

Ramesh admits stop motion is not as common as 2D or 3D animation. But while reputed institutions in India “do dabble” in stop motion, she says there aren’t too many animators doing only stop motion animation in India currently.

Her wry quip: “It’s a little lonely out here.”

Blue Mountain Blues

Blue Mountain Blues is inspired by true events, and is set in a village named Bangalapadigai in the Nilgiri mountains. However, instead of actual structures and people, Ramesh used a miniature set and puppets made from used materials, clay and paper.

Blue Mountain Blues stop motion animation

A still from Blue Mountain Blues.

The story is narrated by a young boy, Ranga, who is unable to fill kudams (pots) of water with his grandmother after elephants encroach on their watering hole, where groundwater emerged naturally.

Ranga narrates how his village, inhabited by the Irula ethnic group of people, once brimmed with water sources. But problems arose when elephants were forced into the area in search of food plants, thanks to the spread of the invasive lantana elsewhere, which killed native vegetation and their food source.

The animals then began using the watering holes the villagers access, which led to conflict over water.

At the centre of this film is the noble plan the villagers came up with to coexist with animals – a plan that envisaged equitable water-sharing.

The plan involved securing the main water spring in the village, and then creating two separate water sources for elephants as well as humans.

“This has ruled out the possibility of future conflict over water,” says Aditi Sajwan, spokesperson for The Biodiversity Collaborative.

“The story of Bangdapaligai shows us that human-wildlife interactions need not be mired in conflict.”

Chasing a dream

While the story of Blue Mountain Blues was adapted and written by the Biodiversity Collaborative, it is Ramesh who has helped bring it to life.

A still from Blue Mountain Blues stop motion animation movie

A still from Blue Mountain Blues

Her eye for detailing and excellent story-telling skills have garnered her massive praise on Instagram and YouTube, where the full movie is available for public viewing.

But getting to where she is now took Ramesh time.

After her Navy officer father retired and the family settled in Bengaluru, Ramesh graduated in mass communication before moving to Mumbai to learn filmmaking on the job.

She started work at a production house as an assistant director in advertisements and then continued in a freelance capacity for seven years.

She was bit by the art bug “instinctively”, she says.

“I come from a family full of musicians, writers and artists, but most have pursued these only as hobbies beyond their chosen fields of engineering, banking or management,” Ramesh explains.

“My parents encouraged my brother and me to take chances and follow our passions, eventually leading us to careers in film, animation and design.”

Moving to the hub of films

Thatha's Secret

Still from Thatha’s Secret

Today, Ramesh calls Bengaluru her home, and Mumbai her “work home”. “Mumbai is the hub for films, it all happens here at a scale that is unmatched,” she says.

The relocation to Mumbai also helped her pursue stop motion. But it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“Even the simplest looking stop motion video takes more hours than you would imagine,” Ramesh confesses.

“As an art form, it requires a lot of patience, and minute and delicate work and manipulation of your subject. And it’s a physically demanding art form.”

Sharanya’s big break was Thatha’s Secret — her first venture into independent filmmaking.

“I was keen to put to practice what I may have learnt from being on film sets for eight years and explore my potential. Making this short film was the perfect expression of everything I held dear — the ability to work hands-on and actually craft a film.”

She was 27 when she started it and turned 29 when it was finally released to the audience. Thatha’s Secret features bedtime stories told during camping by a loving grandfather. The eight-minute short did several
rounds of international festivals.

The future awaits…

So, does she have her unique style that she brings into her stop motion animations?

“I think I have a long way to go before I could put my style in words. I’m still experimenting with new materials. This is the early part of my trial-and-error phase. There is a lot to learn online.”

Currently, Ramesh is waiting for inspiration for her next project.

“I hope to do more commercials and short format content for some time, to help me experiment more and grow my craft. A feature film feels like a distant dream for now.”

How about a book for dummies dabbling with stop motion?

“It is something I’ve never considered, but maybe you’ve planted a seed in my mind,” Ramesh says with a laugh before signing off.