By Vidya Pradhan
Ha! Who says Indians don't have a sophisticated sense of humor? Well, judging from the dreck on display in Bollywood and satellite TV, that would be me. But Sandeep Sood's sly look at the cultural conflict brought on by outsourcing and the globalization of business is a delight. Witty and wry at the same time, "Doubtsourcing" is a refreshing change from the bodily-function/vernacular accent based comedy that passes for humor in India.
Sandeep, who creates the "Doubtsourcing" strip with the help of illustrator Aron Bothman, is also the co-founder and lead writer for badmash.tv, an animation studio based in Berkeley and Pune, as well as the founder and executive director of Monsoon Company, a software development firm that serves major clients in the US.
His most visible success, though, has been the "Doubtsourcing" comic strip and it caught the attention of a venture firm in the Valley. His potential investors suggested that "Doubtsourcing" be developed into a full fledged animated series, a sort of The-Simpsons-meets-The-Office. With Badmash already making a foray into developing an animation studio in India, it seems like a natural progression.
The show, still at a fledgling stage of production, is about an office in India with customers around the world, exploring the same vein of multicultural comedy. 5 of the 8 principal characters are Indian, though Sandeep promises an American style of humor that depends on irony and sarcasm.
For fans of the strip and Badmash, the animation is in semi-hibernation while the creators work on the show.
I spoke to Sandeep about the challenges of creating and developing a TV pilot out of a comic strip.
You are based in the US and writing a show set in India. Is that difficult to do?
SS: One of the most challenging things about this project is that our staff is mostly American; they don’t have much experience with Indian business or culture. They tend to miss the nuances so it becomes our role to establish context and avoid stereotypes. In some ways this is a Hollywood project, since our talent is based in L.A. We decided not to worry about culture – just hire really funny people and work as a team to make sure our writing is culturally correct.
“Doubtsourcing” the strip is entirely your baby and now you will be handing it over to a corporate entity. Do you feel a loss of control?
SS: Well, I still get to lead the writing. More importantly, the badmash team has been working together for over 5 years; there's no way we could turn a static comic into an animated series without a full team of talented producers, writers, animators, and artists!
You are building an animation studio from the ground up in Pune.
SS: Animation as a skill is only 5-7 years old in India. In a sense this is a school as well as a studio. We want to prove that Indian animators can be as competent.
Wouldn’t it have been easier to use US animators who don’t have to go through a learning curve?
SS: Our focus is long term. The Badmash studio is being developed not just for this show but as a full studio. We hope to do original work along the model of Pixar, not just be an off-shoring arm for a US producer. We’ve realized that quality doesn’t come from contract work. The style of the animation is not at the Disney level. We will not see that kind of quality for a couple of years. But humor is not dependent on how smooth the animation is. Over time, our style will improve in terms of animation quality; more importantly, each month, we'll get better at making people laugh.
Do you find a difference in the way Indian and American employees work?
SS: There is a big difference in the way Indians and Americans approach work. In India there is an immense desire to please and make their managers happy. But there is a higher quality of work here in the US. Part of the problem is the learning thing, the Indian education system, but it is just an initial problem, they are so bright, they catch on. In 5-10 years this would equalize a lot. Indian workers are evolving, interacting, this sociologically more interesting than anything else. Watching our Indian team evolve has been really fulfilling.
Do you have any experienced people who are training the animators in India?
SS: We have an amazing storyboard artist who we convinced to spend 3 months in India. It was invaluable. Apart from the training, he also improved morale.
When can we expect to see the show on TV?
SS: I think it is going to be at least 3-4 months before we release even one episode. It has been very smooth so far with Badmash and Doubtsourcing because these are much shorter projects involving a few people. A TV show requires a huge team with varied expertise. There are several rounds of writing, storyboarding, converting to motion, voice recording. An average script is rewritten at least 9 times.
What kind of quality can we expect?
SS:Even simple animated shows like the Simpsons or South Park cost an average of half a million dollars to make. We are operating on a smaller budget. So initially, the animation quality may be not be great. But, funny is funny.
Where do you plan to air the show? Here in the US or in India?
SS: That is an open question. We are negotiating with a few different channels including the more mainstream ones like Warner. There’s also the option of bypassing TV altogether and going straight to the web.
Keyur Patel, Nimesh Patel, and Sandeep Sood are the three principals of Badmash.tv We'll keep you udpdated on "Doubtsourcing" developments and where and when you can find the show when it's ready to air.