Animated Thinking: Telling the story of women in Mumbai

Back in November 2020, AHRC launched Animated Thinking, a series of short films showcasing the latest arts and humanities research as illustrated by early career creatives. Nine films were commissioned and broadcast on the BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine site. We spoke to Gabriela Bran, the animator of the film A Room in Mumbai which tells the story of the women living in high rise blocks in India. It was based on research by Dr Minna Sunikka-Blan, a Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Cambridge, and produced by Calling the Shots production company.

Tell us about your film, A Room in Mumbai, and how this collaboration came about.

The film, A Room in Mumbai, tells the story of women who live in the SRA (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) Housing blocks, which were built to provide better housing than the slums we might have seen and heard about on the news or through films. Although it captures the thoughts of many women, the story unfolds around one woman sharing her personal story of both her delight and worries in regard to her new home. I was chosen to animate the film as my work is very colourful and highly textured. I like to play around with physical textures as well as digital ones, and so I was able to capture the beauty of the culture of Mumbai even though the film focuses on struggles of many women.

Still from A Room in Mumbai. Animations by Gabriela Bran

Tell us about your practice as an artist. Who or what inspires you, and why does animation appeal to you?

I love all things bright and colourful! I originally wanted to study painting, but I delved into animation as a challenge and the more I watched back the little films I made the more I wanted to keep making. Animation is really rewarding, and, with technology, I have grown used to the ‘UNDO’ button which is something I wasn’t familiar with before. I love working digitally and watching back clips of characters or scenes that I have brought to life. I have watched animations that have inspired me to want to share stories and create motion graphics. Comics and films such as those made by Studio Ghibli have influenced me, as well as old 1920’s rubber hose shorts that were both silly and great fun.

Still from A Room in Mumbai. Animations by Gabriela Bran

Your animation brings to life Dr Minna Sunnika-Blank’s research into the impact of low-income housing on women in Mumbai. Can you tell us about this working relationship? What was it like collaborating with a researcher?

I usually collaborate with musicians who give me a very vague idea of what they want. It’s nice as it means I have creative freedom, but in these cases I mostly try to impress the client and make something in a style of my choice. Working with researchers was very different as I was provided with loads of information. It was great as I had photos and essays which I would have felt quite uneasy without as I wanted to make sure the film I made was accurate. I was able to freely design everything in the film and add as many colours and textures as I liked but having the script and the interviews of the women made me think of the impact a film like this could have. It was a privilege to be able to bring these women to life and to help share their voices. I learnt so much about the lives of women in Mumbai which is a topic that I may not have had any insight into if I hadn’t worked on this film.

Still from A Room in Mumbai. Animations by Gabriela Bran

What were some of the highlights of working on this project?

The biggest highlight of working on the film was gaining the approval of the researchers as I progressed with the animation. At every stage the producer I worked with gave me feedback, including comments from the researchers, which was great to hear. It was always encouraging and I was glad to be able to realise their ideas and vision for the film at each step. However this was also a big challenge, I didn’t have a vast knowledge of Mumbai and so I did my own research into the themes and settings of the film to make sure I was staying on track with the environment that the film was set in. I didn’t know what the SRA was before making this film so it was a challenge making sure I fully understood each component of the research.

Still from A Room in Mumbai. Animations by Gabriela Bran

Has this project made you think differently about your practice as an artist?

This project has shown me one of my favourite aspects of animation, that it can share stories and connect communities. I’d love to be able to keep sharing the voices of people who are waiting to be heard and share stories that inspire me. Sure, I like making funny little things for my own enjoyment, but this project was very special as it was sharing something that is very real. Not only for the women in Mumbai but also for women all over the globe who face uncertainties and have to work together to bring change.

Gabriela Bran

Gabriela Bran is an animator, film maker and storyteller. She obtained her Art Foundation degree at UAL’s Camberwell College of Art and later studied Animation at the University of West of England. You can see more of her work on her website and watch her film, A Room in Mumbai on the BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine Site.

Calling the Shots is a Bristol-based production company using creative media to engage new audiences and develop talent. They make films for charities and businesses, run creative education and training schemes for young people and work to engage and empower communities with film. You can read more about their work their website and follow them on social media @CTSdoFilm

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