by Kristin Pitts // Fall 2013
Rajiv Chilakalapudi (M.S. ’97) can’t even remember the number of times network executives rejected his idea for a cartoon series about a cheerful, intelligent little boy named Chhota Bheem.
Chilakalapudi, the founder and CEO of Green Gold, India’s leading animation company, pitched the first Chhota Bheem pilot in 2004. When it was rejected, his team revamped the show. Their second pilot was ready the following year, but was also rejected. They revamped it again. And again, and again, never losing hope.
All along, Chilakalapudi and his team saw what the network executives didn’t — that children would fall in love with the show’s fast pace, bright colors and frequent songs. They’d admire Chhota for using his strength to protect those in need.
When the series finally did get picked up, it was a happy accident. The station had originally signed a different cartoon, but it fell behind in production, leaving the station to call Green Gold.
That phone call was the start of a mutually beneficial relationship, Chilakalapudi says. Not only did it save the struggling animation studio, but it gave the station a wildly popular cartoon. Soon after it debuted in 2008, Chhota Bheem became India’s top animated show, with more than 150 aired episodes to date. Since its first episode, the show has spun off several short animations and, recently, two full-length feature films.
“The rest is history in the Indian animation space,” Chilakalapudi said. Chilakalapudi received the School of Computing and Engineering’s 2013 Alumni Achievement Award in April, and during his visit to campus, he shared his journey of success with an audience of SCE students, faculty and staff.
After his speech, Chilakalapudi played a clip of the cartoon on the classroom’s projection screen. The audience of adults sat captivated by the bright, action-packed cartoon that played out before them. Sure, there was a language barrier, but jokes were universal.
The scene came full circle. Years ago, when Chilakalapudi attended UMKC, he recalled being at a friend’s house when the friend’s child was watching The Lion King. Although he’d always considered himself “too manly” for cartoons, Chilakalapudi said he couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. He was an adult, drawn to the movie’s bright colors and artistic animation.
It was part of an interest that had been snowballing since he first arrived at UMKC. It was during his campus tour that he first learned Walt Disney had penned the original Kasey Kangaroo.
With that, Chilakalapudi’s interest in the legendary animator grew. Later, while working at the Miller Nichols Library, he stumbled upon a few books about Disney and spent his off-hours poring over those books, taking in every detail.
Those experiences helped make him who he is today, he says.
“It took me a long time to figure out what to do, but it all started at UMKC,” he says. “UMKC played a very, very important role in my life.”
Chilakalapudi and Green Gold have come a long way since the years of rejected pilots. Today, Chilakalapudi enjoys a level of success that once looked unreachable. More than once, he has rejected buyout offers.
For now, his sights are set on growth.
“So far, Green Gold has been India’s Disney,” Chilakalapudi says, “but I would like to take it to the international level.”