One day in 2018, Prateek and Tina Thomas got a phone call from director Zoya Akhtar. She wanted them to do the titles for Gully Boy. The film went on to become one a critical and commercial success. “We’d done Lust Stories for Netflix, where Zoya Akhtar had a segment,” says Pratheek. “We did the title sequence in 13 days. It was a huge break for us.”
Pratheek and Tina are the founders of Kokaachi, an independent visual storytelling studio based in Kochi. They do animation sequences for Indian films, as well as write, curate and publish comics and graphic novels. “Most studios are based either in Mumbai or Chennai, where it’s easy to connect with filmmakers,” Tina says. “So you’d wonder how do you get work in Kochi. But the work speaks for itself. We have a particular aesthetic that appeals to people. If anything being in Kochi reduces the overheads.”
Pratheek and Tina seem to have cracked the needs of the streaming platforms. “We’ve gone from doing one project a year between 2014-19 to doing eight a year,” Pratheek says. But this hasn’t come easy. “There were times when we thought I’d need to get back to my job as an engineer to keep Studio Kokaachi running,” Tina says.
Kokaachi, set up in 2014, was a publishing house to begin with. “We curated and published comics—ours as well as other writers and illustrators,” Tina says. They still accept submissions for comics and graphic novels. They published Hush, a silent graphic novella Pratheek wrote in 2011. “Hush was about child sexual abuse and it was groundbreaking at the time,” he says. Hush still enjoys a cult following, as does Matchbox Comix, an anthology of comics inside matchboxes, a concept that Tina came up with. “Comics is still at the core of what we do,” she says.
No coincidence, then, that comics is what led them to films. Malayalam director Aashiq Abu was making Gangster with Mammootty in 2014. He came across their comics and asked them to do the animation sequence for the film. “It’s through comics that Mani Ratnam got to know of us when he offered us O Kadhal Kanmani,” Tina says. In the film, Dulquer Salman plays a game designer. They also did the animation sequence for OK Jaanu, its Hindi remake produced by Karan Johar.
“The title or animation sequences are a minute to two-and-a-half minutes long. But there’s a lot of work that goes into them; much more time and effort than you can imagine,” Tina says. Pratheek and Tina conceptualise and script together. Tina usually researches while Pratheek manages the clients. “Once the concept is finalised, we put together a team of people to collaborate with, say animators, illustrators, artists, compositors and editors, depending on the needs of the project,” Tina says.
“We’re engineers who don’t draw or do animation. Sometimes that can create insecurity,” Pratheek says. “But we’re storytellers and that’s what we do through titling sequences,” he says. They’ve done opening titles for anthologies such as Ajeeb Daastaans, Paava Kathaigal, Ankahi Kahaniyan and Ghost Stories, among others.
The recent series Rocket Boys (SonyLIV) is their favourite. They're looking forward to season 2 and Rajeev Ravi’s Malayalam film Thuramukham. Then there’s Modern Love Mumbai for Amazon Prime. “People don’t believe this but we actually don’t watch a lot of films or web series. It always feels like work, never just entertainment.”