Dubai girl hopes her animated film 'Meow Or Never' brings cheer during Covid pandemic
The story of a cat in space looking for the meaning of life is a ray of positivity in tough times.
Dubai resident Neeraja Raj is one of many recent college graduates whose life and career both were impacted by the onset of the Covid pandemic. But through all the trouble, feelings of isolation and uncertainty shone a bright light - in the form of a cat in space!
Meow Or Never, an animated film project that was conceptualized and developed pre-Covid was what brought good tidings to Neeraja at a time they were sorely needed.
Neeraja who completed her schooling at DPS Sharjah and then did a four-year course in animation at the National Institute of Design in India, gathered some work experience and then went on to study directing animation at the National Film and Television School in the UK. This was where the concept of her animated short film Meow Or Never was born.
“I had a whole team working on Meow Or Never with me. As the director you lead everyone from different disciplines of filmmaking - editing, sound design, composing - on this path to fulfil this vision.”
Neeraja admits to being an animal lover - “I can’t pick between dogs and cats” - and says for Meow Or Never she had this idea of “a cat in space.”
“I had this idea of all these adventures she would go on and how she tries to find the meaning of life.” The next step was to pitch it to different students at the institute and that’s how she got her team on board. Apart from being the director of the film she also helped create the animation - with some help from other volunteers and describes the whole process as ‘a bit complex’. “The cat and the dog in the film were designed by me - I had a model-making team - my lead model maker is also a student, so I showed her my designs which she constructed out of clay. There was a lot of back and forth. I wanted them to look a certain way!”
The wide-eyed, pink, cute-as-a-button cat in Meow or Never is sure to make your day as it did ours especially when positivity is the need of the hour. Neeraja hopes her film brings cheer to people in this time of the pandemic and makes them reflect on life. “At first you don’t really realise what the cat is looking for but at the end of the film I wanted it to be clear that the message is friendship and the connections we make in this journey that we call life, and that is ultimately the meaning of life. At the end of the day however weird or crazy life might be, as long as you have your friends and family then it will be fine.”
No doubt that’s a sentiment echoed by many at present. Neeraja says, “I really hope the film brings a little bit of joy to people. I only got to see people at my graduation showcase watch it on February 26 last year, that was pre-Covid in London at a live theatre. It was so nice hearing the audience react to the film - their laughter, their ‘aaah’s’ really made me happy. I hope that whoever watches it from the comfort of their homes experiences the same kind of emotion.”
Meow Or Never lifted up Neeraja’s spirits during the lockdown last year in London as well, when she learned that it was shortlisted for a BAFTA Student Film Award. “It was a shock. My school submits only certain films to these really big festivals. So I was really nervous and thinking ‘it’s not going to happen’. And then one of my best friends messaged saying the news was out on Twitter that the film had been shortlisted. I was stuck in the UK because there were no flights back to Dubai. I was staying with some relatives and they were so excited. My cousin baked me a ‘BAFTA’ cake. It was a really nice feeling especially during a time when life was so scary and I was feeling lost. I was hunting for jobs also so you can imagine (the feeling) - being in the pandemic, graduating and trying to find a job…”
Neeraja who now works mostly remotely for Nexus Studios in London as a director on their roster, says Meow or Never, which has already picked up accolades including the DigiCon6 ASIA Silver Award for Best Technique and a Women in Animation award shared with two other films in 2020, has been given a tentative release date. “These (animated) films have to go on a festival circuit all over the world - like the Kaboom Animation Festival and the Tokyo Anime Award Festival coming up in March - and then we will hopefully release Meow Or Never for the public at the end of 2021.”