Growing up, I learned about Hinduism through The Ramayana and Mahābhārata, stories that taught readers profound lessons about love, war, and justice. I would listen to adults recite passages, or thumb through the books myself. Because of the stories’ complexity and how they were presented, they were hard to retell— I had trouble telling my parents what I had learned, and found it hard to remember the stories as the years went by.
I wasn’t alone. Decades earlier, Sanjay Patel— once an artist at Pixar, now a director at Netflix Animation— experienced the same thing. From an interview:
“I grew up in a house where there was no explanation, there was just practice…. the Ramayana was always something my parents would study and worship, but it had no meaning to me until I read the story…”
…I wanted to use all the skills and the knowledge I'd gained at Pixar to put these ancient stories in a package that's relatable and entertaining. If I have children, I want them to know something about their cultural mythology in a way that's fresh and dynamic.”
As an adult, Patel brought The Ramayana to life with beautiful illustrations, toys, and children’s books. At Pixar, Patel directed Sanjay’s Super Team (2015) and now directs Ghee Happy at Netflix, both of which present Hindu deities as bold and colorful heroes on screen. They’re easy to understand, easy to describe, and easy to share. They’re the stories I wish I saw as a kid.
There’s a world of opportunity for strong storytellers who build characters and worlds that are easy to explain. When it’s easier for people to share their experience, they become natural evangelists. As the production process becomes cheaper and more scalable, good distribution will become more important than it already is.
As for the challenge of coming up with a story worth sharing, it’s worth noting that countless blockbusters— including Aladdin, Peter Pan, The Lion King, and Frozen— are based on works in the public domain. Thousands of forgotten stories are waiting to be retold. It’s up to today’s storytellers to present them in a way that’s easy to experience, and more importantly, easy to share.