Technology powers artists, provides a pedestal: Harun 'Rob' Robert

Making a comeback after his digital transition in 2014, Harun Robert (or Rob, as we remember him!) returns to television with his DIY show on Disney titled 'Imagine That'. We converse with him over his early days, till his journey to becoming a professional artist.
Technology powers artists, provides a pedestal: Harun 'Rob' Robert
Rob returns to Disney's Imagine That, which taps into creative upcycling for kidsDisney India

For a lot of us, the COVID-19 lockdown brought back fond memories from our summer vacation. A time where most of us spent our carefree afternoons immersed in art, craft with our friends -- and of course, waiting for 'MAD' to air on Pogo! If you, like us, grew up watching Harun Robert (better known as Rob) create magic on screen, the news of his comeback will definitely kick in the nostalgia you've missed. Disney's brand new property -- Imagine That -- looks forward to tapping into upcycling and DIY for children. The Bridge Chronicle spoke with Rob, who has inspired the 'nineties kids' before and now is all set to take the Gen-Z by storm:

You've had a fairly long break from television. Tell us how do you feel to be back?

A: Yes, I did have a long break from television. I'll say it is exciting to be back. I transitioned to digital space, and I decided that I should try something new. As an artist, I feel it is important to keep reinventing yourself, and it is important for your growth. So I wanted to try a new medium. I saw that with the digital medium, you could connect with your audience in a completely different way, and I wanted to experiment with that. I got a lot of love on the channel; now we have a great subscriber base on the digital platform. But the one question I get asked a lot is -- when is the new TV show coming? Why aren't you thinking of a new TV show concept? When will you be back on TV? And I feel like, wow, I have such a beautiful following. We've built a great art community online, and they still want me to come back with a new show concept. I thought about it, and I realised that right now is the right time. I'm happy that I'm able to collaborate with a brand like Disney. The way you shoot for television is entirely different from the way you shoot for digital. I'm enjoying it a lot because I started making content like that. I enjoy that grind, the rush. When you're working with a big TV, you have a deadline; you have to work on ideas, big camera setup... Now with my channel and TV, I can reach out to more people. So, I'm very, very happy!

Can you tell us a little about Imagine That? What can we expect from the show? Why do you think it is important for children to learn about upcycling at an early age?

A: The new show is called Imagine That and it is Disney property. It is a Do it Yourself (DIY) show; you know I strongly believe in DIY. When you make things yourself, there's a lot of joy that comes along with it; there's a lot of learning that happens. It's a fun, exciting and entertaining show. There will be a lot of learning from the show, but at the end of the day, it is entertaining. The show aims to inspire kids and families -- to be more creative. The show has an overlying theme -- which is upcycling. Why upcycling? Because I feel like it is extremely important. You know, the need of the hour is this

We need to reduce, reuse and recycle. Upcycling is a creative recycling. I feel that this is a great thing to introduce to kids and make them understand the process of repurposing stuff -- because then we can turn that into something more valuable. It's not only great for the planet, but it is also great for you! It stimulates creativity. Like when you look at trash, and you can convert it into something of more value. When you're working with your hands, there's a lot of things you can learn. You value it a lot more because you've invested your time and energy into it.

Due to the influence of technology, we seem to be drifting away from the essence of art. How do you think we can keep it alive at a time like this?

A: Yeah, I think we are moving in that direction, but it also enables people. It powers people. Because there are a lot more people on these digital platforms that have their own social media pages and they are making content. They are heading towards that. Perhaps the tools have changed, but all this technology is providing them with a new platform. For instance, artists, they don't need to hire an ample space to exhibit their work. They can display their work on any of these platforms and build an audience base to connect with people. But I still feel that you need to have a balance, you can't just invest all your time into a screen, you need to get back to the real world. So as long as the balance is there, it is fine.

Yes, these days we invest a lot of time looking at a screen, but in a way, it also helps us because they (children) are becoming smarter. They are absorbing information at a much faster rate. For us, it was reading books or looking up for information at a library -- but now all you need to do is a press a button to get all the information on your screen. In a way, you can communicate with them slightly better. If you send the right message and help them understand, which we're trying to do with Disney's Imagine That it will surely help a lot.

Were you always inclined towards art? Tell us a little about your journey till Imagine That

A: I'm not sure if we have enough time to cover that (laughs). But long story short, I was always inclined towards art. I was very passionate, I was a very curious kid. What I do on the show is exactly how I was as a kid. I liked picking my toys apart to see how they worked, taking junk lying around, boxes, toys... I was a big fan of comic books as well. All that helped me in becoming the artist I am. But honestly, I didn't think I would pursue art as a career. Coming from a middle-class family, my parents wanted me to become a doctor. But when I felt that the time is right, I told my parents that I want to make a switch into the field of art. I joined an art college, studied filmmaking, got into National Institute of Design to study animation and filmmaking. That's how I moved to Mumbai, started working for different animation studios and making content for television, music, kids' channels. Around the same time, I got an opportunity to make a television show for kids. And even though I wasn't really sure at that point of time, because I hadn't faced the camera before, I decided to take it up as a challenge because I thought it is a great opportunity for me to showcase my work as well as the difficulties and challenges that I had faced. At that time, nobody considered art to be a lucrative career. So I thought this is a great way to change the mindset of the people and encourage them to be more creative. That's how the journey started when I started making content for kids and youth.

What would you say is the best part about working with children?

A: That they're very honest -- and super funny! Kids, they don't hold back. If they like something, they will tell you on your face. And if they don't like -- that also they will say to you on your face! As an artist, I feel like that's an excellent quality, if your audience is like that, it becomes easier to make content. Because when something is not working, and when sometimes people feel bad for telling someone -- because they know you've put in so much effort. Through the honest feedback of kids, you can improve upon what you're doing and reshape your content into making it better. As an artist, I feel that when you're working with kids, you grow a lot more. Also because they're the most challenging audience to please. So you have to keep coming up with new ideas and techniques, and I love that about kids!

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