Padma Shri Zakir Hussain featured in Disney Junior’s “Mira, Royal Detective” as himself. The tabla virtuoso and percussionist mentored the animators over a series of zoom calls to help them understand the correct hand movements for the show.
Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain featured in Disney’s show Mira Royal Detective
The series is set in a fictional land and shows the struggles of the brave and resourceful protagonist Meera (Leela Ladnier), a common person appointed as the Queen’s royal detective. Zakir features in the episode titled “The case of the runaway tabla” in which Mira tries to find a missing tabla of a musician before his show.
Sascha Paladino got Hussain on board with this project under the pretext of the title song but later expanded the scope of work. Zakir agreed to be the voice for his character as it was “an exciting opportunity.”
The show is meant for a relatively young target audience and would be aired in 150+ countries, the makers of the show are well aware that the representation of cultural norms is critical because it can create negative perceptions.
Paladino was confident in Zakir’s acting abilities as he has performed in Bollywood movies. He added “We asked Zakir to bring in another musician that he could play off of for the duet between Mira and Zakir, and he brought in Unmesha Gangal, an incredible young musician. We love the fact that Mira’s playing is played by a female tabla player, and that the relationship between Mira and Zakir is mirrored by the real-life musicians.”
Cultural authenticity was key — that meant getting the details right, starting with the way an instrument was held and played. “Everything matters and our team went above and beyond to get everything right in this episode. Our animation team in India was so honored to be given the responsibility of animating the tabla playing of a living legend who they all adore and worked tirelessly to make the tabla playing look authentic, accurate, and beautiful,” Paladino says.
Zakir had put his mind and soul into this project, he worked with the animators remotely but was still deeply involved in the project. He says, “We set up a session with me and my engineer, it was interesting to have the director telling me how to deliver my dialogue from 400 miles away, I would do each line a few times and move on to the next. After my dub was done, it was sent to the animation department to build my presence on the screen.”