When the nation opened its eyes to the hideous nature of crimes of sexual violence after the Nirbhaya case, protests rang out in all corners of the country.
When the nation opened its eyes to the hideous nature of crimes of sexual violence after the Nirbhaya case, protests rang out in all corners of the country. Documentary filmmaker Ram Devineni was right at the epicentre of Delhi during these protests. He decided to come up with an innovative way to spread awareness among the youth about rape and similar crimes. When he met comic book artist Dan Goldman at a meet-up in New York shortly after the protests, the concept that grew out of their discussions was Priya’s Shakti— a comic book that follows the life of a rape survivor who gains knowledge and power from goddess Parvati and travels the land saving women and spreading awareness.
“Priya is an embodiment of Nirbhaya and two rape survivors that I spoke to while I was in Delhi,” reveals Ram. “I chose Parvati as the driving force behind Priya because Parvati is such an interesting character and she seems secondary to Shiva in Hindu mythology. We wanted to elevate her to a primary position. She awakens society and Shiva to the problems of humanity. She is also a guiding light for Priya,” he adds. The book was released in Mumbai’s 2014 Comic Con and went viral, reaching people all over the world. Following the success of their fist book, the duo started work on their second instalment in the series, Priya’s Mirror.
In this book, Priya encounters the survivors of acid attacks. According to Ram, the choice of acid attack victims came from the fact that similar stigma is faced by its survivors. “In fact, if you transpose interviews of rape and acid attack survivors, it is very difficult to tell which is which,” Ram adds. Priya saves these women from Ahankar—a demon, who was once a victim of acid attack himself. He now keeps other victims of these attacks as hostages in the guise of offering them sanctuary. “I find Ahankar a very compelling antagonist, because he is an acid attack survivor himself who deals with his experience in a more damaging and disabling way. As far as my design for Ahankar goes, I envisioned him as a self-inflating creature of anger, filled with acid that was a physical expression of his own attack: the madder he gets, the larger and more horrible he becomes as the guilt or anger consumes him. I wanted his form to appear as though he could even explode if angry enough,” says Dan, who also faced several challenges while drawing up the characters of the acid attack survivors. “Dan had to draw up the Priya’s Mirror characters in a way that their scars were not the only thing you noticed about them, but at the same time, they had to be noticable,” recalls Ram.
The sketch of the protagonist Priya also required a lot of thought. Dan explains the intricacies and nuances that he had to pay attention to while drawing up the character, “Priya was designed to be a normal girl, not a over-sexualized cartoon with impossible proportions. I also coloured her skin quite dark, which is something you don’t see in Indian media or advertising but certainly do on the street. Also, Priya wears a salwar kameez, like a student — she’s no traditional superheroine with a costume and a silly code-name. She’s in the crowd with you.”
A more personal challenge for the Priya’s Shakti team is having to delve deep into the kind of trauma that these women go through for their research. “It’s quite tough facing the reality of what these women had to go through, which is why we do this every 18 months in between our other projects,” says Ram, adding that the team is still dedicated to bringing out more books in the series anyway, since they are stories that needs telling. “The next one will be Priya and the Last Girls. That one will be based in Kolkata and we will work with our NGO partner Apne Aap. We will be researching and going into brothels and talking to women,” he says.
The book release for Priya’s Mirror will be held on Saturday, October 22 at the Mumbai Comic Con, Bombay Exhibition Centre, Western Express Highway, Goregaon (E)