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Augmented Reality to mirror harsh reality of our society

| SUPRIYA KUMARASWAMY
Published : Oct 17, 2016, 1:53 am IST
Updated : Oct 17, 2016, 1:53 am IST

In the winter of 2015, Ram Devineni, the creator of the hugely popular comic book series, Priya’s Shakti, met the acid attack survivors, Laxmi and Sonia at the Delhi Comic Con.

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In the winter of 2015, Ram Devineni, the creator of the hugely popular comic book series, Priya’s Shakti, met the acid attack survivors, Laxmi and Sonia at the Delhi Comic Con. Soon after interacting with the entire team of 'Stop Acid Attacks' initiative, he decided to chronicle their tales of battling the odds of the society and retaining their identity, to make people "look beyond the scars" and delve deeper into the problem.

To create powerful and long-lasting impact in the minds of people, the filmmaker and publisher chose to develop augmented reality (AR) elements in the comic series. He approached Blippar, the provider of a visual discovery app that uses augmented reality and machine learning, to breathe life into the characters of the new edition titled “Priya's Mirror”.

“Blippar has been at the forefront of bringing AR technology to India. They have been supporting us ever since we launched our first edition Priya’s Shakti that focused on rape survivors. Blipper is preparing audiences in India to experience the intrusive and impactful way of story-telling,” says Ram Devineni, in an interaction with the Deccan Chronicle. The CEO of Blippar India, Arnav Ghosh said that the technology could be used as a catalyst to visually create an immersive way of delivering message. “Priya’s Mirror is a social cause worth associating with to make the message more impactful,” he adds.

Devineni's initiative that sheds light on the positive stories of rape and acid attack survivors has been funded by the World Bank. In addition, Priya’s Mirror, which mainly focuses on acid attack survivors, is also being premiered at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center from September 30 to October 16 this year. It will also be launched in India on October 22 at the Mumbai Comic Con.

Bringing real-life female superheroes to the spotlight: The Indian filmmaker and writer Paromita Vohra has co-authored with Devineni and contributed significantly to portray rape and acid attack survivors as the characters straight out of Hindu mythologies. The comic book’s female superhero, Priya, along with her tiger, “Sahas”, rescue many acid attack victims by conquering a demon called “Ahankar” or masculine ego as Paromita puts it.

“As artists, we all want to find a way that can touch people and actually transform something around us. This comic series doesn’t simply describe the problem. But it tries to engage with how we can imagine change,” she added.

“By blending the old-fashioned mythological characters with high-tech tools, we can make people understand the toxic masculinity and patriarchy that make men do this kind of violence,” continued Vohra.

Though this comic series cannot heal the psychological, physical wounds of the survivors, it acts as a cathartic relief and boosts their confidence levels.

“These women love the fact that there is a comic book where they are made heroes. They are not just superheroes, they are also social activists,” said Devineni.

The survivors also feel that the comic book is beautifully designed and drawn, and also portray them with dignity and respect.

“I felt happy looking at the caricature of myself in the picture sent to me. This initiative has definitely given us a strong voice to tell our stories effectively,” said Laxmi, one of the acid attack survivors.

Changing literary scene with technology: Though many people read comics, the impact that it has on them is minimal. By integrating AR, AI, machine learning and deep learning, publications can create immersive user-experiences. “In today's age, people read comics but they don't connect with it. Using tech in a smart way, we can co-create a new way of story-telling so people can understand and participate,” said Arnav Ghosh.

With his impactful initiative, Devineni intends to educate teenagers — the major target audience for comics. “Delivering the message in comic book format and having AR on the top of it is perfect way to reach out,” he said. He loves the fact that AR is a perfectly tailored tool for comic books. “We are going to join street art festival in Bengaluru and put up a huge interactive mural that makes animation videos pop out of the wall,” he added. Apart from murals, with Blippar, Devineni also promotes “The Last Mask” campaign, which allows people to wear the mask of acid attack survivor through Blippar app, click a selfie and post it on social media to show solidarity. The digitised comic series can be downloaded freely from its website.