By Neha Kirpal
Love comics? There’s an exciting winter of graphic novels ahead with solid, healthy ‘sheroes’ or girl heroes to read, watch and look up to. India’s first female animated superhero Priya has returned in a new comic book focused on Covid-19.
The fourth edition of this pioneering series is called Priya’s Mask and also presents a debut alliance between India’s Priya and Pakistan’s female superhero Burka Avenger in their fight against the deadly virus. “The virus does not understand or respect borders,” adds the series writer Shubhra Prakash, “so this was a natural synergy between both cultural heroes.”
Priya was introduced to audiences in 2014, two years after the Delhi gang-rape. The first volume Priya’s Shakti shattered social stigmas surrounding rape survivors. Its success led to the release of the second volume Priya’s Mirror, which premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2016. Inspired by the story of Laxmi Agarwal, it centred on acid-attack survivors and was funded by the World Bank. The third volume Priya and the Lost Girls (2019) shed light on the issue of sex trafficking in Southeast Asia.
Named a “gender equality champion” by UN Women, the comic book is being released this month paired with an animated short film. Voiced by actor Mrunal Thakur, the heroine Priya is remodelled for the very first time shedding away her former salwar-kameez clad avatar and embracing a feisty teenage demeanour.
She is escorted by the flying tiger, Sahas, voiced by actor Vidya Balan. “What Priya stands for resonated with me at so many levels and it’s the essence of Sahas that connected with me – her strength, her empathy, her confidence,” says Vidya, adding. “Apart from being a nod to caregivers globally, which in itself is wonderful and timely and necessary, the animation carries a strong message of solidarity.”
Set in Jodhpur, the narrative weaves around the escapades of eight-year-old Meena – voiced by filmmaker Kabir Khan’s 12-year-old daughter Sairah Kabir – and her working mother who nurses Covid-19 patients.
Mrunal says, “I have always aspired to be that superwoman who spreads awareness around social issues and it couldn’t be more exciting than to be a part of an animation character who is the voice of reason.”
Sairah Kabir adds that a lot of kids her age will be able to relate to this story since their parents are working round the clock and juggling between so many responsibilities. The comic book series is available as a free download.
Another recent graphic novel, The Secret Life of Debbie G, written by Vibha Batra and illustrated by Kalyani Ganapathy, highlights social-media perils and mental-health problems among the youth. The story of a 16-year-old who becomes an online sensation overnight, it is set in contemporary times, when the number of likes and followers determines one’s self-worth.
The protagonist Arya is brought up as an independent girl who questions authority and makes her own decisions. She creates an anonymous account on Instagram to teach some classmates a lesson. Through her online avatar, she finds fame but realises along the way that her alter ego is dangerous.
Vibha believes that in today’s times, it is hard to ignore the siren call of social media, and that #FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. “I wanted to explore how social media influences a teen’s behaviour and affects their emotional health and relationships. I wanted to explore the pitfalls of fame, the perils of social media. How far would a person go to achieve it? Would they lose sight of themselves? Would they be willing to pay a price?”
Humorously and subtly, the novel brings out several other issues, such as the generation gap between children and grandparents, body shaming, single parenthood and remarriage.
First published in eShe’s December 2020 issue