New place, new people. Today i stepped, for the first time in my life, on the “red till a day ago” soil of West Bengal. Durgapur is a very nice city. Completely hushed in serence, serious silence, and likewise rife with greenery, this place seems to have a natural calling for me.
Anyways, getting back on the topic, i stumbled upon a very engaging Sunday tabloid supplement of The Telegraph. It’s cover story examined the current rise of new wave of comics in India, the second generation comics, after decades of Raj and Diamond comics. Also featured were innovative forays in the field of webcomics. It reminded me of two-three odd articles i read about 2 years ago, on a similar theme, about the rise of comics and animation industry.
I’ve been a great fan of animation of all kind since my childhood. Comic strips exhilarated me to no end. First Garfield in TOI as a child, then growing up with Calvin’s histrionics in HT, it’s been a great time. I must admit, i was never a fan of indian brand of comics, to which ironically, i had very easy access. As for western comics, i had never enough access to them in Gwalior, but i compensated for it by my gluttonous dose of animation on TV. With internet gaining widespread access in life, the world of wecomics was opened for me. Now , comic-mania is riding more furiously than ever \m/.
The fate of comic industry has been very quirky in India. It could never had the best of both worlds. For decades, Raj and Diamond comics’ heroes, Naagraj, Super Commando Dhruv, Doga(sic!), Chacha Chowdhury, Billu etc, ruled the heart of lowe-middle class India who grew up on last three decades (excluding 2000-2010 of course), but they never managed to find acceptance among the upper-middle class and wealthy classes’ more intellectual recreations. Their heart always longed for Archie, Superman, Batman and Spiderman, foreign superheroes who had a penchant of wearing their undies outside their formal attire ;). Interestingly, but for the upper classes, these superheroes remained very much elusive everywhere else in India. Indian comics, despite making a profitable business and being quite famous( a generation grew up with them-a notable feat in a country obsessed with filmstars and cricket), couldn’t quite get the artistic legitimacy and acknowledgement, considering there was more or less a monopoly in this field. Not that they deserved all of it, but then again, that’s only my opinion 😉
Since the latter half of last decade of previous century, changes began happening which would ultimately result in the cross-cultural melee that has started to happen right now. The advent and phenomenal success of computer games and their brands worldwide opened India’s eyes to the real depth of possibilities animation industy held. The lives of geeks were changed forever 🙂
More than a decade, computer-games, playstation, X-box, HD-technology, japanese anime & manga, and webcomics later, Indian enterpreneurs are finally taking the matters in their hands, producing and designing, comics completely of Indian origin and narrative, and producing high-quality computer games similarly. What’s more, they are being recognized and getting famous too. A blazing victory of indigenous talent and creativity, you would say. But everything is not as verdant as it seems. A closer look at the story brings many doubts, questions and thoughts to the fore.
What it looks like to me is ready-made stories, which are rife in a country of millenia-old mythology, being copy-pasted on already matured graphic and animation-framework. Sure, the artwork and characterisation looks all sexy and awesome, but take a closer look. Artwork, pictures, background themes and ambience, are drawn heavily from western animation, and/or japanese anime and manga. I had more than one occasion to peep into this thing, and the story was appalling. The most famous of the games and their artworks, were brazenly copy-pasted from western already-established games and series. The artwork of new, much publicized game based on Ramayana was taken as it is from Assassin’s Creed. Man! Even the iconic two daggers-front shot banner was used AS IS. What’s more, another game based on life of Krishna had, as its artwork, a very shoddily copied still from artwork of Conan-The Destroyer(have I got the name right?) The face of two warriors were replaced by two Indian kings. One could clearly discern the poor photoshop done on the artwork. Are we so bereft of ideas? Or have we no other resources to look upto except Ramayana and Mahabharata? Though the concept of amalgamating the hindu mythology with modern animation technology doesn’t seem a bad idea at all, but I’ve still got a few reservations about it. The underlying principles of the two are irreconciliably different. For example, the conceptions of ‘sexiness’, ‘erotic’ and ‘machismo’ operate on a completely different level in case of present age and our mythology. Leaving a few exceptions, they are usually totally absent. In such a case, Devi, the eponymous superheroine of hit indian comic series(Deepak Chopra’s brainchild, who else), which is an amalgam of Japanese manga and hentai-inspired eroticism and Tomb Raider attitude and panache, looks more like a sari-clad Angelina Jolie than a Hindu deity. How you get our Indian Jolie to perform mythical miracles in a Christ-era India, is completely out of my logic.
Looks like enterpreneurs and artists are stuck in the two vicious circles of modern technology and indian mythology (the one invariably involving Ramayana, Mahabharata and including countless deities), hopelessly trying to amalgamate these two. What comes out is rather a sorry mixture, a misguided attempt at reaching the next level. If we would simply look back, we would find that comics of previous era didn’t rely on Indian mythology to sell. Sure it had its shortcomings, a narrow vision and a narrow market, but at least it knew what it was doing. Technology has changed. But so has India, and it has invariably come out closer to the world, and farther from its mythology. Unless presented in a logical and highly fantastic, in an indigenous sense, way, mythologies will always be an experiment gone somewhere wrong. Meanwhile India is growing fast and wide. I’m sure they won’t be short of stories. Just look around, instead of looking back 🙂
16 May 2011