Flix Friday, January 16, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute| December 11, 2014| 4.02 pm IST India will soon be welcoming a new superhero, which is fully Indian. No, it is not a tall strapping man in a cape, but a woman in a saree. Priya, the  comic book superhero, is a rape survivor and has super powers provided to her by the goddess Parvati. Called Priya’s Shakti, the comic book will look at how Indian society treats rape victims and how that outlook of ostracising rape victims and survivors needs to change. Ram Devineni, the man behind Priya’s Shakti, is an NRI documentary filmmaker who decided that it was high time someone did something about the antipathy the country has towards rape survivors. Devineni was in Delhi in 2012 when the Nirbhaya rape case, which shocked the entire nation, happened. As he took part in the various protests that took place in the national capital, Devineni happened to converse with a police officer and asked him what he thought of the case. To his shock, the police officer replied saying, “No good girl walks home alone at night.” “I was shocked to hear a police officer say that. It basically meant that either she deserved it or it was an ‘inevitable thing’ to happen to a woman who walks alone at night. This made me realize that the problem with such response to sexual violence was cultural and not just an isolated incident” Devineni told The News Minute. (Image: A panel from the comic book) He then decided that it was time we changed that cultural aspect of Indian society. He picked a tool that most Indians are very familiar with and have grown up with and which would help put his point across – Hindu mythology. “I grew up reading a lot of Amar Chitra Katha” said Devineni, “And a very typical pattern in all its stories is when the common man is in dire situations, he will invoke one of the Hindu gods to provide him with a solution or strength to tackle the situation. So that is why I picked Hindu mythology, to represent the all-knowing source for solutions that most Indians believe in”. Now-a-days comic books boast of characters from our mythological past with amplified versions of themselves in terms of physique and sexuality. According to Devineni these altercations in terms of characterisation of Gods in comic books has come due to the relevance of socially acceptable norms of present-day society. (Image: A page from the comic book, showing mythological figures Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati) He believes pop culture and Bollywood have led people to visualize not a humble and humane form of God but one with super hero physique, complete with bulgy muscles, lined with pulsating veins and overly sexualized female characters. He says in his comic book ‘Priya’s Shakti’ has not tried to portray characters especially of Shiva and Paravati to be in line with pop culture but has tried to put across the qualities these characters symbolize. The comic book chronicles the story of village girl called Priya who has just been raped, and comes to her family for help but is shunned by them and the village saying she is to blame for what happened to her. Priya is ostracized by the villagers and isolated. Goddess Parvati who sees all of this, is shocked and decides to help Priya fight the patriarchal society she lives in and the antipathy that she and many other women face on a daily basis. (Image: A page from the comic book) The comic book, which is set to release on the 19th of the month, is aimed at teenagers and young adults from age 12 and upwards to educate and teach them to empathize and sympathize with a rape survivor/victim. Devineni says that, “The book is meant to be more of a tool to be used by parents and teachers to educate and sensitize their kids towards sexual violence and gender based violence in the country.” Since the concepts of rape and sexual violence are complex in nature and quite disturbing for young children, Devineni has focused more on the aftermath of sexual violence and how victims and survivors must be better treated. It is his belief that children should be sensitized to such harsh realities and should be equipped to deal with it better. Priya’s Shakti is not going to be just a comic book, says Devineni. The author, along with the illustrator of the book, Dan Goldman intends to introduce an Augmented Reality (AR) version of the book as well. Augmented Reality is yet to be experimented with in India and Priya’s Shakti would be one of the first ventures to try it. AR basically accentuates the visual and emotional experience of the reader, by making it interactive and allowing the stories of Priya to be heard by the reader in the voices of actual rape survivors. (Image: Augmented Reality works on any electronic device, making the comic book interactive) This aspect however, is still being worked on and will be introduced soon after the comic book’s release. Devineni also plans Priya’s Shakti to be a series and not just one book. However, he still has not decided how many more books he’d make, depending on the response the first one will get.