Meet super hero RashtraMan the preserver of Rashtria and destroyer of RadicalsAppupen / Facebook
Features Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 20:05

What do you get if you put George Orwell and BR Ambedkar together? A comic book character called RashtraMan. If you are Appupen, that is.

Rashtraman is a superhero – the guardian of Rashtria, a country in the fictional world of Halahala, which is where most of its creator’s work is focused.

It’s hard for graphic novelist Appupen – whose ‘real’ name is George Mathen – to say when or how exactly he came up with RashtraMan.  

George says RahstraMan’s genesis was in the little things that occur in isolation, but when looked at together, the effect was “scary”. “People are talking… and then suddenly beef gets into the picture. And I realised that this country is angry, waiting to burst. Sometimes when I read the news I can’t work because I’m so disturbed.”

But RashtraMan is not just about the cultural problems we face, George says. The dominance of the market in the world and its impact on our lives is the essence of Halahala, the fictional world of his novels. He discusses this with the superhero he created. One sign is that his emblem on his costume is the symbol for the Indian rupee.

This was developed in November and uploaded on Facebook on February 22

While he is no fan of the UPA, which was also in favour of the corporate sector, George says, “But this government is pushing a right-wing agenda in every sphere.”

George is quick to reply when you ask him what he makes of the whole idea of nationalism: “It’s a good use of double-speak. You can twist it anyway you want." Doublespeak is word George Orwell coined in his novel 1984. It means language meant to deceive. "Now, things have got to such a level, that you are asked ‘Are you pro- anti-national slogans in universities?’ It’s like a hook, a Bollywood beat to catch the swaying masses with.”

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RashtraMan was slated for an April release, as a character for another project that he is working on, called Brainded. He explained that initially, he was playing around with a president named Rashtrapathi, American-style, who had the superhero at his beck and call with the press of a red button. Eventually however, the idea evolved to that of a superhero called RashtraMan.

“He is right-wing and he is a Man, you know, so I put more emphasis on the man and made it begin with an ‘M’,” George chuckles.

In a way, it’s not RashtraMan’s fault that he is right wing. “The idea of a superhero itself is a right-wing concept. The hero is glorified and made to look good to us,” George says. Like Captain America, an American comic character who was a patriotic soldier who often fought for the Axis powers during World War II. With just a shield to defend him, George says he was an embodiment of everything American.

Another thought, which contributed to the creation of a superhero in the Indian context, was Ambedkar’s Grammar of Anarchy speech. “I came across a speech of Ambedkar’s where he talks about how we (Indians) have an affinity for bhakti and hero-worship. He said we shouldn’t give too much power to one person.”

RashtraMan is just like that, “both god and superhero” who can easily “sway the masses”, George says.

All these ideas were the ingredients for RashtraMan. “You take all this and look at it with satire, changing the angle with which you look at it,” George says.

RashtraMan will be one of the elements that will go into Brain Dead, a website which would be a repository for humour in graphic form.

“Humour is the first step to dissent. Brain Dead will have anything that takes potshots at anything in the public discourse,” George says. RashtraMan is already being developed, along with cricket-themed graphic stories and ad-spoofs, which are familiar territory for George. Although he wants to include Bollywood spoofs as well, the Hindi film industry is a no-go zone, because he knows very little about it to poke fun at it.

“Orwell had a dilemma (about the direction the world was taking) and Ambedkar had his. Orwell must be turning in his grave. He gave a warning to one side, but the other side heard it and is using it now,” George says.

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