“Your face is your identity. It is what you present to the world and the world judges you by it. What happens when that identity Is destroyed? How do you find it again?” asks filmmaker Paromita Vohra.
This is one of the many reasons that “Priya’s Mirror”, a comic book featuring a woman who rides a tiger, tells the stories of acid attack survivors.
Priya’s Mirror is written by Paromita Vohra, a documentary filmmaker and writer, illustrated by Dan Goldman, and co-created by Indian-American filmmaker Ram Devineni. Because of its co-relation with rape, the team chose to address acid attacks as a sequel to “Priya’s Shakti”, a story about a rape survivor, which emerged as a means address gender-based violence after the 2012 gangrape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi.
“The patriarchy, the social stigma and the attitude towards victims are the same in both. In fact, I think the lack of empathy for acid attack survivors is ten times more because their scars are visible,” Ram told Geeta Pandey for BBC.
In “Priya’s Shakti”, Priya turned to goddess Parvati when she was rejected by her society after being gangraped. In the sequel, she joins hands with a group of acid attack survivors to defeat the demon, Ahankar (which translates to ‘ego’ or ‘arrogance’).
Like the first comic in the series, the second one also draws on mythological elements to further the story. Priya rides a tiger, which likens her otherwise mortal character to goddess Durga. The reason, explains Paromita, is that no story is complete without involving people.
“There is already a culture of superheroes. The comic series combines this popular culture with mythological elements – stories of demons, gods and goddesses, along with elements of magic, which many of us have grown up reading – to put across a larger philosophical and social idea,” she says.
Priya also helps the survivors emancipate themselves by looking into the “mirror of love”. This is significant because of the scarring that acid attacks cause. Survivor and fashion designer Monica Singh, who features as one of the main characters in Priya’s Mirror, told BBC that looking at her scarred face in the mirror was one of the most difficult things that she had to do.
“The mirror of love is meant to encourage survivors to look beyond their scars and within themselves and realise that they are more than just their faces,” Paromita says.
The inherently gendered nature of acid attacks is also something Priya’s Mirror endeavours to highlight. “Acid attacks are rooted in the violence of masculinity and the inability to handle rejection,” observes Paromita.
However, she also says that we need to look beyond the binary of perpetrator and victim. “It is extremely important to me while making art, we imagine change. The idea here is to see how transforming yourself is your own prerogative. That is why at the end, Priya gives the mirror of love, which is merely an instrument, to the demon, so that even he has a chance at changing himself with introspection. It ends on that open note,” she says.
Apart from Monica Singh, the comic also features survivor Natalia Ponce de Leon from Columbia, which also happens to be the country with the highest number of acid attacks. In keeping with the project’s incorporation of augmented reality through an app, the second book will also do something similar, based on Natalia’s ‘The Last Mask’ Campaign.
Watch the video of the campaign here:
The augmented reality application Blippar will allow people to put on the mask and share the photo to raise awareness about acid attacks.
The comic book will be unveiled at the New York Film Festival (September 30-October 6). It will also be released at the Mumbai Comic Con between October 22-23. The comic will be available in print as well as digital versions, which can be downloaded for free in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Hindi.
Fashion designer and acid attack survivor Monica
Acid Attack survivor Natalia Ponce de Leon
Acid attack survivor Sonia
Acid attack survivor Laxmi