It has been two years since the Delhi gang rape, with its first news flash to the protests to callous remarks that justify sexual violence. For New York-based filmmaker Ram Devineni, these triggered the creation of an alternate narrative which he brings to us through the story of a gang-rape victim to address the issues of gender-based violence.
Set in a graphic novel format, reminiscent of Amar Chitra Katha, Devineni co-scripted the story (with poet-playwright Vikas K Menon) about a protagonist who, after a gang rape and subsequent social isolation, brings about a social change. Funded by Tribeca Film Institute’s New Media Fund and supported by the Ford Foundation, the graphic novel, titled Priya’s Shakti, will be launched at the Mumbai Comic Con in December. It is a part of a larger multi-media project by the same name (www.priyashakti.com), which includes workshops, documentary films, street art and Augmented Reality (AR) initiatives through apps.
“Priya (created by American comic book designer Dan Goldman) was a result of research on Hindu mythology and art,” says Devineni, 42. Her life plays out in tandem with that of goddess Parvati, who looks upon her devotees from heaven, and streams herself as a spirit into Priya’s consciousness after the gang rape to help her bring about social change and rescind Shiva’s curse on all of mankind’s ability to procreate. “Looking at Hindu mythology and stories, I noticed how goddesses brought about change. We wanted to show a rape survivor as a goddess. In fact, there is an image of Priya sitting on a tiger in the comic; it’s a subversion of the image of Durga on a tiger,” says Devineni.
Devineni and his crew from New York interviewed rape and gang rape survivors across India to create a singular narrative. “We will use these as animated documentaries, with their identities concealed, as part of the AR comic book,” says Devineni. AR can be used with the free blippar.com app, which allows users to get more information once the image is scanned on a smartphone. “The app will contain short documentaries on how the women challenged and confronted the police, society and their peers” says Devineni.
Apart from the comic book app, the project reaches out to people through workshops. The first was in Mumbai from September 10-13 with teenagers from Dharavi being invited to make their own comics, helmed by artist Chaitanya Modak. These will be exhibited at the Mumbai Comic Con, the Dharavi Biennale in February 2015 and City Lore’s Gallery, New York, next year. In addition, veteran Bollywood movie poster painters will create AR panels on the walls of Dharavi, local artists will paint murals in Mumbai and Delhi among other cities, and the Blippar platform will pop out more animation and films on these sites.
“We want people to be comfortable in putting rape survivors in the centre of their lives,” says Devineni, “Our main audience is teenagers and the comic and the app is free in India.” With this, Priya’s journey has just begun. “Let’s see how successful this one is, because Priya has a lot of problems to tackle,” he says.