“The real battle happens between one’s ears. In the mind. You have to battle your own emotions before fighting the enemy.” This could be Mahendra Singh Dhoni speaking to himself while orchestrating another clinical run-chase or manoeuvring the field from behind the wicket or contemplating whether he should take a review under desperate circumstances.
Well, this is indeed Dhoni. The only difference: This time he’s not on the cricket field but on the pages of Atharva: The Origin, the graphic novel featuring him as the lead character. Set on a very young earth, it tells the story of a warrior who makes a difficult and lonely journey.
Pratilipi Comics recently acquired the rights to the novel — written by Ramesh Thamilmani — from Virzu Studios and recreated it with new character designs, artwork, and creative elements. It is now available in an episodic format on Pratilipi Comics’s mobile application. Already among the largest and fastest-growing digital comic storytelling platforms in India, Pratilipi Comics intends to revolutionise the online comic space with Atharva.
Dr Rajeev Tamhankar, creative head, Pratilipi, spoke to indianexpress.com in an e-mail interaction about the novel, the Indian comic industry in general, and how the digital revolution aids its growth.
Q. What made Pratilipi recreate Atharva: The Origin?
Dr Rajeev Tamhankar: Atharva: The Origin has a unique and exciting storyline. MS Dhoni’s character (Atharva) has great depth that resonates with the audience. Each of his adventures is a thrilling episode of Atharva’s journey that takes audiences to incredible realities while leaving them with an important self-discovery lesson with the escapade. That being said, the recreation was just a medium to help us bring more detailed stories of Atharva’s adventures to our readers.
Q. What can the readers expect from the graphic novel? Since Dhoni is the lead character, does it have any link to cricket?
Dr Tamhankar: No. The Atharva comic is not related to cricket. But it will offer the readers a unique experience as it showcases the journey of a warrior who sets out on a revenge mission but ends up discovering the secrets of life and, most importantly, discovers his own self.
Q. What was the reaction of the original creator of Atharva, Ramesh Thamilmani, to Pratilipi’s recreation of his story?
Dr Tamhankar: Ramesh was thrilled and he loved that the story was going beyond the originally planned graphic novel format and would feature an episodic experience which gives even more freedom to present so much more on the backstories, the adventures in depth that were not possible due to the limited space on a graphic novel.
Q. Talking about the larger picture, what is your view of the Indian comic industry?
Dr Tamhankar: The Indian comic industry is roughly a $150 million industry moving more towards the digital format. Also, the industry is seeing a transition to mature audiences as well. Comics are no longer limited to kids. At Pratilipi, we see that people between 18 and 35 years of age constitute the largest segment of our audience.
Q. What does digital disruption mean for the Indian comic industry?
Dr Tamhankar: Digital disruption means higher distribution, democratic content, and local narratives that can scale to global audiences.
Q. How do you view the Indian comic industry in the metaverse?
Dr Tamhankar: The possibilities are immense. With non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and digital sprites, comic characters are seeing a renewed interest among Web 3.0 enthusiasts. It offers the audience the possibility of owning unique non-fungible art forms that serve not only as collectibles for fans but also as revenue streams for artists.
Q. How did the Covid pandemic affect the comic industry in India?
Dr Tamhankar: The Covid pandemic, in a way, accelerated the shift of the already transitioning industry from print to digital space. This enabled an increase in genres, higher frequency of production, and ease of access to readers.
Q. Is there a streaming revolution happening in the Indian comic industry?
Dr Tamhankar: The Indian comic industry is evolving and in the next two or three years, we could see a huge push towards the streaming of a lot of proven content pieces. Pratilipi, through its webcomics app, is already leading the way and we expect some of our best intellectual properties (IPs) to see a streaming revolution soon.
Q. How do you plan to bring more women characters into the Indian comic scene?
Dr Tamhankar: Sixty per cent of the popular content on our comics app already has a female protagonist. PretBandh and Shaitani Rasmein are some of our popular comics with strong, independent and sharp women characters.