Issue 3 / Literary Interview: Priya's Shakti

Literary Interview: Priya’s Shakti

Jun 22, 2015

Director Ram Devineni and Poet Vikas K. Menon Take on Rape and the Resulting Stigma With a Compelling New Graphic Novel.

Among the very few comic books that set out expressly to engage with a social issue, Priya’s Shakti stands out — if only for how it manages a truly global impact. Co-authored by filmmaker Ram Devineni (who recently won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for his documentary The Russian Woodpecker) and poet Vikas K. Menon, the comic book tells the story of Priya, an Indian teen who’s ostracized by her family and community for having been raped. Priya calls upon the Hindu goddess Parvati for help, and Parvati is happy to oblige and give Priya the strength to stand up against her rapist and change her society’s hearts and minds.
 
Priya’s Shakti is the first Indian comic book to use augmented reality (computer-generated graphics) to embed sexual abuse survivors’ stories. These stories come alive when readers scan the comic book’s pages via a mobile app called Blippar. Both the book and the app are available for free download at www.priyashakti.com. The comic book’s augmented reality component is also available via murals in New Delhi and Mumbai to facilitate interaction with the stories and fuel conversation about rape and victims’ stigma.
 

ANOKHI MEDIA had a chance to delve deeper into this groundbreaking project when we caught up with the New York–based co-authors.

Priti Salian: What kinds of cultural sensitivities did you need to keep in mind while crafting this story?
 
Vikas K. Menon: Definitely being respectful of how we portrayed the Gods and ensuring that there was a strong foundation of Hindu philosophy undergirding the comic.
 
PS: How was the process of writing the book together?
 
VKM: It was very collaborative, with a lot of back-and-forth between Ram and me and also our NGO partners, Apne Aap, and scholars in India. Ram had an early storyline that we worked from. I’d say it took us about a year to complete, and the story evolved greatly over time. 

Ram Devineni

PS: Priya’s Shakti is making waves around the world. In your interactions with fans, what have you found people like the most about the comic book?

Ram Devineni: Everyone is impressed with Priya, the main character. She has become a symbol and a new kind of superhero. I think her creation and entrance into pop culture, though unplanned, were timed perfectly. There is a big movement of “girl power” around the world and she fits perfectly. Also, she is a symbol of the new gender equality movement and the mass protests that happened in India after the horrible rape on the [Nirbhaya] bus in December 2012. 

Vikas K. Menon

 

PS: Tell us a little bit about the mission behind this comic book beyond just creating a compelling work of art.

VKM: Artistically, I see this as a huge success, and to that end, all our goals have been met. We have a beautiful and innovative comic book, and now the challenge is to see if the comic book and character can have any impact on pre-teens and teenagers in their views towards women and gendered violence. We are working with Apne Aap in New Delhi to test it out in schools and have the results analyzed this fall. Based on the results, we plan to determine how to scale the comic and create new editions.

PS: Any notion yet of what you’d like to talk about in your next book?
 
VKM: There have been ideas bandied about, but I would love to do something that’s more contemporary, with characters living in our present time. 
 
RD: And we hope to expand Priya’s universe and introduce an arch-villain in the next story that we plan to start work on this summer. Priya will still address gender-based violence issues.


Priti Salian

Priti Salian

Author

Priti Salian is an international features writer covering culture, travel and human interest stories for CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, The National, GOOD and Takepart.com, among others. She has been contributing to Anokhi as the magazine's...

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