Not all comic books are for children

Comic Con India

Our much-loved Indian epics, the Ramayana and the riveting Mahabharatha, have never cea­sed to engage people through the generations or fire the imagination of writers and artistes.

In the never-ending cache of engaging stories, writers and filmmakers have found the source and inspiration for their creativity. One such creative piece and its creator were recently awarded the first prize for Best Graphic Novel/Comic Book of the Year in the recently held Comic Con India 2015, in Bangalore. Young filmmaker, author, poet, illustrator and cartoonist in magazines, Vikram Balagopal’s three-part graphic novel Simian, is a ret­elling of the Ramayana from Hanuman’s point of view.

When Bhima chances upon an ailing monkey blocking his path in the forest, little does he realise that he is meeting his brother Hanuman. As the brothers settle in for a night of exchanging stories and notes, Hanuman tells a surprising tale: of the great war between Ram and Ravana.

Delhi-based Balagopal’s debut graphic novel is a gritty reimagining of the Ramayana that brings to life the scars — physical, moral and spiritual — borne by Hanuman, as he replays history, exploring the decisions one has to make in life and war.

Though Hanuman only uses it to help Bhima see the consequences of war, when he learns of the feud between the Pandavas and Kauravas, the narrative also serves as a window into his motivations and regrets. The book, the first two parts of a trilogy, confines itself to the events surrounding the search for Sita.

“I think visually. When I sta­rted writing the first part of Simian in 2009, I was not
sure how it would develop as a novel, but at that time I felt it was the best medium to tell the story,” Balagopal tells Metrolife.

He gave the book his cinematic touch by nearly drawing out each instance. The book’s subject is justified because we live in a time when only the smallest reason is enough to trigger conflicts and linger into a vicious circle of tit for tat, the domino-effect consequence of the same largely ignored or overlooked.

“For war to be truly understood, one must start at the end. To see what it left behi­nd,” is Hanuman’s profound take on war, conflict and its consequences, as narrated in the book.

The author feels Ramayana has been abridged to ‘cartoonish simplicity in storytelling’ in books and movies before this. “But this novel is something more than a children’s book and less than a thick glob of academic text.” According to Balagopal, “It is Lord of the Rings meets Gone With the Wind.”

“Whenever my grandmother narrated to me stories of Ramayana, I would always ask her to tell me the stories of Hanuman. Hanuman is someone who never gets anything out of the war but always helped others. Also, in Rama­yana, he was present in all the main events only as an observer. Hanuman really influenced my way of thinking as I grew up and I feel I can relate to him the best,” says Balagopal.

Comic books are often considered as ‘children’s books’ and this mind-set has to be changed, he says. “People see comic books as a genre in its­elf. But actually comic books are just another medium to tell a story. It has various gen­-res and sub-genres like any other medium. It also has thr­iller, crime, biography, romantic, comedy etc. Writers like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore have written graphic novels which are very much for ‘adults’,” explains Balagopal.

The 260-page Simian took more than a year to finish. “A comic book can be read again and again. One can just pick up the books to review its artwork. It has a longer shelf-life,” says Balagopal, who pursued his filmmaking at the NYFA (New York Film Academy) and returned to India. He has developed projects with various filmmakers including Santosh Sivan in the Indian Film Industry. His screenplay ‘Sentinel Rock’ was chosen by Mira Nair for her Maisha Screenwriter’s Lab in 2006.

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