Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A vigilante with a difference

Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Dec 11, 2013, 08.35 PM IST

A vigilante with a difference
By:Sreejita Biswas

Growing up, Robin Hood was the best "superhero" I encountered in the realm of literature. As a young child, I failed to realise that my love for the Man in Green did not stem from the well-crafted stories. It was defined by the obstacles he overcame to rise to power, without much regard for traditional morality. Stepping away from the forest of Sherwood and towards the picturesque sights of ancient Kerala, it is in Bhargava Kshetram that we encounter a young man, jaded by society, inspired by the dance form Kathakali and excelling in the martial art form Kalaripayattu. A hero to some and a villain to others, with each passing page, Odayan is not merely a man trying to bring about change, but one who is essentially human, to whom morality is perhaps irrelevant — like a more twisted version of Robin Hood. 

A vigilante, inspired by the likes of Batman and V for Vendetta, the protagonist here is not a spandex-clad man running around saving the day. "It's not surprising that a lot of people look at Odayan as a criminal. And that is the reaction I had hoped for," says Suhas Sundar, writer of Odayan and Creative Director, Level 10 Comics. In a country where there aren't that many literary superheroes, Sundar says his favourite is Nagraj — the legendary superhero brought to life by Raj Comics, "I'll perhaps be the first to watch the movie if it is ever released, but creating a new superhero and expecting a cult following is something that cannot happen in India yet," he admits.
Newer writers and artists have now begun to stray from mythology — often used by Indian comic creators to avoid the painstaking process of familiarising people with a new character. "We all know how the Ramayana ends. Though the stories are easily accessible and there is a ready-made audience, how long will you keep coming up with various versions of the same coin?" Sundar asks.
While Odayan is set in ancient Kerala and weaves into the tale legends that have been passed down through generations, Sundar clarifies that it is not a history lesson. "We did a lot of research to make this period story come to life, from the architecture of the era to its costumes and folklore. But owing to the lack of recorded events, we had to take a lot of liberties in the realm of Bhargava Khsetram. This is more about legends and a vigilante than historical accuracy," he says with a smile. 
An amalgamation of typical manga-esque kinetic lines and American contours, the artwork of the book largely lacks colour except when allowing us glimpses of the masked face of the protagonist, Odayan, and some other peripheral characters. To make sure that the violence is not over the top, stunning black and white frames are used along with splashes of bright red blood, emphasising the chaos that is essential to the narrative. 
Despite its success, Level 10, a prominent name in the Indian comics industry, has faced a fair share of obstacles. Convincing adults that comics are not for kids has been one. "India has many people who take comics seriously, but it's a niche audience. While most people don't shy away from a 400-page book, they are yet to overcome the myth that comics are not for kids," feels Sundar. Which is why it is important to spare a thought for these works of sequential art targeted at adults. After all, a story about a vigilante who has no qualms about cashing in favours to suit his needs and enjoys the mayhem and chaos he spreads, while being shaded by events sinister and risque is not child's play. 
The author is the co-founder of Strip Tease the Mag, a magazine about comics and graphic novels from all over the world 

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