Friday, January 31, 2014

Tales of a few Cities.

Tales of a few Cities
By: Sreejita Biswas

The story of a man who gave up his job for the love of comics is not unfamiliar. But the story of a man who captures souls of cities through graphic narratives? That is unusual

In 2005, as Jai Undurti scoured the streets of old Hyderabad in 2005, capturing its streets and alleys with a camera, he realised that he was obsessed with the idea of the necropolis — the invisible city that remained intrinsically connected to the wireframe of the city he knew. A couple of years later, while working on an archiving initiative for Hyderabad- based NGO Yugantar, he conceived the idea for the Hyderabad Graphic Novel Project. Later, the Every City is a Story initiative came into existence. Pioneered by Undurti and some friends, facts and fiction from the heart of Hyderabad came together to give us the first graphic novel of the initiative — The Hyderabad Graphic Novel. 

Collaborating with artist Harsho Mohan Chattoraj and colourist Neeraj Menon, it took the team almost three years to finish the journey that Undurti defines as "Sheer insanity, with an inability to face reality, as we know it, all subsumed by that irreplaceable joy of creation." Stepping away from the genres popularised by giants in the Indian comics industry, the 100 pages plus graphic novel is not an accurate historical commentary about the life and times of Hyderabad. In fact, it is a rather simple idea — an amalgamation of urban legends and whispers that float around in the lanes and bylanes of the city, coloured by shades of imagination. 

"HGN is as much a story FROM Hyderabad as it is ABOUT Hyderabad. By that I mean it is a collection of stories that could only be written in a certain place, in a particular time, as much as it is about a certain place or a particular time. What we have now is what I hope will be a palimpsest, something that will be effaced by other writers, other stories. It is merely the starting point of our exploration," he explains when asked how hard it was to choose stories for a graphic novel about a city which has so many tales in every turn. 

The sights and sounds (including a dinosaur) accompanied by Chattoraj's detailed artwork and Menon's lovely play of colours, make this an arresting book. With tales fantastical and fascinating, the thought of a time travelling auto-rickshaw might seem a little difficult to stomach for the uninitiated. But when you flip through the pages, it seems natural. Undurti was inspired by the original trailblazer of Indian science fiction — Satyajit Ray. "I wanted to find my own idiom for Indian science-fiction. Ray was a pathbreaker who found his own language. When I discussed the idea, people seemed to like it, and Harsho's final artwork, with that thematic collision between dinosaur and the auto worked spectacularly," he says, smiling. 

Undurti believes the Indian comic industry is heading towards global recognition, but acknowledges commercial success still eludes most creators. "Right now, there isn't any chance unless you thrash out the umpteenth 'remake' of the Ramayana or have some superhero knock-off. But where is the fun in that? All you can hope is that somewhere down the line, you'll attract enough of an audience. The goal would be to make enough (money) to make more (comics). That's about it," he shrugs. 

Currently working to bring to life the Bangalore Graphic Novel, Undurti has the very talented Rupesh Arvindakshan on board for bringing to life the stories. He is currently penning the teaser, a seven-page intro titled Mileage about a man whose hobby is driving around the city at night. Undurti will adapt the stories to comic book scripts. And where do all the stories come from? Where else but from you, the lovely people of Bangalore! "We are not from Bangalore, so we are looking for writers, especially those who are from Bangalore or who feel a special connection to the city," he says. Now that's a project worth being part of. 

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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