Between the black and white comic strip mosaic moorings, we see a new avatar of the greatly loved pantheon character Hanuman. This book is a slim offering of what mythology can become when squeezed and wrung out dry in the world of contemporary character.
Vikram Balagopal’s Simian is many things all at once. Even though it lacks linguistic fervor and subtle nuances in the art of dialogue, it makes you leaf through its monochrome pages without ever having to feel that it is a monotone.
While Balagopal doesn’t weave dialogues that are lucid or even dulcet in framework—there are some lean patches where instead of a clean writ rambling he favours a falsely antiquated: “I am not asking you about my destruction or anything else, monkey! Give me passage. Arise!Don’t come to grief at my hands!”
In terms of popular iconography of devotional art, Hanuman is an image that remains within the capacity of our own firmaments and we can’t imagine him as a baboon.But for Balagopal this recreation within the forests seems like a sublimnal submission of the age-old signature of the
I must confess that I liked the suggestion of the evergreen forests in the Amazon. And the baboon Hanuman seems a little more polished and wiry even as it hides the magic of the monkeys in the Ramayana.The illustrations have their own tale to tell. They also invite closer scrutiny because the strokes of pen and ink rest on the deeper notions of understanding the nittygritty of zoological variants.
And the feminine inclusions of SwayamPrabhat (SwayamPrabha) serve a felicitious flavour that serves to tell the tale. To reinvent her as the moon seems a bold step to take because we are moving at a tangent from the crux of the story.
Have graphic novels made a mark in India as yet? For a film maker such as Balagopal this debut seems like a visual bonanza and you wonder at the shelves in bookstores being filled by its thick and heavy binding. Balagopal’s book is a visual treat in terms of the density of the illustrations and the tweaking of the retelling of the Ramayana from Hanuman’s point of view. Perhaps more than adults it’s the children who must pace through the pages and savour the monkey tales of courage and valour.
Q&A: Vikram Balagopal
Why did you chose to tell your story as a graphic novel?
I think visually. I was trained as a film-maker. When I write it is usually the interpretation of the images in my head. So this was just a way of bypassing this whole translation into text when I did a graphic novel.
Was it easy to get published?
No. Because it is a graphic novel, people are hesitant to sign on. But once they read the story they get enthusiastic about it. There were hurdles but I relied on the strength of the story and I think that worked.
You said earlier that bringing out this book was like an odyssey for you. What was the journey like?
As I was trained as a film-maker, the world of graphic novels was completely alien to me. So when I started I was wondering—so what’s the first step? Do you first do the whole script and then start drawing or do you start drawing automatically. Also, drawing the pictures took a lot of time. As I am not a trained artist, each frame was a challenge to me and that was what I loved. I approached a publisher after the book was done. So I didn’t have to do any convincing of ‘imagine what it will be like’. I was like here—read it, you’ll like it.
In your opinion, what is missing from the graphic novel scene in India?
Over the past 15 years, we have been reading graphic novels from outside India and they’ve been made into movies. So now they’re accepted. Lots of artists who aren’t eloquent realise they can tell their stories through graphic novels. But when I say lots, compared to other countries, it is still a very small number. But it’s happening. Young people in their 20s and 30s are buying comic books and graphic novels. I think more people will take up this genre.