India’s first female animated superhero returns with Priya’s Mask, a film voiced by Mrunal Thakur, Vidya Balan and others
Priya Shakti, a graphic novel that gave India it's first female comic book superhero, is set for the fourth edition release. Priya, the superhero is gearing up to dive into a brand-new riveting adventure. The fourth edition titled Priya’s Mask looks at how the superhero is tackling the unprecedented global pandemic, COVID-19. The comic book and film will be released worldwide on December 2, 2020 on multiple platforms.
To be released as an augmented reality comic book, the installment also offers an animated short film featuring the feminist voices from the U.S. and India, including icons such as Vidya Balan, Rosanna Arquette, Mrunal Thakur, and Sairah Kabir.
Voiced by Mrunal Thakur, Priya will be remodelled for the very first time, shedding away from her former salwar-kameez clad avatar and embracing a feisty teenage demeanour seen in young women around the world. Preserving the time-honoured tradition, she will be escorted by the flying tiger, Sahas voiced by Vidya Balan. Set against the rustic backdrop of Jodhpur, the narrative weaves around the escapades of an eight-year-old Meena voiced by Sairah Kabir and her working mother who nurses COVID-19 infected patients and their cumulative sacrifices.
Mrunal Thakur states, “As an avid comic book lover, I resonated strongly with Priya’s superhero character and realised she is someone I would like to bring to life through the creative medium. I have always aspired to be that superwoman who spreads awareness around social issues and it couldn’t be more exciting than to be a part of an animation character who is the voice of reason. Characters like Priya and Sahas are putting forth the message of how we need the world to become a more inclusive place to live in. I want to tell children of frontline workers that even though their parents aren't wearing capes, they are heroes in their own ways. They too are saving lives and taking care of the nation. This is the first time I am lending my voice to a character especially to a superhero. Infact my entire contribution was recorded over zoom call whilst I was shooting for Jersey in Dehradun.”
Vidya Balan states, “Clearly I have a thing for tigers! Jokes aside though what Priya stands for resonated with me at so many levels and it’s the essence of Sahas that connected with me - her strength, her empathy, her confidence. The animation apart from being a nod to caregivers globally which in itself is wonderful, timely and necessary, carries a strong message of solidarity - so it was an easy yes for me and I'm happy to be part of this wonderful film.”
In an unprecedented and historic collaboration, the installment will present a debut alliance between two hugely successful female comic book superheroes from neighboring countries, with Priya collaborating with Pakistan’s female superhero, Burka Avenger in their fight against the deadly virus. “The virus does not understand or respect borders,” adds writer Shubhra Prakash, “so this was a natural synergy between both cultural heroes.”
The series that was named a ‘gender equality champion’ by the UN Women, was created by documentary filmmaker and technologist Ram Devineni. Priya’s Mask is produced by Tanvi Gandhi, Indrani Ray, and Monika Samtani, written by Shubhra Prakash, with illustrations and animation by Syd Fini, Hamid Bahrami and Neda Kazemifar. The project was funded through a grant from the North India Office (NIO) of U.S. Embassy New Delhi, in coordination with the Regional English Language Office (RELO), as part of U.S.-India cooperation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The India-born U.S.-based Ram Devineni, whose childhood memories largely consist of reading Amar Chitra Katha comic books, says, “It was important to understand the emotional toll the pandemic and isolation has on young people, and provide a message of hope in the comic and film.” Devineni adds that false information around the virus is creating an atmosphere of fear and speculation among citizens, making it harder to focus on the facts to fight the pandemic.
The pathbreaking comic book series is available as a free download, and has been acknowledged by over 26 million people worldwide through multiple platforms, books, and exhibitions with over 500,000 downloads and 30,000 printed copies distributed.
Priya was introduced to audiences in 2014, two years after the terrible gang-rape on a bus in New Delhi. The augmented reality comic book has over the years brought to attention issues like rape, acid-attacks, and sex-trafficking.