An Indian female superhero on an eco mission

This comic book featuring a female character with superpowers addresses various environmental issues

author_img Dyuti Roy Published :  23rd May 2022 03:47 PM   |   Published :   |  23rd May 2022 03:47 PM
Priya and the Twirling Wind

Stills from the ‘Priya and the Twirling Wind’ animated film

Superheroes have been an integral part of most childhood memories so much so that the personas existing in the Marvel or DC universe, for a number of people, are nothing short of idols. However, the gender ratio—in comics—is skewed given there are noticeably more male characters with superpowers.

The few female superheroes’ are (intentionally) hyper-sexualised. Going beyond Superman’s strength or Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, New York City-based filmmaker Ram Devineni introduced Priya—one of India’s first female superheroes—through his comic book series Priya’s Shakti in 2014. The protagonist Priya, an ordinary girl from a remote Indian village, is a gang-rape survivor, a character influenced by the 2012 Delhi gang rape-murder. “Gender-based violence is a cultural problem. There is also a lack of support from society for the survivors. So I created this female comic book character who can reach young audiences and change people’s perception about women survivors,” he shares.

Devineni, who would frequently shuttle between NYC and Hauz Khas prior to COVID-19, discusses Priya’s visual portrayal, “Her outfit was intentional [she wears a purple kurta] so people can visualise themselves in her. It is a counter to the over-sexualised superhero outfits,” he shares.

Raven Kaliana with the Priya
puppet she crafted

The modern-day messiah     
Since her introduction to the comic book culture in 2014, Priya and Sahas—a flying tiger and her sidekick—have been tackling social issues that are a result of gender bias—Priya’s Mirror (2016) focuses on acid attacks; Priya and the Lost Girls (2019) looks at the important issue of sex trafficking.     

The latest addition to the series, Priya and the Twirling Wind, was released in April this year. Co-written by Gurugram-based visual artist Shubhra Prakash [who also wrote the fourth book, Priya’s Mask], this story looks at how urbanisation is affecting the environment. “Every year, pollution takes a toll on children’s health. It was important that Priya and Sahas approach this issue from their experiences,” shares Devineni. Talking about characters, Prakash shares, “It was important to have vibrant characters that stand out. This is the idea behind creating villains with their comical demeanour.” 

Creating conscious change
The 18-page comic book gives an account of Priya who saves her magical forest from greedy industrialists threatening to fell trees in the area, with the help of Soumya, a young girl who suffers from asthma. The storyline will remind the reader of the 1970s Chipko Movement, one of the first non-violent environmental protests led by women who dissuaded loggers in the rural Himalayan region of Uttarakhand by hugging trees in an attempt to conserve forests. 

To make Priya’s stories more engaging and interactive, these comics are Augmented Reality-enabled, allowing the reader to witness the characters come to life on screen. 'Priya and the Twirling Wind' also features an animated film with puppets created by UK-based puppeteer Raven Kaliana. “Puppets have historically represented ‘the voice of the people.' The accessibility of puppetry means that storytelling can come from the people,” shares Kaliana. Drawing a comparison between films and comic books, Devineni concludes, “I believe comics and animated films can both entertain and empower us to think deeply about the world.”