Unprecedented times pave the way for unsung heroes -- and in 2020, it is a caped (or should we say, masked!) superhero. Priya and her tiger Sahas, are on a journey to educate the public about perils of COVID-19. And while Priya's voyage to inspire young women has been on-going since 2014, her new mission in 'Priya's Mask' creates awareness about loneliness in children during the pandemic.
We spoke creator Ram Devineni on the inception of his idea and his journey with Priya so far. And here's what he had to say:
Could you give us a little backstory about Priya's Shakti? How did the inspiration come to you?
The idea to create 'Priya's Shakti' comic book series came after the horrible gang rape, that took place on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. I was involved in the protests in Delhi, and I observed gender-based violence was a cultural problem. After talking to survivors, I realised how there was a lack of support for those who struggled with gender-based violence.
I created a female comic book character who can reach young audiences. My goal was to change people's perception of the role of women at an early age. Mostly their perception of survivors.
Priya is India's first female superhero and a survivor of gender-based violence. We created an empathic and powerful character that is relatable to both girls and boys. Priya challenges deep-rooted patriarchal views and the role of women in society, and through the power of persuasion, she can motivate people to change.
How did you land upon the characters' name and personality (Priya, Sahas)?
For both characters, we went through many different names, and Priya just felt right. I wish I could give a more detailed answer, but the sound of her name resonated with many people. Her name also translates to 'love' or 'beloved', which was very important because her mission is out of love and not anger. In the first comic book, we did not have a name for the tiger and only in the second comic book, 'Priya's Mirror' did we name the tiger Sahas. Sahas means courage and is Priya's friend and inner strength.
Tell us more about the idea of using augmented reality for your street art/comics. What was the thought behind this unique approach?
Augmented reality is a sought-after approach today, much more than when we started in 2013. More for our primary audience: teenage boys. We can embed a lot of information, interactive elements and stories from survivors. I think it is a powerful and imaginative tool to make our comic book come to life. The images are markers, and you can activate them through the Artivive App.
The image can be mounted on a wall, printed in a comic book, your computer screen, or even on a large mural on the side of a building – and the AR will still work!
The AR is a helpful tool for a printed comic book or on street art. However, it also can be viewed on the downloadable versions on your computer. The comic book is the perfect format for AR because the entire book is images and are ideal for storytelling. For 'Priya's Mask' we are challenged because we do not have physical books, however today, everything has moved to a virtual space.
So, we've created several unique AR experiences that address the pandemic and fit the lockdown situation we are experiencing worldwide. We create augmented reality masks that you can wear using Snapchat or Facebook Messenger and Instagram AR interfaces. The specially designed Priya AR Masks are excellent to share on social media. Just remember AR masks are only for social media and are not a substitute for COVID-19 face masks! Augmented reality is still new in India, but becoming popular because of Instagram camera effects and Snapchat. We have an AR effect on Instagram called 'Priya's Mask' which people can try out. Lots of fun along with sending out a crucial message.
You have been acknowledged by UN Women as 'gender equality champions'. However, what made you shift focus from gender-based violence to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020?
The pandemic and its effect on society and especially on women have barely been discussed or measured. Women have been at the forefront of the pandemic working as caregivers and medical workers. They have disproportionately been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, so we felt the need to make this comic book and film.
There have been plenty of discussions on the economic and medical consequences of the virus, but very little on its emotional toll it takes on people. Living in isolation is difficult, and especially on children. We felt this needed to be focused on through the little girl in the comic book and film — Meena. Additionally, we wanted a creative way for parents to talk about the pandemic and loneliness with their children.
'Priya's Mask' also talks about loneliness in children, apart from capturing the struggles of our frontline workers. How was the storyline for the same conceived?
The nucleus of the story came from my three-year-old niece. She wound up saying to her mother that she had no one to share her feelings during the pandemic. She said this when the lockdown was at its peak, and everything had shut down, plus there was no school. Since March, I have been reading to her using Facetime -- different children's digital books from the New York Public Library. So, this was a motivating factor in creating the project. Plus, my niece loves the animated film.
Shubhra Prakash, who was in a lockdown in New Delhi since the beginning of the outbreak, developed this story. The entire team worked remotely in creating the comic book and animated film. We never met each other and worked in different cities, countries and timezones.
How did the idea of teaming up with Pakistan's Jiya aka Burka Avenger come to you? What was it like working on Priya's Mask together?
I have known about the Burka Avenger and the phenomenal animated television series running in Pakistan for a while. When we started this comic strip, we felt we needed to include her in the story. There are some apparent correlations — both are female superheroes who fight for women's rights. Her name is Jiya, and our character is named Priya. Apart from that, the virus does not respect borders, so two comic book female superhero characters needed to come together to fight. The US Embassy in New Delhi helped arrange the meeting, and it has been a pleasure working with the Burka Avenger's team.
Are there any plans to introduce more characters to Priya's team?
Priya is joining a new female superhero universe called 'Super Sheroes' which is led by Supreme RGB -- a re-imagination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The characters, based on real people, hail from around the world. They fight for women's rights and social justice. Colombian artist Melanconnie has designed the artwork for the same.
Will we see more of Priya and Sahas? If yes, where?
We plan on making more comics and possibly more short animated films. I researched on honour killings and female infanticide before the pandemic happened, and will continue to explore this as a theme. There is also a possible storyline around climate change.
If there was one message you could give out to young girls today, what would it be?
"Overcome fear and be the superhero you were meant to be."