Filmmaker Ram Devineni Reflects ‘Shakti’ Of Acid Attack Survivors In ‘Priya’s Mirror’
- IWB Post
- March 12, 2018
A rape survivor goes through a whole lot of blaming from the society. Priya is different. She did not let this stop her from moving forward in life. She is a superhero and an inspiration in every way.
Priya is also the protagonist of a comic book called Priya’s Shakti which was created by New York-based filmmaker, Ram Devineni. In the comic, Priya works with Goddess Parvati to put the men who wronged her to justice. Ram Devineni came up with the sequel to the comic series called Priya’s Mirror and published it last year, this time featuring victims of acid attack.
It was an enriching experience to talk to him. Without further ado, here is the man who gave Priya a voice.
Have teenage boys read this comic? What was their reaction?
Yes, we have given out over 30,000 comics out to teenage boys and girls and they loved it. We launched the comic book at the Mumbai Comic Con in 2014 and it went viral and we are coming back at this year’s Mumbai Comic Con.
What was the process of script writing like? How many people were involved? How many drafts were killed?
Back in December 2015, I first met with Laxmi and Sonia from Stop Acid Attacks and interviewed them, and based on their stories I developed the comic book, “Priya’s Mirror.” Later I spoke with acid attacks survivors and advocates Monica Singh and Natalia Ponce de Leon who added other complexities. The script was written by Paromita Vohra and me. I sat with her in Mumbai and together we drafted an outline of what the story should be. She worked on the first draft and then I turned the text into a comic book’s script before Dan Godman began working on the art. There were many drafts and revisions, and back and forth between Paromita, Dan and I before the design of the comic began by Dan. Also, we had many advisors that looked closely at the script from many different angles from the mythology to gender-based violence.
Tell us about some behind the scenes moments during meetings with acid attack survivors.
All the women we met affected us, and they were the inspiration for this comic book. It is always fun to show the augmented reality elements to them, which has a huge “wow” factor and some of them jumped out of their seats. Augmented reality is a major part of our comic book, and by scanning the comic book with the popular augmented reality APP – Blippar, you can view animation, real-life stories, and other interactive elements popping out of the pages.
One story that made you cry?
I was deeply moved by all of the stories but was especially touched by Sonia’s. She returned to work as a hairdresser. How her creativity and talent helped her overcome this ordeal and also how her customers stayed loyal because she was an incredible person and hairdresser.
One amazing fact about Priya?
Priya has become a global celebrity and appeared in both “Vogue” India and “Cosmopolitan” magazine in France and the UK. Priya always asks a universal question, which everyone lives through, and especially teenagers, it is – what is my role in the world?
Yes! You go, girl!
If you could add yourself as a character in the comic, who would you be?
Goddesses in India are worshiped but women are treated in an inferior way. Where do you think this indifference began?
There is definitely a disconnect between the goddesses and how women are treated in India. Over time Hinduism changed from a strong feminist religion to a masculine dominated one. I am not sure why, and I have not done enough historical research on this, but this could also be reflective of how society had changed.
In India, Hinduism and its iconography are ever-present. The image of the Goddess Durga astride a tiger can be found in homes, businesses, and places of worship across the nation. Our project references and transforms this image through our iconic image of Priya sitting on a tiger — Priya conquering her fears. Priya is a survivor of rape and is the catalyst for change in our comic book. Our goal is to make the image of Priya on the tiger a powerful symbol for fighting gender-based violence: Priya (Beloved) Shakti (Power)!
What message does the comic character give on relationships?
In “Priya’s Mirror,” we emphasized the relationship between Rafi and Anjali. I think it is best you read it and decide for yourself. There is no overt message, but their story is very touching.
What is the biggest battle that acid attack survivors have to fight?
The physical and emotional trauma of the attack. It consumes and transforms their lives forever. Monica Singh told me that she went through 10-years of reconstructive surgery to get to a minimum level of normalcy. Her family went bankrupt to pay for the surgery too.
How does the comic address the issue of victim blaming?
Last December 2015, I had the chance to meet Sonia and Laxmi with Stop Acid Attacks in their office in Delhi. What I discovered after talking with them is that they faced the same cultural stigmas and reactions from the society that rape survivors had to endure. How society treated them intensified the problem and their recovery. How they were treated by their family, neighbors and society determined what they did next. Often they were treated like the villains and the blame was put on them.
One thing you would tell the parents of girls?
Most parents are probably concerned for their daughter’s safety, but they should also have faith in her. Also, do not have a double standard for boys and girls.
Now for some questions to Priya:
What is her favorite leisure-time activity?
Priya loves to swim.
If she could travel anywhere in the world where would it be?
She has a flying tiger as her best friend, so airfare is cheap. I think she would like to take a holiday on a beach.
Wow! Come to Dubai, Priya! We have beaches and hummus!
One bad habit she has?
Sahas, her best friend, and flying tiger complain she needs to trim her toenails more often.
What is she afraid of?
She has conquered her fears, but still lives with the trauma of the rape.
What are her plans for the future ?
She returns in the next chapter, “Priya and the Last Girls” which will be co-produced with Apne Aap Women World Wide and Ruchira Gupta. The next chapter focuses on sex trafficking and continues Priya’s adventures.
Download a free copy of the digital comic book here!
Here’s to woman power!
This article was first published in October, 2016.