When Sundar Pichai was named the CEO of Google, a comic strip that did the rounds of newsfeeds — among other patriotic status messages and memes — commented on our idea of nationalism and obsessions with tags like ‘India-born’. “Hits the nail on the head” read a comment on the post that had clocked in over 3,000 ‘likes’ and close to 2,000 ‘shares’ on the social network. Since August 3, Chennai-based Rajesh Rajamani has been commenting on current and trending issues by juxtaposing them with Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings to create Inedible India. With over 30 comic strips that discuss a wide range of social and political issues, their Facebook page now boasts of over 9,000 followers in less than a month.
“I wanted to comment on issues such as the Greece crisis, death penalty and the porn ban, among other things. So I used one of Ravi Varma’s paintings to create a strip. When it got more than 2,500 shares on Facebook, I decided to create an independent page called
,” Rajamani says. What attracted him to Varma’s works was its connect with the Indian audience. “Most of his paintings depict characters and instances from Indian mythological stories. The satire in the commentary gets heightened when these characters talk about current issues,” he asserts.
The concept, however, is not entirely original; Royal Existentials , a weekly web-comic, has been on Facebook since August 2014. “The idea is to combine traditional imagery with social commentary,” says Aarthi Parthasarathy, founder of Royal Existentials. A film-maker by profession, Parthasarathy has always been attracted to Indian miniature paintings because of their rich history. “These images are of people from the past, in conversation, but with re-imagined dialogues on current social crisis,” she says. Parthasarathy’s comics deal with topics like gender roles through characters that are, allegedly, often under the influence of marijuana and alcohol.
For instance, in a Mughal mural of a king drinking with his female friends, one of them is portrayed to have "gone through quite a bit of wine". After a discussion on gender roles and norms of social drinking, the king's final response is "this is why women should not drink". Ask about irreverent usage as these and she says, “It’s respectful satire; at no point is the humour at the expense of the image or the context it comes from. The objective is to create a timeless commentary on the state of affairs, which is uniquely Indian.”
Besides shedding light on the social context, Rajamani believes that the comic strips are making ancient Indian art more accessible to the masses. “The comic strips have taken the paintings to a lot of people. Many have shared details about Varma’s influences or have pointed out the similarities and differences between Mughal and Kangra (a style of art named after the princely state Himachal Pradesh) paintings,” he says, adding, “It is essential for me to do justice to the painting while weaving a comic strip,” he adds.
The response to these pages has been overwhelming. “Once, during an interaction with a group of followers, we ended up having a two hour-long discussion about democracy and feminism. I love it when the message we are trying to get across is recognised and appreciated,” says Parthasarathy. For Rajamani, appreciation came in the form of a message from a lady asking him to comment on the One Rank One Pension issue. “The fact that she believed these comics could make a small impact was encouraging,” he sums up.
Facebook: Royal Existentials - 3150+ likes
(The writer tweets as @poorvajoshi93 )