Caricatures and cartoons have delved into current affairs for years, often making humorous, ironic or satirical statements. In the recent past, memes have followed suit. But a Bengaluru-based film-maker and writer, Aarthi Parthasarathy, has found inspiration in centuries-old Mughal miniature artwork and historical paintings. In her weekly webcomic series, Royal Existentials, she draws parallels between the opulent monarchic societies and the modern world.
Chaitanya Krishnan and Aarthi Parthasarathy
"A few years ago, I came across David Malki's comic Wondermark (that borrows inspiration from 19th century illustrations), and thought someone should do an Indian version. When my friend and I started a small animation studio recently, the idea came back to me, and I made one strip on a whim. Later, I decided to make it a weekly thing," she says.
Interestingly, the artwork is an attempt to make one believe that the issues that plague our society today may have existed even back then. With a heavy dose of pop-culture reference, the collection features scenes of an inebriated courtesan criticising patriarchy, a princess in conversation with her ignorant father about male-dominance, a lonely queen in conversation with her pet parrot, and more.
A song and dance
Explaining the concept, the 30-year-old says, "The core of the idea is that the royals that we see in opulent surroundings in the comic engage in philosophical conversations about caste system, sexism and poverty. And since the running theme is social inequality and philosophical angst, India is a great place for inspiration."
One of the most prevalent issues seen throughout the series is that of gender inequality. This independent project is a conscious effort to change that image. In one of their comics, a queen is seen forcing the king to dance to the beats she plays. "The way women are portrayed in many forms of media doesn't resonate with me at all. I try to make sure that the female characters in the series are represented as strong, outspoken women," says Parthasarathy.
The three-month-old project has gone viral and is now open to bigger creative collaborations. Since the most striking novelty of the series is its illustrations, most of which are seen on monuments and scriptures, we ask about the process of selecting the artwork.
"The images are sourced from various channels. The visual content is made up of different kinds of painting- Mughal miniature, Rajput miniature, Kangra, and so on," adds the artist.
Note: You can check out the Royal Existentials webcomic on www.royalexistentials.com