Ram Devineni

[ 00:00:19 ] This entire project started for me back in December 2012 as you might remember there was this horrible gang rape that happened on a bus in Delhi. I was involved in these protests that were happening in the city and all over the country. And at one of these protests I spoke to a Delhi police officer and asked him what he thought about what happened to her and what was happening around him. And he said something that really got me started. He said No good girl walks home alone at night implying that she either deserved it or she provoked the rape. So at that moment I knew immediately that the problem of gender violence was not a legal problem but a cultural problem. And I wanted to approach it as an artist from that context. Now I’m a documentary filmmaker and the first instinct was to make a documentary. But I realized immediately that a documentary No teenager boy would watch it and they were the audience I was trying to reach. They just don’t watch documentaries in India. So I changed the format completely and decided to go with the comic book because Comic books are incredibly popular in India and especially with teenage boys and ended up creating India’s first female superhero who’s a rape survivor and the comic book got released in December 2014 and went immediately super viral with now over 26 million readers worldwide and close to 600 new stories. Sure. I mean it’s it’s really hard to sort of equate especially when things go viral because it was not nothing we anticipated it at all like we thought it would be a very small release. We had a big launch party at the Mumbai Comic-Con. But when things go viral it sort of goes out of you completely out of your control. Now I can tell just from just analytical that it really really reached a broad demographics. I think we still our focus is on teenage boys and we reach them primarily through the comic cons and through school distribution. But when it comes to viral I mean it just pretty much touches everyone. I was surprised overwhelmingly the response was incredibly positive. I mean this was in a radically new original idea of Indian female superhero. It was a rape survivors and it hasn’t been done before. And obviously there was a lot of fear on my part and everyone that I worked with that we would get a lot of feedback and negative feedback for broaching something like this. But I think the motivation was very clear and pure. And what’s kind of the beauty of the comic book format is these topics you know the first one is about rape and the second one is about acid attacks that we put out. No one wants to talk about these topics are really addressed them. But when you sort of put in the context of a comic book and especially if a superhero construct that everyone knows it becomes very accessible and equally important and it gives empowerment to survivors. I mean the goal of this whole project was to create empathy and understanding for survivors and to challenge patriarchy which is the core of the problem of gender violence Yeah I mean we were one of the first comic books to use augmented reality back in 2013 more we’re developing it. A.r was just on the fringes. No one really heard of it. I mean pokey Montandon was not released. It took another two years before Pokemon came out. So we were really on the forefront of using a car. The beauty of art in comics is our work so perfectly with comic books because it takes the images and put them to life. And it was a perfect fusion of two radically different mediums comic books originally of low tech I mean almost a monologue. It’s printed comics and then you take the app or the technology on your smartphone and you make something very low tech comes to life and we’ve done even more extreme stuff we’ve actually created street murals in Mumbai all over all over the world. So you know murals that are like three stories high and you can activate them and literally you see the characters on the walls coming to life and telling a story. You know we were like really on the cusp of kind of doing this and we one of the first implementations of A-R in India. So. So we were in a sense way ahead of where society was because I remember showing A-R at the comic cons in other places and it was like magic. You know people just didn’t understand what was going on. And so you have to sort of take that take those risks that at times it’s it was it was quite phenomenal the amount of attention we got and the response. I mean soon after we released the first comic book the UN Women the United Nations honored the project as a gender equality champion two years before they recognized Wonderwoman. So we were ahead of the curve on that. And then recently Fast Company honored the project as one of the top creative projects for business in 2017. So all of this was sort of not planned and it’s very exciting to see it come to fruition. Equally important is is actually more important and is very recently we started disturbing the comic book in schools in Delhi and where we were sort of coming home to where originally started from my protests in Delhi to now having the comic books available in schools in Delhi. It’s a very complex question. I mean I know a lot of people are very dubious when corporations try to do so should justice activism or or try to do products that deal with social issues. I mean I think the reason why this project was successful and I guess why we got recognized is the fact that everyone involved in the project or independent artist. I think if it was a corporation or a government trying to do something like this the audience especially teenage boys would totally react against it. You know they would they can smell a rat. And I think you know comic books have always been this underground very on the edge of form of storytelling and and it’s always been something I’m ever growing up reading comic books. It was something that I would take up to my room lock the door and read it. You know something like I’m very personal to me. And as a teenage boy it kind of inspired me or imagine something different you know. And I think that spirit has to always remain what you create. I’m not against making money. In fact I mean the comic book was never a money making endeavor. In fact all the digital copies and the printed copies are free. What we do how we raise our funds is through grants through the Ford Foundation through the World Bank and they support it and we support all the efforts we do.

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Backstage Conversation Season: 2017