by Basab Pradhan
Ramayana and the Mahabharata are not just great stories – they form the backdrop to the rich tapestry of greatest mythology there is – Indian mythology. But they are also religious texts. To tell these stories in ways that strictly adhere the original scripts, is a safe commercial bet. After all, India is a deeply religious country. Ramanand Sagar and B. R. Chopra did exactly that with their TV Series. But what Virgin Comics has done with Ramayan 3392 AD is anything but safe. It is bold. It is comic book art.
The Plot: Ramayana Remixed
Ramayana 3392 AD is set in the future. After the apocalypse, human kind is wiped out except for a few remaining colonies in Aryavarta. Meanwhile, Nark, which is where the Asuras live is growing stronger. The Asuras are shape-shifting, teleporting cyborgs ruled by Ravana. Armagarh, the capital of Aryavarta is ruled by a council. The head of the council is Dashrath who has four sons – Rama, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan.
The plot is broadly similar to the original but the comic book creators use the bare bones of the original story as a skeleton to weave an audacious futuristic adventure. The underlying logic of the story is science fiction rather than celestial magic.
The Characters: Complex and Flawed
Most of the main characters from the epic are there in the comic book as well. But the characters are not faithful replicas. Rama is brave and strong (and blue!) but he does not hearken to dharma as readily. He surrenders to the enemy once and runs from battle another time in just the first issue. Lakshman is impetuous and at times unkind. Bharat is the battle-loving warrior. Shatru is an overweight (they call him”tubby”) nerd. The women are sidelined and make brief skimpily-clad appearances.
The Artwork: Fantastic
The setting of the story is in post-apocalyptic earth. Fittingly, the artwork is noir and blurry. The monsters look horrific. The heroes look inspiring. It fits beautifully with the plot and the characters. It’s what I liked best about the comic.
The dialogues, of course, are pure comic book camp. A sample -“Your will is impressive, young warrior. But the nemesis threatens to consume the beacon of light in the dark of oblivion.” Those familiar with Deepak Chopra’s spiritual writings will see his distinctive stamp on the series.
Ramayan 3392 AD is the first in a series of comics that has been launched by the newly created Virgin Comics and Animation, a collaboration between Sir Richard Branson, Shekhar Kapur and Deepak Chopra. The company is based in Bangalore. According to filmmaker Kapur, “The time has come for India to do a reverse cultural colonisation. Our mythic characters are potential goldmines.” Other series from VCA with a quasi-mythological bent are Devi, Sadhu and Snake-woman. There are also plans for a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game(MMORPG) in collaboration with Sony Online Entertainment.
I think the appeal of Ramayan 3392 AD is global. According to VCA, the target is the half-a-billion teenagers and young adults estimated in India in the next 10 years but I won’t be surprised if it gets many readers who have never heard of the Ramayana. If you are an Indian and don’t mind a heavily adapted version of it, you will like it. If you still read comic books regularly as I do, you’ll love it.
For a free peek at the comic check out this site.