As Jai Undurti scoured the streets of old Hyderabad capturing in photographs the sights and sighs of the streets and alleys way back in 2005, he realized that he was indeed obsessed with the idea of the necropolis- the invisible city that remained intrinsically connected to the wireframe of the city as he knew it. A couple of years later, while working with a Hyderabad based NGO- Yugantar, as a part of an archiving initiative that the idea for the Hyderabad Graphic Novel Project was conceived. With time the “Every City is a Story” initiative came into existence. Pioneered by Undurti and some friends, facts and fiction, from the heart of Hyderabad came together to give us the first graphic novel of the initiative: Hyderabad- A Graphic Novel.
Collaborating with artist, Harsho Mohan Chattoraj and colourist, Neeraj Menon, it took the team almost three years to finish the journey that Undurti defines as “Sheer insanity, with a healthy dollop of inability to face reality, as we know it, all subsumed by that irreplaceable joy of creation.” Stepping away from the genres popularized by giants in the Indian comics industry, the graphic novel boasting of more than a hundred pages is in no way an accurate historical commentary about the life and times of Hyderabad. In fact, it is a rather simple idea: it is an amalgamation of urban legends and whispers that float around in the lanes and bylanes of the city, coloured by shades of imagination.
“I must state that the HGN is as much a story FROM Hyderabad as it is ABOUT Hyderabad. By that I mean, it is a collection of stories that could only be written in a certain place, in a particular time, as much as it is about a certain place or a particular time. What we have now is what I hope will be a palimpsest, something that will be effaced by other writers, other stories. It is an Issue 0, merely the starting point of our exploration,” explained Undurti when asked how hard it was to choose stories for the graphic novel about a city which has so many stories tucked away snugly in each turn you take.
Guided by a time-travelling auto-rickshaw, the sights and sounds (including a dinosaur) accompanied by Chattoraj’s painstakingly detailed artwork and Menon’s lovely play of colours makes this book overwhelming. With tales fantastical and fascinating, for the uninitiated, the thought of a time travelling auto-rickshaw might just seem a little too difficult to stomach. But when you flip through the pages of the book, it seems rather natural. With Satyajit Ray paving the way for Indian science fiction to flourish, Undurti was undeniably inspired. “I wanted to find my own idiom for Indian science-fiction. Satyajit Ray, incidentally was the pathbreaker, like he was in so many spheres – he was someone who found that language. When I discussed the idea, people seemed to like it, and Harsho’s final artwork, with that thematic collision between dinosaur and the auto worked spectacularly,” he smiles.
With the current boom that defines the Indian comic industry, Undurti believes that the Indian comic industry is heading towards global recognition, but commercial success is something that still eludes most creators. “Right now, there really isn’t any chance of commercial success – that is unless you thrash out the umpteenth ‘remake’ of the Ramayana or have some superhero knockoff. But really where is the fun in that? All you can hope is that somewhere down the line, you’ll attract enough of an audience for your stories. The goal would be to make enough (money) to make more (comics). That’s about it,” he shrugs.