When Bhima chances upon an ailing monkey blocking his path in the forest, little does he realize that he is meeting his brother Hanuman, one of the greatest heroes of his time, and Ram’s closest ally. As the brothers settle in for a night of exchanging stories and notes, Hanuman tells a surprising tale: of the great war between Ram and Ravan, through his eyes. In the twilit world of war, things are not what they seem, and this chance encounter between a warrior and a legend will destroy a myth.
The Ramayana, it seems, is perhaps the favourite myth to explore in the realm of Indian comics. Starting from depictions set in futuristic realms, ending with a retelling of the myth from the perspectives of Ravana and Sita, the recent years have seen more and more creators turn to this mythical tale for inspiration instead of exploring the recesses of their minds and imagination. But Vikram Balagopal has an explanation for his decision to create an adaptation of the Ramayana. “My intention was to do more than retell the Ramayana, but to explore the characters through Hanuman’s eyes, and even look into myself and deal with some of my own personal demons that I’m constantly grappling with. It is a story I have wanted to tell for years and the project itself was years in the making because of that personal nature,” he says. And to be honest, there are things that startle the reader- Hanuman, in this adaptation is a baboon, and the bright, shining star that changed his face, a moon. But sadly, most of the rest of the book is just another retelling of the epic.
But for such an established poet, turning to mythology seemed like rather a trite idea. Especially with so many interpretations and adaptations flooding the markets as far as graphic novels are concerned. “I didn’t choose mythology as a subject for the book, just as making it into a graphic novel really was not a choice,” confesses Balagopal. “This was a story I had wanted to tell for many years and when I began developing it, there was no question in my mind that it had to be a graphic novel. I think visually, so it was not a great leap from filmmaking in terms of storytelling. And the story you are telling is always the most important, be it an adaptation or an original story. So they all have the same aim, and their own challenges.”
And as our conversation draws to an end, he speaks of the Comic Con and winning the award for the Best Graphic Novel. “The first Comic Con India took place a month after I had completed SIMIAN part one and submitted it to publishers, back in the beginning of 2011. Of course I didn’t know at the time that I would have to wait another three and a half years for its publication, along with part two. But at the time the serendipitous announcement of Comic Con India filled me with hope that India was opening up further to the medium of comics and graphic novels. And it has been amazing to watch the numbers growing at every successive Comic Con. I’ve attended the events in Delhi and Bangalore, and it is a great experience to be surrounded by people as passionate about it as I am. It is helping artists showcase their work and it is spreading the word by celebrating the medium. So, to win the award for Best Graphic Novel of the year at Comic Con India is a huge honor and encouragement.”
And for fans, there is good news. Balagopal is working on the next instalment of Simian as you read this.