Tease of the Month: Saurav Mohapatra

GABBAR_1Gabbar Singh. Terror of the ravines.
Vulture. Rat. Wolf. Lion. A beast. Not a man.
He gets what he wants, or the world ends.

The comic Sholay Gabbar takes us back into the ravines of Chambal valley, where the sharp rocks dig into your sole and soul, bleeding both. The comic begins somewhere in the middle, with Gabbar in jail and is from the point of view of a journalist who wants to interview him and understand how the mind of a dreaded dacoit works. The story is smoothly written as are the dialogues, even though being in English. We wished there were more pages and more complexity to the story, but writer Saurav Mohapatra, who is a self-confessed Sholay nerd, more than makes it up with his pat-on research and a few ‘aha’ moments. The comic is an absolute delight for Sholay fans, especially for those who know each and every dialogue of the film. For others, it might not be that intriguing.

In conversation with Saurav Mohapatra, writer, Gabbar’

ST: What was the biggest challenge you faced while creating the graphic novel?

SM: Gabbar! Seriously… writing the graphic novel backstory of the *one* character every Indian knows was a bit overwhelming at first. Everyone knows the snarling evil half-smile, the cruel sarcasm filled homilies and the panther like gait. My biggest challenge was to create a “how did we get here” kind of narrative that’d do justice to the largest larger than life character in Indian pop culture landscape, without making him a mere “Victim of circumstances” type of cliche. The reason Gabbar resonates is because he’s evil personified. He’s truly one of the most unabashedly evil character to grace the screen, who doesn’t make excuses about being evil. He just is.

ST: Gabbar is the one villain every Indian swears by, what was it like taking liberties about him and creating a backstory?

SM: Ha! As I said before the idea of writing the graphic novel backstory was overwhelming at first. I took a deep breath and started deconstructing Gabbar as a character and a phenomenon. I drew heavily from the movie and spaghetti westerns. In many ways, Gabbar is the Indian counterpart to the Batman villain The Joker. I drew upon my own fascination and history with pulp crime noir, while trying to create a story that would be a believable prequel/origin story (with “a comic book that might as well be a Bollywood movie” feel) to the greatest character ever in the history of Indian cinema (and perhaps world cinema too).

I tried to provide an arc for him to become the ruthless tyrannical sociopath we see in Sholay, while trying to avoid a justification of his actions or bent of mind. It was one of the tightest lines I have walked as a storyteller – a very taxing but utterly and marvelously rewarding one.

I’m thankful to the kind folks at Graphic India and Sascha Sippy for giving me this opportunity to bring the most seminal Indian character to life one more time. Last but not the least, I’d like to thank Salim-Javed for creating this vibrant tapestry of characters (Gabbar included).