India’s beloved female superhero, Priya, pays tribute to the frontline workers

Comic book Priya Shakti premiered at the Mumbai Film and Comics Convention in 2014. Created by Ram Devineni, the book presented a new Indian superhero in the form of Priya and focused on the problem of sexual violence in India and around the world. Gaining popularity, Priya became the beloved superhero of the Indian comic universe.

The same Priya, with her powers to fight injustice and charm to win hearts, can now be seen in an animated avatar. In the animated short, which released on 2 December 2020, Priya is back to show her powers and give us a glimpse into the essential worker’s world during the ongoing pandemic. “Animation was something new for all of us, and very exciting. Although young people read comics, this is small in comparison to the number of people who watch animated films. So, it was important for us to take Priya’s journey to another level and larger audience,” expressed director Ram Devineni.

The project is directed by Devineni and written by Shubhra Prakash. Voiced by actors from India and the US (Mrunal Thakur as Priya, Vidya Balan and Rosanna Arquette as Sahas and Sairah Kabir as the eight-year-old Meena), the film visually narrates a segment from the comic. Set against the city of Jodhpur, Priya befriends Meena to show her how indispensable frontline workers are and instils a sense of hope and courage in her.

Ram Devineni and Shubhra Prakash

Usually, 18 months of research, writing and creation goes into the creation of a comic book. But the new comic book and animated film, Priya’s Mask was made in three months by the team, which is extraordinarily fast considering everyone was working remotely and in different cities and countries. “I have not met everyone who worked on the project except on Zoom. Even the recording sessions were remotely done using Zoom or personal recorders,” added Devineni.

Devineni’s father was a paediatrician for 40-years and had to leave his practice in February as it was too risky to work because of his age group. So he was well aware of the work that goes behind to control the pandemic. Writer Shubhra Prakash has plenty of friends in healthcare departments across the world. “I feel immense pride and constant anxiety (on their behalf). The fact that these people would willingly risk their lives to save others is unfathomably noble – their sacrifices have been from varying degrees of intense to downright heartbreaking. They are true superheroes,” she mentioned.

The animated short is created in 2D technique and uses pastel shades all over to make the characters’ personalities come out brilliantly. “Animator and illustrator Syd Fini is influenced by Hayao Miyazaki, and also the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series, and hopefully those influences are seen in Priya’s Mask,” Devineni said.

The team feels lucky to have Balan, Thakur, and Kabir voice the characters. “Having a remarkable array of talented actresses to bring the characters to life was critical. I saw Mrunal Thakur in Love Sonia, and her acting was powerful and compassionate, so the entire team envisioned her to voice Priya and bring the character to life,” he added. “Sairah Kabir was the perfect voice and she totally owned the role of Meena.”

Thakur who has earlier worked in various films felt that this was one of the most empowering teams she had ever worked with. “The people and their ideology were so in sync with my personal beliefs that I have never felt more at ease at work. It was like a breath of fresh air in a world that’s constantly battling casual sexism. We are attempting to subvert gender norms with a simple story and a powerful hero at the heart of it,” she expressed while talking to Animation Xpress.

Mrunal Thakur

Thakur has read the book as she thinks it is very important for her to gather every bit of information on the subject to provide context to what she is working on. “Every story from the series comes with a message that makes it straight to your heart. There’s a certain purity and honesty with which we’ve crafted the series. And the values it stands for speaks to everyone – man, woman, children alike,” added she.

Talking about the essential workers, Thakur said that they are our saviours. “We made it through this phase only because they went out everyday and worked. So many frontline workers have even lost their lives in 2020. So if we’ve made it out alive, we only have frontline workers to thank across the different vocations.” Thakur feels immense gratitude towards them and thinks that it’s collectively our job as a society to help them recuperate in the months to come because of the harsh days they’ve faced. And we can’t agree more.

With a proper blend of team members and a storyline so strong, Priya’s Mask is surely going to have a place in everyone’s heart in the days to come. With a strong gratitude towards all the frontline workers, we at Animation Xpress would also like to thank these superheroes!