‘Priya and the Lost Girls’ comic pays an ode to the female superheroes in India

Priya and the Lost Girls is a comic about a woman who vanquishes her fears and dismisses the ridicule, speaking out as a survivor and becoming an inspiration to thousands of women in India who have faced the same ordeal. She is a modern-day female superhero. Priya and the Lost Girls is the third in the series which includes Priya’s Shakti (2014) and Priya’s Mirror (2016). Launched during 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls, Priya and the Lost Girls focuses on sex trafficking. The launch event of the third book in the series took place recently on 30 November at Sheroes Hangout (a cafe owned and run by acid attack survivors) in Agra. Created by Ram Devineni filmmaker, publisher and founder of Rattapallax films and magazine (New York City and New Delhi) and Dipti Mehta, Priya and the Lost Girls is an outcome of research and interviews with women in brothels of Mumbai and Sonagachi (Kolkata), the largest red-light district in Asia.  Devineni has produced, edited and directed the feature documentary, The Karma Killings, which was shot in India and released on Netflix. He also produced The Russian Woodpecker, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
Ram Devineni
While talking to AnimationXpress, Devineni said, “Our NGO partner, Apne Aap Women Worldwide wanted us to focus on this topic in the third edition because that is their core mission – to help women escape from brothels and from sex trafficking. Sex trafficking and human trafficking is a massive global problem, only second to drug trafficking, and even worse than weapon trafficking. On his visit to Sonagachi, Devineni noticed that in most cases the family members knew and accepted this ‘uncomfortable symbiosis’ because they had very little money or support. Ironically, the families would not accept their own daughters back because of the shame, but they are willing to take her money. “In Sonagachi, the buildings are on top of each other, and there are many lanes and pathways. It is like a maze. This became the inspiration for the city of Rahu in the comic book,” added Devineni. The brilliant illustrations are an outcome of Syd Fini’s hardwork and creativity. Fini started working in Arya Comics and has directed and wrote short animation films including Back From The Other Side, Turquoise Guardian and Stars on Earth. He works as a storyboard artist at The Mill New York and Psyop. Fini recently finished his graphic novel Saah. “Since the script had some fantastical elements, I tried to use the classic mythology book illustration style in combination of more realistic and grounded illustrations for the characters. I tried to avoid the mainstream comic book and exaggerated styles because of the sensitive nature of the story. I tried to be respectful in the way I was drawing the girls in the story,” stated Fini. With the growing popularity of augmented reality technology, the team decided to target the teenage males through this medium. the team was able to embed a lot of information, interactive elements and stories from survivors. Devineni thinks that AR helped as a powerful and imaginative tool to make their comic book come to life. Embedded in the AR are many new layers including stories from survivors who were sex trafficked, and short documentaries. For Priya and the Lost Girls, the team used some innovative use of green-screen filming to put real people and effects into the comic book.  Priya Shakti is one of the first augmented reality comic books. “Our comic book was one of the first publications to use augmented reality in India, and helped define the new frontiers of integrating books, exhibitions, and public art with augmented reality,” mentioned Devineni. “We created augmented reality murals in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore on the sides of buildings which were seen by millions of people.” Fini made compositions that are eye pleasing in the 2D print and worked well in an interactive layered AR. “It invites the audience to step in the panels and experience the scenes more closely. Also it’s a great tool  that helps the creators to communicate with younger audiences more easily,” Fini said. Devineni originially thought of the story, but it was Mehta who wrote it. She took the complex idea and made it richer and stronger mentioned Devineni. “By putting the story in the context of fantasy allows us to talk about complex issues and also make the story entertaining for readers. The power of comic books is their subversive nature. They look beautiful, but can also address serious issues. The comic book and character has become an immediate hit with over 800 news stories and nearly 500,000 digital downloads and over 20,000 printed copies being distributed in India. The series has already reached over 26 million people worldwide. Priya and the Lost Girls is free to download in many formats at the official website of Priya Shakti worldwide in every digital format and is available in English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Hindi.