Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's ... Hanuman?

Two related stories about mythology-inspired comic books and cartoons in India come from my Mom; as a kid who grew up devouring classic Amar Chitra Katha titles, I have mixed feelings on some of these new trends (though I get that "It's absurd to be purist about one of pop culture's most pleasingly bastard and vulgar forms," as my former professor Sukhdev Sandhu puts it). This story from NPR features Indian animators at Virgin Comics who are riffing on Hindu mythological tales in their work. Though I don't think Virulents (in which a regenerating rakshasa is discovered by American troops in modern-day Afghanistan) is to my taste, I think it's good news that a country that has long prized (and profited from) rote memorization is seeing the growth of companies that encourage such imaginative originality. I have similar feelings about feature-films like "The Return of Hanuman," in which the title deity "is reborn as a boy who goes to school in khaki shorts, uses a computer, combats pollution and, most important, smashes the bad guys to pulp." Again, yay for creative hybridity (as in this fantastic Indianized Spider-Man comic -- reviewed by Sandhu -- starring one Pavitr Prabhakar in a spider-suit with a dhoti)! And yay for elements of an ancient culture being perpetuated in novel ways (that aren't grossly offensive). But there's also a lot to be said for simply passing on the timeless tales of Hindu lore -- in all their unrevised rich intricacy -- without necessarily trying to "update" them. (Call me old-fashioned? ... ) One way or another, with the Indian animation industry (now said to be worth $285 million) projected to boom to a worth of $1 billion by 2010 (according to the Washington Post), this story may have just started.

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