What a wild ride! Goddess incarnations, Battles of the Gods, and a rape survivor with a tiger to ride on as she shares her message of hope. Priya’s Shakti is a vibrant and engaging public health campaign from India, anchored in a 36-page comic book written by Ram Devineni and Vikas Menon, with art by Dan Goldman.
The Plot: A young woman prays to the goddess Parvati for help. After she was gang raped, her family disowned her out of shame. She has nowhere to turn. Parvati feels a deep sympathy for Priya and incarnates into Priya’s body in order to seek justice. Parvati/Priya goes to the local authorities to report her attack, and she is told that it’s her fault. She then confronts one of her assailants, and after blaming her for the attack, he gropes her. Parvati is PISSED, but not as pissed as her devoted husband, the powerful god Shiva!
A lot happens in the story, and in the end, Priya travels from village to village on a tiger spreading the mantra that Parvati gave her, “Speak without shame and stand with me, bring about the change you want to see.” People love her! They follow her and say, “I stand with Priya!”
The art: Lively! This superhero comic is super colorful and action-packed. Goldman uses a playful variety of panel shapes and arrangements. His photo backgrounds look gorgeous and root the story firmly on earth, while the technicolor images transport the reader into the dramatic realm of the gods.
The message: Following the internationally publicized case of the 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a Delhi bus, Devineni was inspired to make a comic that challenged the victim blaming of India’s rape culture and demanded a cultural shift. He created Priya, a mortal woman infused with the power of the goddess Parvati, who bravely spreads a message of speaking truth to power. In Priya’s world, the people of India are ready and willing to join her fight.
The dazzle: In partnership with some deep-pocket funders, Devineni created a experience that he describes an “innovative social impact multimedia project.” This has three components: the comic book (print and online editions), public art (including murals, street art, and gallery shows), and an “augmented reality” smartphone app. Install the app on your phone, point the camera at an image from the comic, and you can view additional content. The content includes videos, animations, selfie photo filters, fan art, and pop up text.
The additional content is pretty cool. The app works smoothly, and every page of the comic has some hidden content that can be revealed. I liked seeing the fan art, and I found some of the pop up text informative. The interactive app adds life to the visual art, and gave me the pleasant feeling that I was joining a community of readers.
Blippar app adds enhanced content to smartphone screen shots of the digital comic, murals, and other images of the Priya’s Shakti universe. These views from my iPhone have clickable links, including videos of assault victims telling their stories.
Priya’s Shakti has received a bunch of international media attention. A second comic, Priya’s Mirror, follows Priya as she battles the perpetrators of acid attacks. The website promises a third volume, Priya and the Lost Girls.
For me, the real highlight of this project are the audio recordings of assault survivors telling their stories. I’ll write more about that in a second post about Priya’s Shakti.