Shamik Dasgupta is presently the most prolific Indian writer of graphic novels and comic books. His work ranges from science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy to superheroes. His claim to fame was with Ramayan 3392 AD in collaboration with director Shekhar Kapur and famed author Deepak Chopra. Ramayan 3392 AD is a groundbreaking series retelling the epic Ramayana in a futuristic post apocalyptic earth. This series was both nationally and internationally acclaimed and revolutionized the art and storytelling of Indian Graphic Novel and comic book medium. Besides Ramayan, Shamik has also collaborated with various other Indian publishers on numerous properties. In 2010 Shamik came up with Daksh the first dark superhero of India aimed at a mature audience. In 2011 Shamik introduced another sci-fi/fantasy series called The Legends of Aveon 9 which also found wide spread popularity and hearty praise from the national bestselling author Amish Tripathi (Immortals of Meluha, the Shiva Trilogy). Shamik has presently published a graphic novel with US based company Yali Dream Creations called The Caravan a horror/action/comedy/Bollywood Masala romp, a story about a roving band of Banjara gypsy vampires. The Caravan also found a strong place among comic fans in India. Presently Shamik is working on an adaptation of the Bengali classic, Bankim Chandra’s Devi Chaudhurani . However as we know Shamik, this is not going to be a literal adaptation. Shamik in his Exclusive Interview with Sholoana Bangaliana says he has got many tricks up his sleeve with this retelling of the classic which will make the content resonate with the present youth and can create a landmark in content based on our classics. Excerpts –
Sholoana Bangaliana: What made you select ‘Devi Chaudhurani, a classic novel in Bengali Literature for this new project of yours?
Shamik Dasgupta: To be really honest, the present scenario of gender violence spreading like wildfire in India prompted me to write something which would empower the female population of our country. I could have easily written a social sermon with abstract artwork and a dash of forcefully inserted pseudo intellectualism, or a revenge thriller of a wronged (read ‘raped’) female victim a.k.a ‘I Spit on You Grave’. Well, that was the easy way out; instead, I dug deep in the treasure trove of our classical literature and found or rather say rediscovered Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devi Chaudhurani. I read the novel in my formative years and it left a deep impression in my mind. It had drama, intrigue, action and a very strong female protagonist hitherto un-imagined in that time.
Prafulya/Devi Chaudhurani is not the quiet rebel found in Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s books, neither a polished, sheltered, Brahmo radical found in Tagore’s classics. She was raw, active, forged in the anvil of the savage times during the beginning of the British Raj, hammered by a near barbaric patriarchal society, and she emerged shining as a powerful rebel queen. It was as basic as it could get. We say the times are bad for the women of our country nowadays, just imagine how horrible it was then with polygamy, abandonment of widows, child marriage and the heinous custom of Sati. This is the reason Devi Chaudhurani will remain possibly the most prominent and influential female protagonist in Bengali Literature of all times. Hence there are no brownie points to find out how or why I chose this character for the reinterpretation in graphic novel format.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Your previous works strongly suggest that you believe in improvising on the original story lines. Have you tried this here too? If yes, what are the changes that you have incorporated in Devi Chaudhurani?
Shamik Dasgupta: Yes, guilty as charged. I took the liberty of changing a great many deal of the story. Unfortunately I cannot give out too much information as it would definitely spoil the fun for the readers. There are two major changes which I have no issues to disclose however. The ending of the original novel felt like a letdown for me. Prafulya had achieved so much, she became a major force to be reckoned with against the East India Company and the British Raj and she gave everything up to be a housewife and serve her in-laws who had treated her like a door mat.
Come on, we all know Rishi Bankim had something else in his mind, but in fear of the erstwhile ‘Hindu’ society he had to write what he had to write in the end. It is so clear that his soul was not into it. After such an inspirational and epic victory, no author would like to write such an anticlimax for his protagonist. I might sound brash, but maybe I am trying to reach out to Rishi Bankim’s soul and give an apt end to this wonderful saga of a simple rustic girl who became a rebel queen and proved to be a formidable threat against the British Empire. Maybe, just maybe I can make him proud up in the heavens.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Which appealed to you the most? The historical impact of Devi Chaudhurani or the fictional part of the novel?
Shamik Dasgupta: Both, as Bankim Chandra had narrated, it was the age of Matsanyay, a savage state where big fish eats the small. It was the turn of the century and a major cultural, social and economical transformation as the Islamic rule was replaced by the British Empire. Bengal probably had the worst of it, with the Maratha Barghis, Arakan Maghs, looting, pillaging and raping rampantly in the countryside, the Portuguese Pirates ruling the Bay of Bengal, the fall of the last Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula, and the gradual aggression of the Empire. It was such a chaotic and nightmarish situation, a perfect setting for a high octane action adventure saga like Devi Chaudhurani.
It is redundant to say that the fictional part strongly inspired me too, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten into this in the first place.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Bankimchandra’s Brajeswar was a spineless hero. Does your Brajeswar belong to the same genre?
Shamik Dasgupta: No, he doesn’t. In the original novel I found that character to have a glimmer of greatness which was never explored and he comes across as a complete wuss, a meek young man irrevocably under the thumb of his domineering father Harballav. His only spark of lame machismo is witnessed in his tussle with his child wife Sagar. He becomes even more despicable than his father at that moment and he duly gets what he deserved through Prafulya’s ploys. It is hard to imagine Prafulya leaving her life as Devi Chaudhurani for such a man. However, in this version Braja’s character has completely been redefined, the initiation can be seen in the first volume Matsanyay but the character reaches its high in the second volume.
Sholoana Bangaliana: How have you perceived the iconic character of Bhawani Pathak?
Shamik Dasgupta: I just have to say I did some major tweaking with the character of Bhavani Pathak (Prafulya/Devi Chaudhurani’s mentor). He will come off as a complete surprise to the readers, also including Deeva and Nishi, the handmaidens of Devi Chaudhurani. There won’t be any more spoilers please.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Do you know Late. Rituparno Ghosh was about to start the shooting of Devi Chaudhurani on big screen, which was being produced by Shree Venkatesh films. His untimely demise jeopardized the whole project. You have timed your graphic novel after such an unfortunate event. What are you planning with DC after its launch? Do you have any plan to take this up the next level and fulfill the incomplete dream of Ritu da?
Shamik Dasgupta: Rituparno Ghosh’s untimely demise has been an irreplaceable loss for the creative industry. I have a desire to dedicate this book to his memory and pay homage to his soul. However, I believe the way he would have approached the story would have been quite different from the way I am approaching it. Rituparno Ghosh was a genius when it came to drama and dialogue interaction but we never came to know how he would have handled the intrigue and the massive action set pieces depicted in the original novel itself. In our version we have ratcheted up the action quotient to a great degree quite akin to Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean series, so you get an idea how it is going to be. We have high hopes that once the two books are released we would pitch it to some major studios and directors who can handle the massive scale of the story and the epic battles we will depict. If these two books garner public favor we are even considering to make Devi Chaudhurani as a character franchise and tell more original stories based on her adventures.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Did you watch Dinen Gupta’s DC, which starred Mrs Suchitra Sen in the lead? Whats your opinion regarding Mrs Sen’s portrayal of Praffullya onscreen?
Shamik Dasgupta: I saw the movie when I was a child and I liked it. However though beautiful, Suchitra Sen was rather aged at that point of time to portray a teenage Prafulya. Though she had the personality, her stature was rather small and frail for a character like Devi Chaudhurani. Bankim Chandra himself had described her to be a woman of astounding beauty and stature. Hence it is quite obvious that she has to have the physicality.
In our version Prafulya is beautiful but what makes her stand apart from other women is that she is exceptionally tall (around 5’10”), well built and quite athletic. Physically she is as strong as most men and that make her training feasible and logical. She also has got an aura about herself that make people adore her without getting either reverential or lusty. She has got a casual, innocent frankness about her character that can make you instantly comfortable in the first meeting, not to mention, she has got a sharp sense of humor as well. In a nutshell, she is a person whom you will want to take the lead, and you neither will be forced nor obligated to follow; it will just come as a flow.
Sholoana Bangaliana: Which are the global historical characters, whom you have incorporated in this graphic novel?
Shamik Dasgupta: There are quite a few. In the first volume itself you will see glimpses of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula and the battle of Plassey. The second volume will be more interesting as we delve deeper in the story where a young Raja Ram Mohan Roy will have a significant role. Hey, you will even get to see Emperor Napoleon himself!
Sholoana Bangaliana: As a new-age graphic novelist, how do you see the future of graphic novels in India and Kolkata?
Shamik Dasgupta: In India a lot of work is happening both in big scale and smaller scale as well. Creators are getting noticed; new companies are emerging and making business. A strong awareness is growing through major events like the Comic Cons which are happening in all major metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. They are bringing in huge crowds and media attention, people who are interested in comics, graphic novels and pop culture in general.
Sadly, Kolkata is quite far behind, nothing much happens here except the book fair, where we are planning to launch Devi Chaudhurani Book One – Matsanyay. There are no major graphic novel publishers here except Ananda who makes literal retelling of famous novels, hence no scope of innovation. I am sincerely hoping that with the right push through media and awareness, Devi Chaudhurani will become a game changer here. Thank you Sholoanabangaliana.com for this feature.
Sholoana Bangaliana: If DC gets sound response from the readers, do you have plans to try other Bengali classics also? ( e.g – historical novels by Saradindu Banodpahyay or Science fictions of Premendra Mitra and others)
Shamik Dasgupta: Let’s take baby steps here. If Devi Chaudhurani is favored by the readers we might want to tell more stories of her and make her a long running character franchise. I am certainly open to reinterpret some other classics as well, there are so many more and it’s so hard to choose! But as I said Devi had hit me the hardest and I had made up my mind to make this book one day or the other. Thank you Yali Dream Creations, Anitracks Media, Asvin Srivatsangam and Sudeep Choudhari for making this happen.
We are releasing the book in Kolkata International Book Fair 2014 and we are inviting you all to pick up a copy and get a taste of what we have in store for you.