January 20, 2014

Story Boxes: Amruta Patil

By Payal Khandelwal

“ A young, deeply introverted, asocial and queer woman” is how Amruta Patil has often summed up the protagonist of her debut graphic novel Kari. When Kari released in 2008, it took the country by storm and unsurprisingly, got a lot of global attention and has been released in various international languages since. Despite the unusual protagonist, the intense storyline interspersed with dark humour, incidental queerness and two attempts of suicide, for Patil, Kari was all about spontaneity and youthful lack of big-picture vision.

KARI-TEXT-3

Released last year, Patil’s Adi Parva, the first part of the colossal trilogy project based on the Mahabharata, Vishnu puraans and the tradition of oral storytelling, raises a whole lot of questions and refuses to give any answers. During the launch, Patil confessed that the book almost takes a cheeky pleasure in doing that. She feels that mythologies are mainly about the human psyche. Also, in Adi Parva, the Sutradhar (narrator) is not a man, unlike all the Indian scriptures, but the female river Ganga who Patil talks about as someone who straddles both the celestial and terrestrial, who is a queen and an unsentimental mother.

adi parva page 205

Needless to say, if the graphic novel genre can be called a movement, then Patil is one of its most avant-garde and chief leaders. She never expected the kind of response that Kari managed to garner. “My first thought was that of abject gratitude that someone had agreed to publish me at all. I was just keen to tell an intimate story well and to learn about the publishing process. I have been lucky to have gone the distance with HarperCollins India, and for what the book is, it received large amounts of love,” she says. Adi Parva has already received tremendous positive reviews. This time around she had a slightly different expectation though. She says, “People can be unpredictable and polarized in their reaction to familiar things looked at in an atypical fashion. The soul of the epic lies so very close to our collective psyche, I knew that people would certainly respond. What I had no way of gauging, was what the nature of the responses would be — acceptance or resentment, curiosity or hostility.”

Even though she is relieved that the reception is favourable, she does not want to spend any undue energy thinking about Adi Parva anymore as this would detract her from the “unselfconscious movement” that the sequel requires. She is currently in the process of researching and scripting Part 2, which is tentatively called Sauptik Parva. She also continues to do some form of graphic journalism with her short pieces for various national and international magazines like Art Review, Time Out, Internazionale and Tehelka.

Some of the recurring themes in Patil’s work include memento mori, sexuality, myth, sustainable living, the aspiration for beauty and grace, and the unbroken thread of stories passed down from storyteller to storyteller through the ages. While Kari had a black & white and grey (charcoal) look, there is a heavy use of acrylic colour on paper in Adi Parva. Describing her work process, she gives us the example of Adi Parva where the painting part took a year and the rest about three years. “The abhyaas (exercise) continues on a day-today basis for months on end. The very basic sketching happens simultaneously. The actual grunt work — the final pages — happens in a short burst of energy and effort,” she says. She generally does not discard any of the sketches for many reasons like her recycling ethic, desire to chronicle personal growth and also out of a practical need to actually get the job done.

adi-parva-page-214

There is no doubt that Kari is one of the most important and path-breaking books in the genre which made the space easier for future entrants. Patil thinks that the graphic novel space has definitively become airier and better organized but she also feels that there will be a scramble for (publishing) opportunities and resources. Citing one recent work that caught her attention, she says, “It’s very exciting to see work like Sudershan (Chimpanzee) — original storyline, good writing, non-imitative artwork.”

Patil is a firm believer of the story being more important than the form and wants to work on a novel post her trilogy project. “I am willing to play with a permutation and combinations of text and image in varying proportions to see what the story needs most. And when required, I am open to leave illustrations out entirely. As a personal challenge too, I want to see if I have what it takes to keep aside the safety blanket of pictures and still do a competent storytelling job.”

 

This piece was originally published in Kyoorius Magazine 16.

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