India’s female superhero returns, to fight the pandemic with mask

The newest addition to the series titled Priya’s Shakti, by documentary filmmaker and technologist Ram Devineni, Priya’s Mask narrates the journey of India’s first female comic superhero, Priya. As she fights the misinformation around Covid-19, and is shown on a mission to stop its spread, the story becomes an intriguing read. Released recently as an augmented reality comic book, this time it’s paired with an animated short film that features voices of feminist leaders from the US and India, including American actor-director Rosanna Arquette, Indian actors Vidya Balan, Mrunal Thakur, and Sairah Kabir.

Ram Devineni and artist Dan Goldman had created Priya’s Shakti, India’s first female superhero, after the Delhi December 16 gang rape in 2012. And the latest work sends across a message of positivity in the tumultuous time as Priya befriends 8-year-old Meena, whose mother is a Corona warrior, working as a nurse to tend to Covid-19 patients, which shows her significance as a frontline healthcare worker. With her tigress Sahas, Priya also teaches the importance of wearing a mask. “It was important to understand the emotional toll the pandemic and isolation has on young people, and provide a message of hope in the comic and the film,” says Devineni, adding that false information around the virus is creating an atmosphere of fear and speculation among people.

Sairah Kabir, the 12-year-old who has done the voice-over for Meena, says, “A lot of kids my age will be able to relate to this story since their parents are working round the clock, juggling so many responsibilities. In times like these, roles get reversed and children become pillars of strength for the parents, by encouraging them to continue doing the praiseworthy work!”

The story is set against the rural background of Jodhpur, which poignantly captures the early days of the pandemic in India, such as the part where the protagonist enters the city riding the flying tigress Sahas, and she sees thousands fleeing on foot. In this series, Priya also teams up with Jiya — the Burka Avenger who is a popular female superhero in Pakistan — in their debut appearance together. “The virus does not understand or respect borders, so this was a natural synergy between both the cultural heroes,” says Shubhra Prakash, who has written the script for the comic.

Those who have lend their voices to the animated short film say they did so because the comic addresses important issues. Actor Vidya Balan, who has given her voice to the tigress Sahas in the Indian version of the film, says, “The animation, apart from being a nod to caregivers globally, which in itself is wonderful and timely and necessary, carries a strong message of solidarity. So it was an easy yes for me (to do this) wonderful film.”

Actor Mrunal Thakur, who has voiced Priya, says that she resonated with the character and wanted to bring her to life through a creative medium. “I’ve always aspired to be that superwoman who spreads awareness around social issues and it couldn’t be more exciting than to be part of an animation character, who is the voice of reason. Characters such as Priya and Sahas are putting forth the message of how we need the world to become a more inclusive place to live in.”

Thakur, who has tried her hands at voice-over for the first time, adds, “I want to tell children of frontline workers that even though their parents aren’t wearing capes, they are heroes in their own ways! They too are saving lives and taking care of the nation.”

Author tweets @bhagat_mallika

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