When this graphic novel Simian by Vikram Balagopal came to me for review with the back cover informing that it is the story of Ramayana & Mahabharata, my first thoughts were – is this a new version of Amar Chitra Katha? I wondered if I should expect a new angle or a new interpretation of the well-read, well-analyzed epics. On the other hand, Would it just be the new in-vogue medium? I flipped the pages and saw no colors. It made me wonder if it was going to be monotonous to look at just black and white images. And guess what? The author and publisher have not even put the page numbers so either you count yourself or keep guessing. I am still not sure why the author did not put page no.s
Anyway, the story starts with a dialogue between Bhim of Mahabharata and Hanuman of Ramayana. They are both sons of the wind god and hence brothers separated by two epics. The Vol 1 and 2 that I have is primarily the Hanuman’s story of Ramayana – it starts from the point when he met Ram and goes on till he came back from his first trip to Lanka. What makes this angle interesting is that it demystifies the myth of Hanuman as an ardent devotee of Ram. Here Hanuman questions Sugriva and Ram. In the process of helping Ram, he discovers his own strength. Which he knew he had but never had the chance to experience it and obviously, he never knew the impact.
I liked the thoughts he shares with Bhim clearing a lot of air on the popular perceptions. It may be Vikram Balagopal‘s own interpretation with no literary backing, but it is a good exploration of the mind of Hanuman. A character that he brings to focus as the hero who supported a man in distress. We often read the story as this helpless man in distress as the hero. It also brings focus to the similarity between the characters of Hanuman and Bhim. Both of whom played the role of catalysts in their epics and both of whom have a sense of devotion for the celebrated heroes of their epics.
Visually, it takes some time to get used to the black and white sketch-like drawings. But once you get into the groove you start appreciating the nuances. As the characters are speaking, he zooms in and zooms out his lens like a photographer would or like your eyes would move to observe the body language of the person speaking to you. The author depicts war and violence scenes with slanting lines. The use of dialogues is minimal and visual is the main communicator. I found the depictions of Ram and Ravan quite modern – especially the face cut. At first, it looked not so Indian to me, but later it ceased to matter. Colors come into place only when the supernatural or the other world’s depiction comes into play. Overall the visuals give you a photographer’s perspective of the story.
I am curious to know what technology was used in creating these visuals? Were they hand drawn or drawn on a computer? I also see that Vikram Balagopal has registered SIMIAN as a trademark which tells me that he has some long-term plans with the name, more than just coming out with sequels for this book. To me, this book served as an introduction to graphic novels. Do I look forward to reading more of them – I am not sure, but I am definitely looking forward to the concluding Vol III of this series.
Explore it. If you like carry on, otherwise abandon.