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Where’s the Indian mythology boom? Comic Con cosplay still full of Wonder Woman, Iron Man

While Indians are hoarding books on mythology, they didn't show up at Delhi's Comic Con as Ram, Ravan, Ashoka, or Chanakya. The 'cool quotient' still involves aping the West.

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With the ongoing surge of cultural pride in India, publishers, authors, bookstores, and filmmakers are riding the wave of renewed interest in mythology. Amish Tripathi is as big as Yash Raj Films today, and movies like RRR and Brahmastra are being lapped up.

But the crowds that thronged the biggest carnival of pop culture, Comic Con India 2022 in Delhi, didn’t quite reflect this frenzied renaissance in all things old.

For an event attended by pop culture fans from all over the country, the focus on Indian mythology and comics was surprisingly little. Marvel Comics’ fans dragged their feet in heavy Iron Man costumes—made of everything but iron—trying to capture one good picture with their phones mounted on selfie sticks. Indian Tin Tin and Tinkle’s Suppandi were few.

A solitary Chacha Chaudhary cosplayer, adjusting his red turban, said that his favourite comic hero “processes things faster than a supercomputer.”

A participant dressed as Chacha Chaudhary | Ratan Priya/ThePrint
A participant dressed as Chacha Chaudhary | Ratan Priya/ThePrint

“We are sitting on a treasure of stories that we will never run out of. Even if nobody watches those movies, we are 140 crore people and we are enough,” author Anand Neelakantan, who is involved with big-budget film projects based on Indian mythology, said. His 2012 book Asura: Tale of the Vanquished is famous for having Ravan as the narrator — the rakshasa king in Ramayana. There is a market for this, and the cash registers are clearly going kaching, but buyers clearly didn’t turn up at Comic Con India.

A participant dressed as a superhero | Ratan Priya/ThePrint
A participant dressed as a superhero | Ratan Priya/ThePrint

One wouldn’t see Wonder Woman, Harley Quinn, Wanda Maximoff, and Chacha Chaudhary bumping into each other unless they’re cosplayed at Comic Con. This year’s event, held at Okhla’s NSIC Exhibition Ground, came after a break of three years. From infants in strollers to octogenarians with walking sticks, a massive crowd gathered at the carnival of comic books, games, and merchandise. But nobody dressed up as the popular Arjun, Ram, Ravan, or Krishna here. Or even as Ashoka, Prithviraj Chauhan, or Chanakya, though films and series on them are selling out so well.

Comic Con 2022 held after three years | Ratan Priya/ThePrint
Comic Con 2022 held after three years | Ratan Priya/ThePrint

“The current climate has seen Indian mythology finally get the credit it deserves. We were selling 2,000 comics a month before the pandemic. Now, we are back to reaching those numbers,” said Karan Vir Arora, CEO of Vimanika Comics. It publishes graphic novels and comics based on Indian mythology such as Shiva: The Legends of Immortal, I Am Kalki, and Durga.

Also read: Savarkar broke monopoly of Nehru-Gandhi history books. Now there’s new appetite, wishlist

Call it ‘purana’, not mythology

The unique stories about Indian gods, goddesses, and warriors are no more a niche. Audible India, an online audiobook and podcast service, in collaboration with Comic Con India held a panel discussion on the country’s love for mythology with the three big names in contemporary Indian mythology genre as the panellists — Amish Tripathi, Anand Neelakanthan, and Kevin Missal.

“People think [I am] some foreigner writing about Indian gods, so I started putting my picture in the book. Then they started saying, ‘He is too young to know what he is talking about’. So I started keeping a beard,” laughed Kevin Missal, 25, author of Karna: The King of Anga. He started writing when he was 14 and rose to fame at 21.

Amish Tripathi said that this is perhaps “the most exciting time to be an Indian writer because our stories will go across the world”.

When a country is rediscovering its roots, it becomes important to reinvent the language and discard old ways of speaking about things. The word ‘mythology’ does not really describe stories of Hanuman and Karna, Tripathi said. He prefers the Sanskrit word ‘purana’ instead.

“The temperament is definitely changing and readers especially want variety. Whether it is mythology or stories like Angry Moushi, Indian fans want to relate to them. The response is only getting better. It is a slow process, but we are getting there,” said comic creator Abhijit Kini.

Talking about the future of Indian mythological stories on Audible, Missal, Tripathi, and Neelakantan agreed that the most enduring Indian stories have always been verbally narrated. “The stories of valour, pride, and worship are surely yet to assimilate with the country’s pop culture,” Tripathi said. It’s all about what is considered ‘cool’, and he said that Indians ape the Western accent even if they just spend a year abroad.

He is right. While Indians are consuming this content, they are still not displaying it with pride because the ‘cool’ quotient still involves looking outward.

Indians at this year’s Comic Con seemed much more fascinated by the showpiece based on James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) and Netflix’s Wednesday fanatics walking in packs, wearing goth-girl colours.

“This isn’t the place for it. People dress up as Ram, Ravan, and Shiva all the time at Ramlila Grounds,” Neelakantan said assuredly.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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