If you see Vijayendra Mohanty’s autograph, you will be disappointed by its absolute lack of flash (you can spot it on one of the images below). Instead of all the swirls and whirls that a name like his could afford, what you get is an abbreviation of form and content – “ViMoh”, and that too looking almost typeset.
I guess that is a peek into his way of writing as well.
When the project, in partnership with Vivek Goel, ‘Ravanayan’ was announced it promised a lot of insight into Indic lore. After all, it would tell the story of Lankesh! The journey of Ravan! The story of a man who was powerful like none had been before, yet doomed to defeat by destiny. A king who has been reviled by most, but deified by a few. The most powerful underdog ever imagined.
Mohanty has been familiar to me as a comics writer and a Indology crusader, in parallel. He has a ticklish sense of humour when you meet him, often self-effacive. But a different nature is present in his writings, which are incisive and well-researched, and defends his beliefs heartily. Polar oppositions in the same person. Knowing him one feels assured of storytelling that is well-researched and expects to uncover new facets of the characters as the story progresses. And that is what Mohanty does.
The story of Ravanayan (2 out of 10 issues down) is an exploration of destiny and choice. Ravan duels with dichotomies in his personage. He is soft and hard. The story attempts to gently etch out his character as one who is trying to create a choice in his life and the manifestations which lead him towards this choice.
The pace of the narrative is a trifle slow, but the blame for this is to the nature of independent publishing and not to the writer. Bringing out more frequent issues, for obvious practicalities, is a no go. But Mohanty promises a change in pace soon, not as a correction, but as a ripening.
While the story might promise more in the future than the present, the art certainly delivers full body blows right from the start, literally. The covers done by Goel are fantastic. They capture the flux and fury of the demon king on the first issue, and the endless play of worlds on the second one. The second cover particularly embeds itself into my memory, with its peaceful shades of blue and white, and the yin-yang layout of the full page itself. A stunning achievement, and no exaggeration to say that this single cover is worth the price of the entire subscription. Well maybe I exaggerate a little.
But despite, or because of, having two creators who are well-assured of their strengths, the story does suffer the lack of cohesion. The flow seems divided between pages that are the writer’s field and pages that are the artist’s field. One is unable to see this as a unified story since the entire mood gets flipped around in jerks from panel to panel. What is required, one feels, is a more meticulous edit of the text at the final stage when the drawings and words have come together. They do not always complement each other, and this may be because of separate departments working independently. For instance, the scenes of violence go on longer than they should at the start of both issues while at the same time the dislogues seem very out of place for the vivid battlefield. It will also avoid some of the errors one finds in the images, such as on the centerfold of the second issue.
Ravanayan certainly packs its punches, but also falls to a few in turn. It is an explorative start which will be adapting as it goes along. The comics series is attempting an ethic that hasn’t been done too frequently in India before – a fixed issue run, publicized hugely, real-time feedback and interaction, subaltern mythology. Many firsts. The time-honoured system of blessings are due to such an enterprise, so don’t be surprised if you see ViMoh and ViGo on one leg each, praying to the heavens.
Vivek Goel (Artist)
Vijayendra Mohanty (Writer)
Published by Holy Cow Entertainment, 2011
Rs 50 (Vol. 1) and Rs 40 (Vol. 2)