India’s first female superhero Priya is back, fighting the COVID-19 pandemic — with her mask
Documentary filmmaker, technologist, and founder of US-based media house Rattapallax, Ram Devineni created Priya Shakti, India’s first female superhero, after the horrifying Delhi gang rape in 2012.
This year, as the world battles COVID-19, Priya’s Mask, the newest addition to the series, finds much relevance.
“I created the Priya Shakti comic book series in 2014 to reach out to young audiences. My goal was to change people’s perception at a very age about the role of women, and especially their perception of survivors,” says Ram.
He adds that the comic book galvanised people around survivors and helped them tell their stories in the news media. The construct of a female superhero and the format made these issues more accessible and started a larger debate in society on how to treat survivors and begin the healing process.
The evolution of Priya
Over the years, Priya has evolved to become a complete character with a flying tiger named Sahas, who was not present in the first comic book Priya’s Shakti.
Both have appeared in Priya’s Mirror about acid attacks, and Priya and the Lost Girls, which is about sex trafficking.
“We did not anticipate the first comic book to be a huge success, so we were not thinking of future editions in 2014 when it debuted. As more comic books came out, Priya had to be a more complicated person and we delved into her personal life and her family. In the last comic book, Priya and the Lost Girls we focused on the relationship between her and her sister,” says Ram.
As COVID-19 struck the world, crippling economies and bringing safety and healthcare into focus, Ram adapted the character of Priya to launch a short-animated film and comic book Priya’s Mask.
In her new avatar, Priya has been re-imagined as a teenager, but is still fierce and strong. This edition is aimed at a younger audience and wants to dispel misinformation about the pandemic.
Battling the pandemic
Priya befriends little Meena to show her the sacrifices made by frontline healthcare workers and instil the power of courage and compassion. Along with her tiger Sahas, Priya passes the all-important message of wearing a mask and working together to battle the pandemic.
“The pandemic has challenged everyone, and the level of fear and uncertainty is very high. Priya's message has always been about conquering your fears in order to find strength. Priya shows us why it is important to work together to defeat the virus, and basic safety practices like ‘wearing a mask for your safety and mine’. Lastly, we focus on the emotions children are going through during this turmoil,” Ram says.
The animated short film features the voices of feminist leaders from the US and India including Rosanna Arquette, Vidya Balan, Mrunal Thakur, and Sairah Kabir.
Mrunal, who gave the voiceover for Priya, says, “When it first came to me, I knew I wanted to do this. The initiative stems from a personal space for me. I grew up not having a hero to look up to and I don’t want a girl in 2020 to not have that sort of a figure to be inspired by. This initiative subverts gender norms and places a young girl at the front of things. She is an abuse survivor and she talks about rejecting patriarchy and masculinity. I hope it will change how young girls see themselves in the larger scheme of things.”
Vidya Balan echoes the same sentiment. “Priya is India’s first female cross-cultural comic book superhero and Sahas is Priya’s flying tiger and her courage, conviction, and constant companion; the essence of Sahas connected with me instantaneously. The animation is a wonderful and a necessary shout out to all the frontline and healthcare workers for helping us through the pandemic, with a strong message of solidarity,” she says.
Teaming up with Burka Avenger
Priya with the Burka Avenger
Priya’s Mask also features an interesting collaboration between Priya and the Burka Avenger from Pakistan. Ram says when he started working on the comic, he felt she needed to be included in the story.
“I have known about the Burka Avenger for a long time and the amazing animated TV series that has been playing in Pakistan. There are some obvious correlations — both are female superheroes who fight for women’s rights. Her name is Jiya and our character is named Priya. Also, the virus does not respect borders, so it was important that two comic book female superhero characters come together to fight. The US Embassy in New Delhi helped arrange the meeting and it has been a pleasure working with the Burka Avenger team,” says Ram.
Writer Shubhra Prakash believes Priya aligns with her macro-vision of mainstreaming the brown girl narrative globally. So, the connect was instant — her origin story is positive and empowering subverting the victim shaming syndrome usually associated with such events.
She is a desi girl with superpowers on a flying tiger, yet rooted and authentic to the core. In a climate where the gender and diversity dialogue are so activated, someone like Priya brings with her so much relevancy and stands a chance to become a true role model.
Going forward, Ram is working with producers, Tanvi Gandhi, Indrani Ray, and Monika Samtani to present the project to broadcasters and production companies for an animated series. He is also planning to continue to produce more comics with Priya at the centre stage.