Credits - Prerna Kothari for The Graphic Slate.
Till date many comics have been launched in the southern part of India but very few carry original content. Most are translated versions of comics from other languages across the globe. But, there has been a change in this very scenario and filmmaker JS Nandhini is among the few who is coming up with what could possibly be called the first digital Tamil graphic novel titled Sivappu Kal Mookuthi or Girl with a Red Nose Ring.
The graphic novel consists of 135 pages, and took about one and half years to conceptualise and make. It was recently released digitally and has managed to garner a lot of attention for its beautifully illustrated sketches and an interesting storyline. TheGraphicSlate.com got the opportunity to get chatting with Nandhini, who’s the mastermind behind this graphic novel.
This is the first time that you have ventured into the comic space. What prompted this bold move?
I have always loved comics since my childhood. The juxtaposition of drawn images along with the writings seemed like a really attractive medium of storytelling. I would have created a comic book much earlier had I known to draw better, but no I’m a very average artist and I wanted my first work to look professional. So I kept delaying it.
In 2013, when the production of my second film stopped due to some problems, I felt I needed to do something else… something different. This was the time I realised that the comics industry was booming internationally and India was slowing warming up to the new culture. Comic Cons were happening successfully in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi and many comic book publishing companies were producing wonderful new works of art. I searched for Tamil Comics and found that almost all of them were translated versions of other language comic books. I learnt that that we had no one making any new original content. This actually propelled me towards doing something about it. I wanted to make an original, contemporary Tamil comic book for the current generation and also make it available for people who couldn’t read Tamil. So during the first quarter of 2014, I gathered up a small team and started work. I first wrote ‘Sivappu Kal Mookuthi’ as a feature film script and then converted it into a graphic novel.
What’s the storyline of the graphic novel? What inspired you to write a thriller?
Horror/Thriller is my most favorite genre. I’d love it as a fan and also as a creator. My very first unproduced feature film script was a fantasy thriller but at that time producers expected something light, funny and romantic from me. So I wrote ‘Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru’, a wacky, slapstick, light-hearted and sweet film. But as a creator I craved to tell dark, twisted and complex stories with a lot of depth. I wrote ‘Kolai Nokku Paarvai’ – a supernatural detective thriller having all the darkness and depth I wanted in a story – but that film stopped after 10 days of shoot.
‘Sivappu Kal Mookuthi/Girl with a Red Nose Ring’ too is a horror/thriller. The storyline goes like this ‘A newlywed husband has to rescue his loving young wife from a deadly supernatural entity who possesses her when she wears a mysterious red nose ring.’
What would be the interesting aspects of the book which the readers should watch out for?
It’s not a typical superhero story. It starts off with romance and introduction of characters, then moves on to horror, mystery, suspense and murders and then finally finishes off with a big twist. It’s a one shot graphic novel which might give a sense of watching a thrilling feature film.
What kind of art style have you followed for Sivappu Kal Mookuthi?
I wanted a realistic style and not the caricaturish or cartoonish-looking or artsy characters. Realistic comic art requires the characters to have anatomically correct (or close to it) character designs. This is more difficult than the cartoon or artsy styles where the artists can be more liberal and imaginative. But that is what I wanted and I’m happy with the way it has turned out.
What would you highlight in terms of challenges that you faced while creating this graphic novel?
In the beginning, finding artists who were interested to work on the comic book was a huge challenge. Surprisingly, not many were excited about the project. I was quite disheartened. I didn’t want to just outsource it to someone living in another city. I wanted to be an integral part of creating every inch of this book. Then I found Magesh and Sainath, two 2D illustrators who didn’t have much experience but were willing to learn. Drawing scientifically and anatomically correct bodies and facial expressions was a huge challenge! It took three to four months of rigorous training and a lot of practice for them to get it right.
I had financial problems too. To a book author, writing comes at no monetary cost. He/she just needs a computer, or just a bunch of papers and pens. But to make a comic book, a writer/creator needed money to pay the artists and buy them necessary equipments. A comic book project was a huge financial risk for a middle class person like me. So whenever there was shortage of money, there were delays.
Anyways, now when people say that the artworks are brilliant and that they loved reading the story, I feel glad that the struggles were all worth it.
Any particular reason to go digital, will there be a print edition as well?
Technology keeps changing and evolving. Today the use of paper has come down considerably and everything is going the digital way. Books have become e-Books and are being read on various devices such as desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets. Most people are glued to their phones most of the time for news/entertainment/knowledge/social-lives and much more. So as creators, we need to embrace the situation and make sure our work reaches the audience in every way.
Also, printing books is extremely costly for indie creators like me. So I chose to release the graphic novel digitally first. That doesn’t mean paperbacks won’t come out. They may… hopefully soon.
What are you future plans for the graphic novel?
Right now I’m in the process of making it into a feature film. When that happens, ‘Sivappu Kal Mookuthi’ will be the first ever graphic novel to be made into a film in India (Fingers crossed). There are plans in the pipeline of launching the graphic novel in other languages apart from Tamil and English as well.
The graphic novel is for anyone above the age 12 but the main target audiences are people between 16 and 35. A team of four worked hard in getting this graphic novel to life: Nandhini wrote the story, did the storyboard and designed the artwork whereas Gerald Rakesh was the assistant writer. Magesh.R and Sainath.B were the illustrators.
JS Nandhini is a gold medalist from the Film and TV Institute of Tamil Nadu where she studied direction & screenwriting. Her student short film ‘Ottam’ won two Tamil Nadu State Awards in 2003 (For Best Direction and Best Editing) and currently she runs a small ad film company called Make Believe Productions. She’s mostly known for her Tamil romantic comedy film ‘Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru’ (2009) produced by Sathyam Cinemas and Real Image.