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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 48 Dated December 05, 2009
26/11 intentions

Nagraj And The Counter-Jihad

Post-9/11 superhero comics underline the lack of maturity in Indian responses to terrorism, says RISHI MAJUMDER

Graphic violence Terrorists capture superheroes Nagraj and Doga in Raj Comics’ 26/11

ART IMITATES life, and death, in many ways. 9/11 ushered in a rare phase in American comic book culture, where real-life heroes were honoured, supervillains shed tears at national loss and superheroes felt helpless because of a real-life tragedy they could not avert. This return to reality from escapism reflected the American attitude of the times far more accurately than their President’s declarations of war.

Raj Comics’ take on the Mumbai terror attack, 26/11, shows no signs of such a reality check. It has popular Indian superheroes Nagraj (a man-snake with superpowers) and Doga (a crime fighter who wears a dog mask) defeat five fictional terrorists waiting to ambush Mumbai and add to the assault of 26/11’s infamous pack of ten. Halla Bol, the sequel to 26/11, which releases next month, takes the collective fantasy further. Nagraj enters a fictional neighbouring enemy state called Ghuspaitisthan to demolish terrorist camps. When branded a terrorist by the enemy government, he offers to extradite himself in exchange for five terrorists in Ghuspaitisthan who are on India’s wanted list.

Indian attitudes to dealing with terror, at least as expressed in comic-book culture, appear to have a lot of growing up to do.

“Terrorism is a complex issue,” sighs Sanjay Gupta, studio head of Raj Comics and creator of Nagraj and Doga, who co-wrote 26/11. Many call him India’s Stan Lee. “The more pressure you apply, the more reaction you get. Yet, if you do nothing you’re an easy target.” 26/11, launched in May 2009, has already sold over a lakh copies – not surprising for a publisher whose average comic sells 70,000 copies and whose web forums indicate a fan base stretching from the Haryanvi villager to the Canadian NRI. Gupta laughs when accused of cashing in on jingoist sentiment. He says his company has always “addressed current issues” (the Tandoor murder, the Nithari murders, Kargil and crimes against senior citizens). The comics, he says, are an expression of his and “the public’s political thought”, which “demands that those in the higher echelons of government” do “everything in their power to protect Indian lives”.

Both 26/11 and Halla Bol have the all-powerful Nagraj, our homegrown Superman, as India’s answer to terrorism. This seems to suggest that our security and defence forces, mere mortals, are illequipped to do so. “That is what it felt like during 26/11, did it not?” asks Gupta. But he appreciates the need to lift human morale. He’s planning “more 26/11 based issues” possibly featuring “Tiranga (with no superpowers) or Super Commando Dhruv (whose superpower is talking to animals) or even only Doga (all he can do is talk to dogs!)” as terrorist hunters.

Yet Raj Comics has remained silent on many other “complex” issues: the MNS agitations, the Mumbai and post-Godhra riots, and the state of India’s ‘public’ in Kashmir and the northeast. “We’ve launched a five-part series called Doga Hindu Hai on communal riots,” Gupta says. “And we took up the violence by regional parties on Valentine’s Day.”

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 48 Dated December 05, 2009

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