January 27, 2014

Story Boxes: Vishwajyoti Ghosh

By Payal Khandelwal

Images of people talking to each other in hushed tones about politics and notices in restaurants stating not to talk about politics at all, are just a couple of many such visuals that Vishwajyoti Ghosh observed while growing up in Delhi. And they have managed to firmly stay in his head. He grew up and so did the curiosity to probe into these visuals and look deep inside them. This led to the birth of Delhi Calm, Ghosh’s ironically titled complex political graphic novel which brings alive one of the darkest hours in the modern history of independent India, the Emergency Period which started on June 25, 1975 and ended in 1977. “In 1996, I was assisting a friend on his college video project on the Emergency. That’s when I realized the visual and thematic possibilities of the subject, much as I realized how little I knew about it. That set me going,” says Ghosh.

STYLE IS THE SUBSTANCE form vs. content in comics   VISHWAJYOTI

He unabashedly admits that it is an intense and dense political novel and this is exactly the way he wanted it, “as much as I wanted it to be unapologetically Indian”. The book was published in 2010 by HarperCollins India. Ghosh’s deep interest in politics and more importantly, his critique of it is quite apparent in other facets of his work too including his regular political cartoon column ‘Full Toss’ in Hindustan Times every Sunday. In Delhi Calm, he ironically declares that ‘any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. This is a work of fiction’, all this within the space of a bubble. However, as soon as the book was released, it was easy to put the characters in front of the mirror and see them for who they really were. Moon transformed into Indira Gandhi and The Prophet took shape of JP Narayan, who was leading the opposition to Indira Gandhi at that time.

Even though politics is probably the biggest theme in his work but in graphic narratives, he has also worked on themes like memories, migration, personal histories, cinema and urban commentaries and now hopes to broaden the palette further. Ghosh, like many of his contemporaries, works in a lot of different forms including graphic shorts, novels and political cartoons. He does like reading long form graphic naratives as they are demanding and often involve the reader in a journey, but a graphic short is an anecdote, an epiphany which can also be interesting. A political cartoon is a visual comment and a graphic novel is visual storytelling plus a comment, he says.

Delhi Calm has been created with watercolors and has a strong sepia tone to it. Ghosh believes in a lot of visual research while working, especially if it’s a period or a specific place centric piece. “Once I feel adequate with my research, I work on the visual style for the particular narrative. I don’t believe that all my stories should look the same to create my identity, but I firmly believe that every story should have its own visual language. I first work specifically on the visual look of the story and then get on with the layouts etc.”


Some of his favorites in the genre include Chris Ware, Edmond Baudoin, Craig Thompson, Marjane Satrapi, Frederik Peeters and a few more French authors. “But I grew up in the India of the 80–90s, in the world of Indian illustrators whose work had a serious influence on me. Hence, it would be important to mention Pulak Biswas, Mickey Patel, Suddhasatwa Basu, Atanu Roy, Satayjit Ray, Soutmitro Sarkar. They opened up a whole new world for me.”

Talking about the graphic novels space in India currently, Ghosh feels that the genre has indeed found a liking in both the young and not so young audiences and is still a growing medium. “There are many who are exploring the medium in many ways and will be interesting to see how it lives a few multiple lives across genres in the years to come. Within this time, I think Indian graphic novelists and the publishers have made some very brave choices in terms of themes, story lines and production. Otherwise how would have graphic narratives on sexuality, politics, migration, caste emerged?” he says. According to him, the need of the hour is more readers who are into graphic novels, as their interest would create a demand and ask more from the authors. “Or else the audience will keep looking for a desi alternative of a western novel and the journey will fall flat. It’s the same as when you watch a Bollywood movie, you’re preset with a certain lens and it’s the same you who watches a Hollywood film and have obviously changed your lens.”

Ghosh has recently curated This Side-That Side, an anthology of graphic narratives based on the partition, published by Yoda Press. This book has contributions from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and has a diverse set of storytellers including graphic novelists, poets, film makers, musicians, NGO activists, journalists, architects and artists exploring the graphic medium. The book has been receiving tremendous critical acclaim.



 This piece was originally published in Kyoorius Magazine 17.

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