I’ve always spoken out against every government: Orijit Sen

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Orijit Sen

By Sukant Deepak

New Delhi– At a time when screen time has eclipsed reading among high-school students, Goa-based artist Orijit Sen’s new comics magazine ‘Comixense’ aims to take them back to the written word by creating something that does not treat them as children, but offers a a balance of layered stories — in such a way that even those in college and adults would be able to relate to them.

“I was approached by Sanjiv Kumar, who runs numerous educational programmes. He felt that youngsters were perpetually on the phone, and losing touch with the printed word. Their engagement was limited to social media post school. Now this kind of screen-time leads to a short attention span and also this habit of skimming through things rather than engaging in one particular thing. When you are browsing on the screen, you swipe from one to the next to the next. The engagements with subjects and ideas gets lost. So he felt that comics would be a good way to restore the love of the printed word.”

While the first edition has been printed, it is yet to be distributed as India Post is currently delivering only essential items like medicines.

Sen, a NID pass-out, whose ‘River of Stories’, published in 1994 is considered as the first graphic novel of India, is known for visual satires, with his many cartoons and memes commenting on the present government going viral across the world. Adding that while he has been speaking through caricatures and satire against the Modi government, he has also been critical of other governments in the past, Sen says, “But of course that was before social media. So people don’t know that I have also created works critical of the Congress and other governments. It does not matter what party is per se. People think that you must be a Congress or Leftist stooge, or whatever. By the way, recently, I got attacked by CPM trolls because I criticised their policies. This is despite the fact that I am a Marxist at heart. I don’t hold myself back from criticising a party, as I am not a member of any.”

Considering that BJP is the party in power, and Sen is not in favour of their policies, one sees him attacking them every day on his social media handles. Stressing that his perspective is that of an ordinary citizen, the artist feels that initially, during the early years of BJP rule, most people were scared to say anything. “They were apprehensive of even liking or sharing my posts. Sometimes, even I am myself scared of the consequences that might come on me. But I felt that it was my responsibility to speak up, because people were scared and were censoring themselves. Today, the central government’s popularity is at their lowest and people across the board are speaking out. It is not just few artists like me.”

Talk to him about what is it about the DNA of an image that can make it go viral immediately and he says that when words are used to get the layers of an idea across, one might have to explain it in a few sentences, in multiple steps. An image, on the other hand can can do that in one go. It can reveal all the facets of their idea. ” An image can open an idea in your mind, an idea that appeared to be like a closed flower — that is its power. Of course it does not mean that any visual will do that. It has to work at the right level, with the right combination of factors. But if you have a successful, strong and powerful image, simultaneously different things come together. It is a moment of revelation you get. If the context, elements and the timings are right, it can be very powerful. If an image goes viral, I know that I am successful as an artist. People often feel frustrated and angry as not everybody has the requisite resources to express what they feel. And when they find an image that I have created, they can use it to express their own feelings.”

Stressing that it is important for him to speak out constantly, Sen says that he often uses dark humour to subvert anger as the latter can be self-defeating. “It is a creative tool for me, to transfer that negative anger into something strong and communicative. Using humour, laughter or satire as a tool. Democracy is not something which is dropped from heaven. We, human beings, created it. We fought for it. Our predecessors and our ancestors, not only in India, but all over the world did their bit for it.”

Coming back to comics which started dying out with the emergence of cable television, the artist, who has been drawing them since his school days, feels that they are a very active medium and one witnesses a seamless connection between the image and the text. “Television, on the other hand, is a passive medium. You are just sitting over there, watching, without making any effort. Financially, it is a difficult time for comics to survive. But the way young people observe things, it took kind of a backward step with the sudden rise of TV. In Japan, they watch animation, but also read comics, even the adults do. So I don’t think that these mediums are necessarily against each other. People can enjoy them. But in India, unfortunately, with the coming of Cartoon Networks and all that, they sort of killed Indian comics. But the internet interestingly brought people back to the idea of comics. There are different kinds of comics that are going up on Instagram and other internet platforms. And there is this different way or scrolling and rolling. Electronic comics work differently, but at the end of the day, they are all comics. The internet has brought young people back to the idea of reading comics.”

Currently working on a graphic novel, in collaboration with Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP) , a collective of sex workers, Sen says, “Over the past fifteen years, this group of sex workers has struggled to make their own lives something where they can live and praise their profession with dignity. They invited me and asked if I could tell their story of struggle through comics. I immediately agreed. I listened to their stories and recorded them. Now I have created fictionalised account based on what they shared with me and will be sharing it with them for feedback. Most probably, it would be out by the end of this year, or the first-half of next year.” (IANS)

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