Monday, June 2, 2008

Less Graphic, More Novel

This appeared in yesterday's DNA.

KARI Amruta Patil

One of the things that can be said about graphic novels as opposed to their all-prose counterparts is that, by supplying images to the words, they leave the reader’s imagination with less work to do. Those who recognize this make it into a strength by inventive metaphors and devices – such as Art Spiegelman’s anthropomorphism in Maus, or Marjane Satrapi’s reinvention of the miniaturist’s art in Persepolis.

In her debut, Kari, Amruta Patil employs no such stylistic bravura, relying instead on well-chosen words, low-key images and ironic observations to make her point. This is the story of Kari, whose lover, Ruth, leaves her to settle overseas. Kari, who arrives in Mumbai to take up employment as a copywriter in an advertising agency, acutely feels the stings and arrows of the outrageous city, which is a palpable presence in the book. It is “smog city”, a place of overflowing sewers, where “everyone guards their sanity against the grief of strangers”.

Patil effectively delineates Kari’s heartbreak, the shallowness of work and the loneliness of being lost in a crowd. She bonds as well as distances herself from her flatmates, and has some allies to lean upon: Angel, a cancer-stricken former agency client and Lazarus, her art director partner at the agency. She faces long commutes and water-logged auto-rickshaw rides, has ruminative seafood dinners at Soul Fry as well as an erotic encounter at CafĂ© Mondegar and endures advertising award shows. The action isn’t strictly linear: these are fragments, memories and slices of life that progress towards an increasing disillusionment with her present situation.

Patil’s writing style is appealing piquant, though her illustrations are, on the whole, more muted than striking. There are pleasing touches though, such as tips of the hat to Munch’s Scream and da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Overall, however, there’s clearly more of a reliance on the written word: the impact is less graphic and more novel.

The to-be-continued ending is inconclusive and hence unsatisfying, and the ongoing solipsism can be trying. Despite these inconsistencies, it must be said that Kari is an interesting and heart-felt debut and, one trusts, a harbinger of better things to come.

1 comment:

Aditya Mani Jha said...

I read Kari recently, and thought that it was an excellent read.....
this might just open the floodgates for more graphic novels in India, where the genre hasn't really caught on.(Sarnath Bannerjee's "Corridor" was billed as India's first graphic novel not too long ago). I have blogged about Kari at