Hindu mythology celebrates victory over defeat. It celebrates Ram’s win over Ravan, Krishna’s win over Kamsa, the Pandava’s win over the Kauravas. Despite the incredibly powerful female characters that Hindu mythology holds within its words, these characters are often ignored. Contemporary books like Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni’s Palace of Illusions have narrated to me the Mahabharata like I have never heard before—with Draupadi as the protagonist, with Draupadi as the voice, for the very first time.
The underrepresentation of female characters in Hindu epics like the Mahabharata is being constantly targeted, and Annushka Hardikar, a recent graduate in Visual Communication from the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, decided to discuss this issue in an incredibly creative way—through a zine, which she created as her final year project.
“I have been familiar with stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana since I was a kid. On re-visiting some of these, I began feeling the need for better and more relevant representation of the female characters. The Mahabharata is a story with real, flawed characters which are very human and that’s what drew me to it. The epic has been carried through generations, and I realised how important it is for it to remain relatable to it’s audiences,” Hardikar tells Homegrown. She wanted to link together the women of the time at which the Mahabharata was set, and the women of today’s Indian society; she thought this was necessary for her target audience, ‘the millennial generation’, to be able to connect to these stories. She picked three complex, extremely influential characters from the Mahabharata as the protagonists of her zine—Kunti, Gandhari and Draupadi. “They shared an interesting dynamic and were also instrumental in many of the decisions which could change the course of the story. I thought it would be interesting to explore three characters of different generations, backgrounds and diverse personalities,” Hardikar explains the reason for choosing these characters.
Hardikar believes that, although Indian women have become more vocal about the challenges they face, society still remains largely orthodox. “Most women I spoke to find themselves conforming to the norm when it came to career, family life and societal expectations even today,” she says. She goes so far to say that there were times at which she felt as though some of the stories from the epic are significantly more progressive than reality. “The zine is actually an inquiry into the similarities and differences in the scenarios that surrounded the women in the story, and those that exist for Indian women today. I was rather alarmed when my research revealed many more similarities than I had expected, and that is what I have tried to shed light on.”
The technical aspect of her zine’s artwork involved an initial outline with a brush pen, which was then completed using digital colouring and collaging. “The direction I chose to explore has a heavy Pop Art influence, and was a completely new style for me. It was a great challenge as an illustrator because it helped me play with a new medium and a realistic style of image making which has always been a struggle,” she says. She experimented with both bright and pastel hues, depending on the subject and tone of the article she was working on. The colours and typography shifted with shifts in the personas she created for her protagonists as well.
“The zine largely questions the kind of content there is available to women,” she explains. In her opinion, the aim of selling products and projecting unreal lifestyles and people that most women’s magazines tended to do was tired. Her shift from the norm of the tone of women’s magazines came with the introduction of satire into her zine. “It is a satire not only on the stories and scenarios of the characters from the Mahabharata but also on the quality of content available to women today. For this I went a step forward and played on the kinds of advertisements and articles that are written. References from popular culture, history, art and media I felt strengthened the premise of the zine as well as added a layer of information and relevance to it,” she says. The sarcastic, almost biting tone that the zine embodies makes it all the more fun to read, along with drawing a larger audience into what Hardikar wants to say.
Hardikar trusts she made the right decision to choose art to make her statement; “I do believe art is one such medium that has always been able to break barriers and speak about topics that are controversial, or mobilise people towards a certain cause...Yes, we have a long way to go, creatives still get a lot of flak for expressing opinion on a sensitive subject but then again you’re always going to offend someone. It’s actually fun when that happens, to be honest!”
Hardikar’s zine is creative, funny, stunning, young and everything we love.
Read more about it here.