Interview: Ram Devineni

A note for readers: this interview mentions sexual violence.

Ram Devineni is a filmmaker, publisher, and the founder of Rattapallax films and magazine. His films include the documentaries The Human Tower (2012) and The Russian Woodpecker (2015), which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Devineni is also the creator of Priya’s Shakti, an augmented-reality comic book series featuring a superhero who fights gender-based violence in India. Priya’s Shakti was inspired by the gang rape and death in New Delhi in 2012 of a young woman returning home on a bus at night after seeing a movie with a male friend. The crime sparked protests across India as well as conversations about gender-based violence, patriarchy, and victim-blaming. In Priya’s Shakti, Priya is a young woman attacked by a group of men who finds her power (shakti) to help other survivors with the aid of the Hindu god and goddess Shiva and Parvati and a tiger companion. In the comic’s sequel, Priya’s Mirror, Priya uses a mirror to free a group of acid attack survivors held prisoner by an acid-green demon-king, Ahankar, who himself has become imprisoned by toxic masculinity. In addition to rich and colorful illustrations and mythological characters, the comics feature augmented-reality technology that brings to life the stories and voices of real women who’ve survived gender-based violence. Intrigued by this extraordinary project, I contacted Devineni to find out more about the Hindu, Indian, and mythological elements of the Priya series.

Why did you decide to create this comic series? There seem to be many different people and groups involved. Can you describe their different roles and contributions?

Although I am the creator of this project, I really consider this a team effort. Everyone played a valuable part in the creation of the comic book and project. I met [artist] Dan Goldman at a StoryCode Meetup in New York City, and [we] hit it off on the spot. I think he signed on the next day. Dan is a remarkable artist and philosopher–he has brought a new perspective and look to the Hindu gods. His design is based on deep respect and affection for Hindu mythology and the power of the image. Each page is a stand-alone painting that can be mounted in a gallery. [Producer] Lina [Srivastava] has vast experience creating social impact strategies for documentary films and art projects. She has been instrumental in developing partnerships with major NGOs. She recently set up a partnership between the project and Apne Aap Women Worldwide–one of India’s leading NGOs supporting at-risk girls and women by ensuring them access to their rights, and to deter the purchase of sex through policy and social change. Vikas K. Menon co-wrote “Priya’s Shakti” and Paromita Vohra co-wrote “Priya’s Mirror.”

This is the backstory of how the comic book started:

I was in Delhi when the horrible gang rape happened on the bus in 2012, and was involved [in] the protests that soon followed. Like many people, I was horrified by what had happened and angered by the indifference exhibited by government authorities at every level. There was an enormous outcry in particular from young adults and teenagers–both women and men. At one of the protests, my colleague and I spoke to a Delhi police officer and asked him for his opinion on what had happened on the bus. Basically the officer’s response was that “no good girl walks home at night.” Implying that she probably deserved it, or at least provoked the attack. I knew then that the problem of sexual violence in India was not a legal issue; rather it was a cultural problem. A cultural shift had to happen, especially views towards the role of women in modern society. Deep-rooted patriarchal views needed to be challenged.

For about a year, I traveled around India and Southeast Asia learning from poets, philosophers, activists, and sociologists working for NGOs focused on gender-based violence. Talking with several rape survivors, I realized how difficult it was for them to seek justice and how much their lives were constantly under threat after they reported the crime. Their family, local community, and even the police discouraged them from pursuing criminal action against their attackers. The burden of shame was placed on the victim and not the perpetrators. This created a level of impunity among men to commit more rapes.

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Hedgehogs, the Keepers of Order and Knowledge in Slavic Fairy Tales

by Margaryta Golovchenko

The folk tales of various cultures have characters that act as guardians of some sort. Some are like Merlin, King Arthur’s wise advisor, while others are like Puss in Boots, the mischievous and clever protector of the miller’s youngest son. But arguably none are as unexpected, nor as little-known, as the hedgehogs of Slavic folk tales.

These adorable animals are predominantly found in Russian movies and fairy stories but they appear, also, in tales from neighboring countries. The Bulgarians have two particularly interesting accounts of the hedgehog, both of which point to his wisdom. In one tale, he advises God on how to use the sky to cover the earth, while in another he is the only animal not to attend the wedding of the Sun and the Moon. When asked for the reason, he says that he’s busy learning to eat rocks, for if the union takes place and the Sun has lots of little sun children, all the plants in the world will dry up.[1]

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In other stories, the hedgehog is an embodiment of magical powers. The Slovenian duhovin, for instance, is a version of the bewitched child, possessing special abilities and qualities, and appearing with the body of an animal such as a snake, hedgehog, or raven.[2] And, in the Soviet animated film Ezhik v tumane (Hedgehog in the Fog, 1975), Hedgehog is the bridge between the conscious and the dream world, evoking sympathy from the audience as they watch him lost in a thick mist, chasing after the mirage of a white horse in the clouds.

Perhaps the infrequency of hedgehogs in other cultural stories speaks to a unique characteristic of Slavic culture–the stereotypically cold exterior of the Slavic people gives way to a wise and kind nature. Initially, the hedgehog’s kind personality might seem difficult to find under his intimidating façade. For the persistent reader who takes the time to discover more about him in Slavic tales, however, the hedgehog serves as a reminder that wisdom, kindness, and courage come in various forms.


Margaryta Golovchenko a first year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, Canada. She serves as an editor for the journals Half Mystic and The Spectatorial.  Margaryta’s work has appeared in various publications including [parenthetical], The Teacup Trail, In/Words, and Pear Drop Press, and her debut poetry chapbook Miso Mermaid is forthcoming this fall from words(on)pages press.


[1] Tolstoj, Svetlana M. Словенска митологија: Енциклопедијски речник. (Zepter Book World, 2001), 244-45

[2] Kropej, Monika. Supernatural Beings from Slovenian Myth and Folktales. (Ljubljana: Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2012), 222.

 

The Not-So-Final Girl

by Wren Awry

“In ‘Bluebeard’, as in cinematic horror,” Maria Tatar writes, “We have not only a killer that is propelled by cinematic rage, but also the abject victims of his serial murders, as well as a ‘final girl’ who either saves herself or arranges her own rescue.”[1] You can find this “final girl” trope in film noir classics and tacky slasher films alike; it is a staple of the horror genre.

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is different. Instead of being a final girl, Amirpour’s punkish protagonist (called, simply, The Girl), is a vampire who doles out vigilante justice to bad men. She is, in a way, an anti-Bluebeard.

The Girl stalks the streets of Bad City, a sparse Iranian ghost town made up of a handful of residents, an abandoned power plant, and a ravine where dead bodies are thrown. The town’s powerful pimp, Saeed, is The Girl’s first on-screen victim: she watches Saeed cheat and assault sex worker Atti. When Saeed invites The Girl to his home and attempts to seduce her, she kills him.

The Girl’s other victims are also men that mistreat Atti, including heroin addict Hossein, who forces Atti to shoot up with him. The Girl—watching through the eyes of her avatar, a cat—enters Atti’s bedroom and kills Hossein. While Bluebeard lures young girls in to his home, the Girl trespasses into forbidden chambers—Saeed’s gated house, Hossein’s heroin-infused dream world—to do away with them.

The Girl doesn’t just kill, she also warns. She asks a little boy, skateboarding alone at night, if he is good. When he answers, “Yes,” she calls him a liar. Threatens him. Tells him she will be watching him. Don’t grow up to be a shitty dude, The Girl seems to be saying, And I won’t have to drink your blood.

There’s one good boy in the film, and she let’s him live. He’s Arash, Hossein’s son and The Girl’s brooding, dutiful, leather-jacketed love interest. He’s a sort of “final boy,” but he, too, mixes up what’s expected of him. At the end of the film, after Arash realizes that the Girl murdered his father and that she could easily murder him, he skips town with her anyway.

“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” isn’t riffing on “Bluebeard” directly. But it’s playing with the tropes of horror films, and by subverting cinematic horror, the film turns “Bluebeard” on its head in profound and chilling ways.


Wren Awry studies Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. Their creative nonfiction has been published in Loom Art Zine, and they occasionally write criticism for the Anarcho-Geek Review.


[1] Tatar, Maria. “Bluebeard.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. 140. Print.