Social change doesn’t come easy. As an activist and artist, how do you bring real change, and reach people without preaching? If you’re Ram Devineni, a documentary filmmaker, you turn to comic books. We caught up with Devineni at this year’s NAB Show New York’s panel on “Creativity: Shaping the Future of Business,” to get the scoop on his creative process and why creativity is a necessity for crafting really positive social change.
Devineni relates he first had the idea of doing a comic book back in 2012. He remarks, “Originally I’m a documentary filmmaker, and I was in India back in December 2012. Some of you might remember there was a horrible gang rape that happened on a bus in New Delhi [and] while I was involved in these protests that were happening there, that led me to be creating this comic book. Now originally I was looking at doing a documentary about the subject matter, but I realized that that format, sort of the traditional [documentary] structure was not the right way, especially trying to reach the audiences that I wanted to reach, which were basically teenage boys.” He lays out that he “totally rethought everything and went and created a comic book and created India’s first female superhero.” Devinen says it wasn’t just about social activism anymore, but about bringing real change to his country. He explains, “what is kind of unique about this project not only is it social activism, but also there is a whole technology component….We were one of the first augmented reality comic books out there, and we are one of the first implementations of augmented reality in India.” His comic book on Priya, India’s first female superhero, was also one of the first comics using augmented reality to bring the pages to life. This comic actually precedes Pokemon’s Go.
Devineni says comic books are a great way to reach the target audience without preaching to them. He outlines, “the big challenge that is…very unique about this project (because we worked with rape survivors for the first one and with acid attacks survivors with the second one) not only do they help develop the story, they are also characters in the comic book. So, there’s a level of authenticity to it. And through the augmented reality, when you activate the pages, literally videos and stories by them come out of the comic book. So teenagers love comic books. Very popular. So we used the structure of a superhero, a female superhero, in a comic book, because really these topics are really difficult to talk about. But when you put them in the context of superheroes and comic books, things like that, it becomes very accessible and very approachable, especially to teenagers.“
He is glad that he was brave enough, and had the insight to change things up, in order to find a creative solution to reach his target audience. He says, “looking back if I did do a documentary I would maybe reach 200, maybe a thousand people…but when we released the comic book in December of 2014, it went super viral with over 26 million readers worldwide.” He adds, “In the Arts we have a tendency to be very removed from the audience, but in this case, especially with the mission to do social activism, it’s really critical that the comic book resonated with the people, especially the teenage boys that we were targeting for and that they totally get it.” He adds, “We made sure that the story was first. Like if you hit people over the head with like social issues, they just turn away. They don’t want to be preached [at].”
As for what is next, Devineni says, “we’re working on the third one called Priya and the Lost Girls which is going to be closer to sort of Lord of the Rings story structure. It’s going to be a much bigger and broader story and is going to focus on sex trafficking.”