Stan Lee bets on India for latest superhero success
Legendary comic book writer Stan Lee has someone in mind that he would like to popularize as much as his 1960s co-creation “Spider-Man”: “Chakra, the invincible!” said the 90-year-old Lee, his voice booming with the excitement of a freshman working on his first project.
The American comics veteran, who collaborated on the creation of superheroes such as Thor and Iron Man, helped create an Indian superhero in partnership with Graphic India. Chakra will make his debut as an animated feature on Cartoon Network in India later this month.
The teenaged character Raju Rai, who lives in Mumbai, will tap into the ancient Hindu belief of chakras or centres of energy in a human body. He and a scientist develop a suit that activates these mystic wheels, giving superpowers to Raju, who fights crime in India’s financial capital.
Even though Lee has never done anything in India before, he told me by telephone from California that he knows enough about local legends and backgrounds to venture into the market.
“Coming up with any superhero — whether American, Indian, or Chinese … it’s always a challenge. People all over the world seem to react favourably to superheroes. So it’s just the case of coming up with another superhero, but finding a way to give it an Indian flavour. And it was fun,” he said about the challenge of working on a different culture, likening it to a crossword puzzle.
Lee added that his Indian partners led by Sharad Devarajan of Graphic India helped him avoid stereotypes or potentially offensive material while making Chakra. Sharad’s company is also launching a digital and comic book series on Bollywood superhero franchise Krrish.
While Jatin Varma of Comic Con India welcomes the development, it remains to be seen if debuting on a kid’s network and being a teenager limits Chakra’s acceptability to an age group, unlike most of Lee’s other superheroes. But that doesn’t worry its creators. Reminding me of Peter Parker who too started out as a teenager, Lee and Devarajan expect the Indian character to evolve and take on issues like violence against women.
“For now we are launching an animated film with Cartoon Network and a series of digital shorts and episodes across the Angry Birds/RovioToons TV platform. As we take Chakra into comics and potentially a feature film, the stories and execution will likely see many changes based on the audience we are going after,” said Devarajan, who is the director of the animated film and called the experience of working with Lee “unbelievably awesome”.
While Lee wrote the story treatment and characters of the movie, Indian cartoonist Jeevan J. Kang created its artwork. Lee’s POW! Entertainment and Graphic India produced the feature.
A 2011 BBC report on the Indian comic books industry paints a discouraging picture, with plunging sales, weak distribution networks, high pricing and increased exposure to the Internet and TV.
With Cartoon Network claiming to reach over 34 million Indian households, it seems like a sensible move to debut Lee’s Indian superhero on TV. However, the makers of Chakra said that the story matters more than the medium. “Once you have the story you then have the option — will I make it a comic book, will I make it an animated cartoon,” Lee said.
Devarajan, whose company created digital comic and animation series based on the ancient Hindu scriptures of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, sees an opportunity in India’s animation tech sector.
A KPMG-FICCI report found that the animation and special effects industry grew 35 percent in 2012 in India and was worth 31 billion rupees in 2011. “India has the potential to become one of the biggest creative exporters in the years ahead and bring a new creative voice to the global stage,” Devarajan said. With lower costs, technological prowess and a huge English-speaking population, one can expect to see more made-in-India animation on international platforms like the Cartoon Network.
(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Shashank on Twitter @shashankchouhan and Robert @bobbymacReports | Disclaimer: This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)