Flash, the American comic book superhero, is known for his ability to move at great speeds, but it took Delhi-based artist Raj Kamal to make the connection between Flash and Mumbai’s dabbawalas. Local trains might fail, but Flash would not.

Kamal has created digital art works that re-imagine American comic book superheroes as Indians. The series, called Superheroes in India, gives the muscled men and women of comic book pages new life as spandex-wearing Indians.

“My first priority was to make them look Indian,” he told Scroll.in. “I wanted people to sit up and say, ‘Hey, I know this guy.’”

His images draw equally from well-known people as from those around him. His Yoda (from movie series Star Wars and not technically a comic book superhero), for instance, could bear a spitting resemblance to Bihari politician Lalu Prasad Yadav, except for the minor issue of him being green.

Some, such as Spiderman and Wolverine, are based on his friends (a Punjabi who is “naughty” and a Bihari who likes to eat). Wonder Woman, however, is inspired by the 18th century painting, Bani Thani, commonly described as India’s Mona Lisa.

He is not averse to the risqué either. His Robin-da, a reworking of Batman’s famous sidekick, is pictured in amorous embrace with a stereotypically skinny and bony Bengali man.

“We Indians are so afraid of talking about our sexuality,” he said. “So I thought I would show Robin – a Bengali name – kissing a man.”

The aim is not to provoke discussion, but to make art, he said. He is not doing this to prove anything; he is doing it for himself. He will continue this series, as long as it keeps him interested.

He now hopes to produce 11 more sketches in a month. He makes each drawing digitally in about a day or two on a Wacom sketching tablet, from producing the first sketch to adding the last bits of colour.

Kamal, an infographic designer at a national newspaper, is among a growing group of artists who have taken to social media to popularise their work. But like others, he is not entirely comfortable with this.

“Most people would not have otherwise seen my work ,” he said. “But people also don’t go deep online. They click ‘like’ and move on. I wish they would stay long enough to feel it.”

But it is not only aesthetic considerations that bother him. Images online are considered fair game for everyone, largely because they are so easy to copy. What bothers him the most is that people do not realise the amount of time and effort that goes into a work – and also that he cannot control it.

“People copy art like crazy, but they don’t have any idea that somebody’s artwork is behind it,” he said. “I keep seeing people using my work as their profile pictures (on Facebook). People might think a Tamil Hulk is cute, but for me, there is a lot of hard work behind this.”


Wonder Woman