Art Project

Seven illustrators and hundreds of writers are crafting this story one line at a time

Saptan Stories by the British Council in India marks 70 years of Indo-UK relations.

Two sentences about heartbreak. That’s what it took to kickstart a seven-week collaborative story-telling project between artists from two countries. Since the Saptan Stories project was launched on August 4 by the British animation studio Aardman, seven artists from India and the UK have been illustrating an evolving story that began with these lines: “I found it hard to get over my broken heart, I thought I never would. Then one night, by the moonlit river, something happened that changed everything.”

The project, by the British animation studio Aardman in association with the British Council in India as part of the UK-India Year of Culture 2017, is an attempt to make art less elitist. Since the launch, the seven artists have created three illustrations each for Saptan. After Aardman provided the opening sentences, each additional line has been selected from hundreds of entries submitted by an audience online. This process will continue till September 16, when the conclusion of the crowd-sourced story and the accompanying illustrations will be published.

“We felt that for this project to be worthwhile, it should be accessible for all,” said Neil Pymer, interactive creative director at Aardman Animations. “Anyone can write a line and have an instrumental effect on how the story develops. The collaborative aspect of the project will be intrinsic to its success and means that it can be enjoyed by millions through social media.”

“We are delighted to be working with Oscar-winning British animation studio Aardman Animations as part of the UK India Year of Culture,” added Alan Gemmell, Director of the British Council in India. “The project invites people to create and share a story together – celebrating the long tradition of storytelling in India and, we hope, connecting and inspiring people in the UK and India to make something unique together.”

Fifty shades of heartbreak

Illustration by Priyesh Trivedi.
Illustration by Priyesh Trivedi.

The project was inspired by a story-building game called Consequences, in which a group of people take turns writing a word or a phrase to create a story together.

Each selected line is interpreted by the artists in their own unique style. For instance, the line about the broken heart is depicted by artist Priyesh Trivedi through the character from Trivedi’s wildly popular Adarsh Balak series, which parodies the ideal Indian son. With his perfectly groomed 1980s hair, the ideal boy sits broken-hearted making paper boats on a river bank.

Another interpretation by UK cartoonist Gemma Correll, features the cat familiar to anyone that follows Correll’s work on Instagram.

Illustration by Gemma Correll.
Illustration by Gemma Correll.

British artist Gavin Strange drew the broken-hearted reflection of the moon on water.

The other artists involved in the project are India’s Adrita Das and Saloni Sinha and UK’s Tom Mead, Gavin Strange and Janine Shroff.

The first line of the story was written by Pymer himself. “I wrote seven very different lines in terms of tone and content and had colleagues write seven stories collaboratively,” he said. “We wanted it to be universally encompassing, visually inspiring and open enough to motivate the next line of the story.”

To Sinha, a Chennai-based artist and designer, the line about heartbreak sounded profound and like something that could include an element of fantasy and surprise. “I tend to mix reality with imagination in my art to create images with a surreal quality so it sounded like it was right up my alley,” said the 29-year-old. “I can already see the works on Saptan Stories in a graphic novel format in my head.”

In Sinha’s interpretation, a long-haired woman looks into the distance as she contemplates heartbreak.

Illustration by Saloni Sinha.
Illustration by Saloni Sinha.

Trivedi said he found the real-time interactive nature of the project both daunting and exciting. “We never know what the next line is going to be, but each illustration has to be linked to tell one cohesive story at the end of the seven weeks,” he said. “We get about two to three days for each illustration and it does put a lot of pressure on you but also lets you push your boundaries.”

Pymer noted that the project’s success lay in finding the right balance of artists who would compliment each other, while also being entirely individual.

“This is one of the most intriguing aspects of the project for me; seeing how the different creative visions of each artist are realised,” he said. “What will be the similarities in theme, symbolism and imagery that begin to materialise and reoccur… and just as important, the differences!”

Illustration by Janine Shroff.
Illustration by Janine Shroff.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.