It’s a welcome change that the Indian comics scene is showing signs of moving away from mythology and finally creating stories that one can relate to and ones that are quite relevant to today’s society. Rakshak tackles frustration towards the legal system, apathy towards our wounded soldiers, rape culture and vigilantism, addressed in 72 pages by Shamik Dasgupta with art from Pramit Santra and colours by Prasad Patnaik.
The story follows Commander Aditya Shergill, a Marine Commando who gets his arm blown off in a botched mission to take down a terrorist outfit. He returns home to his twin sister, her foreigner husband and an angst riddled niece, only to have another terrible tragedy shake his inviolable sense of family.
The flow of the action sequences are superb. Panel to panel it’ll keep one engrossed with its unapologetic violence and gore which pop out gloriously because of the superb coloring job by Patnaik. The smaller moments in the book are neat. I really liked the scenes with his niece when they connect over the love of comic books or the disillusionment over the absence of heroes in real life. The motivation for our protagonist to transition into a vigilante hit just the right notes. It was a welcome move to take inspiration from real life events, that serve as the catalyst for the plot. It’s rare that you get to see an Indian comic address something so relevant and especially one whose sentiments resonate with a large section of the demographic who believe that adequate justice is not meted out to rapists and other such offenders.
Shamik has a penchant for writing filmy stories and Rakshak is perhaps one that you could easily see being adapted to the big screen. On the cover itself, you see a poster of Akshay Kumar on the wall and he would be a perfect fit for the role. There’s a sequence towards the end where there’s a throwback to Mark Miller’s Kickass. Sha-Millar, if you will, has Aditya Shergill go full Dave Lizewski, complete with the ass whooping and internal monologues.
There’s also an interesting parallel that you could draw with The Punisher. Frank Castle is revered among the US Marines and I sincerely believe if marketed to the right audience, Aditya Shergill could become an equivalent figure among our troops, but that’s a stretch for a country that hardly reads the funny books.
The art needs getting used to. It starts off as inconsistent, with the scale and the characters feel stocky. However you do get used to it and artist, Pramit gets better with subsequent pages. The layouts are quite well done and towards the end, I felt the art style did compliment the book and the colours had a lot to do with that. Did I mention how well done the flow of action sequences are? Yes? Ok, moving on. A major reason why I feel many readers aren’t trying out Indian comics is because of the dialogues. I feel Shamik has a need to explain everything to the audience which hampers the overall quality of storytelling. Our audience is mature enough to read the likes of Morrisons and Gaimans, if the creators let go of the notion of baby feeding the audience for the sake of exposition and forced pop culture references, it would make for some truly fascinating reads. The dialogue here would work well in Hindi but they come across as very unreal in English. I had mentioned earlier that the small moments were the ones I enjoyed the most because that’s when I felt they were speaking like normal folks do. Otherwise they seem heightened at all times. Another thing which irked me was that while addressing stereotypes in the beginning and chiding racial abuses, they become complicit themselves hence the intention left me a bit confused. I could not believe an NRI millennial would use the term ‘chinky’ in any context and the way the protagonist, who had earlier disparaged a fellow soldier for being insensitive would just gently chide his own niece for the same.
Some scenes also felt tonally inconsistent like the one below, it took away from the emotional weight with its intended black humor.
Overall, Rakshak ended on a high emotional note and left me curious enough to know where the story will go from here and hoping it’ll continue to tackle some contemporary issues.
Buy it here.