Illustrating the times

Updated: Apr 24, 2020, 09:11 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

A Chennai-based duo is trying to make sense of the pandemic, one comic strip at a time

Dushyanth Gunashekhar and Priscilla Dillen
Dushyanth Gunashekhar and Priscilla Dillen

Pandi is a naive, hopeful neighbourhood stray dog and Meenakshi, a snooty cat with her wisecracks. Different from each other, they have struck an unlikely friendship that keeps them together through thick and thin, including the lockdown. It is their conversation and confusions that make up a web comic, The Adventures of Pandi & Meenakshi, by Chennai-based theatre group Crea-shakthi that is looking to expand its horizons through publishing and an app.

Conceptualised and written by founder, Dushyanth Gunashekhar and ably illustrated by Priscilla Dillen, the characters were supposed to make their first appearance in a book which was under production when the lockdown began. "In these circumstances, there would have been no way to get a book to reach people. So, we decided to experiment with a web comic," says Gunashekhar who brought the characters to life drawing inspiration from his pets over the years, and a stray named Pandi. "Pandi is the name of a ruler and in essence, here, he rules the streets," he confesses, recounting play-acting with his pet dog over the years.

A strip from The Adventures of Pandi & Meenakshi. PIC/crea-shaktHi
A strip from The Adventures of Pandi & Meenakshi. Pic/crea-shaktHi

The lockdown itself came as a natural theme and the two spent 21 days of it, producing one strip on each and releasing it every day. From the PM's call to celebrate health workers with the clanging of thaalis, to the caste and class divide that the crisis has deeply exposed, Pandi and Meenakshi discuss everything in a manner that is simplistic enough to appeal to children between the ages of five and 18. "We thought that an indie street dog was the perfect mouthpiece to talk about caste and privilege in our society," Gunashekhar explains. "And then we needed a foil to balance him out. A snooty, practical cat made sense. The attempt is to look at an absurd new normal through their eyes," he adds.

The largely three-panelled strips have unexpectedly found fans in adults, too, as much-needed relief in these stressful times. While the story stops at 21 comic strips, Gunashekhar assures us, Pandi and Meenakshi are not going anywhere. "They will reappear in other stories. For now, this one had been told and we need to find ways to get back to our primary passion, theatre," he says.

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