Little red riding hood goes desi

Updated: 24 October, 2020 07:57 IST | Jovita Aranha | Mumbai

A Bengaluru artist's Indian adaptation of the classic children's story makes for a refreshing read

Set in a picturesque village in West Bengal in the 1800s, the story begins with a little girl who owns a beautiful red shawl. Everywhere she goes the light red shawl remains wrapped around her neck. And so the villagers call her Chotto Red Riding Hood. One day, Chotto insists that she visit her didu (Bengali: maternal grandmother) who lives across the forest. But her ma warns her to be wary of any strangers or creatures who try to distract her. Yet Chotto's attention wavers as the beauty of the woods captivates her. What happens when she encounters a sly greedy fox? Will she reach her didu's home safely?

A look at the illustrations from the book. PIC COURTESY/@swarnavod ON INSTAGRAM
A look at the illustrations from the book. PIC COURTESY/@swarnavod ON INSTAGRAM

Ring a bell yet? Chotto Red Riding Hood is Bengaluru artist Swarnavo Datta's reimagining of the classic fairy tale from the West that most of us grew up with. While we've had many debates with fairy tale lovers about the original story being inappropriate for children, Datta's desi take on it is certainly a breath of fresh air.
The 28-year-old who originally hails from Kolkata, has been immersed in art since he was four. While the arts stayed with him for most of his life, Datta, who is a corporate trainer by day, has been pursuing art professionally since 2017.

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The idea of Chotto Red Riding Hood was accidental, he shares, "Being interested in children's book illustrations, a couple of months ago when a Mumbai-based author contacted me with the idea of a collaboration, I created a few demo panels. While the project didn't take off, I decided to no longer wait for another author to approach me and began work on a personal project." He recreated an iconic fairy tale available in the public domain. While the choices ranged from Alice in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz, he picked The Little Red Riding Hood for this debut work. "It was short and compact, and reminded me of my childhood when I had a pop-up 3D book on the story." In fact, didu's home in Datta's take was inspired by his own maternal grandmother's house, he reveals, about the connections that make their way into the modified fairy tale.

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Why the desi take, we ask. "When I revisited the original version, the story seemed different than how I remembered it. It was gory, violent and graphic, which I felt wasn't meant for children. I knew I wouldn't narrate it to my nieces and nephews. Since it was in the public domain, I had the freedom to twist the ending to suit my narrative. In the process, I thought, why not set it in a recognisable context? And that's how Chotto took shape."

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Chotto translates to 'little' in Bangla. Several elements in the story will remind you of the beautiful landscapes, countrysides and the natural beauty of West Bengal.

Curiously, Datta does not show the fox upfront. "Most horror films give a sense of the evil lurking in the dark to strike fear without a direct shot. I wanted the children who come across the story to be curious and let their vivid imagination run wild. They can make the fox as scary as they want to, just by watching Chotto's expressions."

Swarnavo Datta
Swarnavo Datta

The response has been positive; Bengali families have been reaching out to the artist: "A mother in the US wanted her sons to connect to their roots in Bengal with my book," he shares.

Log on to @swarnavod on Instagram or visit swarnavod.com

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First Published: 24 October, 2020 07:33 IST

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