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Mrunal & Vidya Educate Kids About COVID-19 With ‘Priya’s Mask’

The animated film features Indian superhero Priya and a flying tiger called Sahas.

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5 min read
Indian superhero Priya and the flying tiger Sahas in a still from animated film <i>Priya's Mask</i>.
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2020 is coming to an end and though it's been a difficult one for most of us, children around the world have had it particularly hard. Can you imagine a childhood where all you did for a whole year was stay at home the whole time with no interaction with friends, no outdoor games and no school to go to?

Indian superhero Priya is back, this time with Priya's Mask, an animated film that is taking on the task of educating kids about COVID-19 and dispelling misinformation about the pandemic.

Priya's character is voiced by Mrunal Thakur. She will be escorted by the flying tiger, Sahas, voiced by Vidya Balan. The narrative weaves around the escapades of 8-year-old Meena, voiced by Sairah Kabir, and her mother who nurses COVID-19 infected patients and their cumulative sacrifices.

The Quint caught up with Mrunal Thakur and Priya's Mask creator Ram Devineni to talk about the film.

What about lending your voice to this superhero comic enticed you? And how did the offer come along?

Mrunal: You know, in lockdown, obviously, because everybody was lockdowned (sic) in the house and we’re all creative actors, creatively active, this is a conversation I was having with my Super 30 producer, Tanvi Gandhi and I was like, “Listen, I need to do something for the kids.” After a month or two, she came up with this thing that, “Hey, you know what, we are on the verge of making this short animated movie.” That’s when she introduced me to Priya and the Priya's Shakti comics, and it was really great. I felt like Priya was very close to my heart, and since she is also India’s first animated superhero, so I was really excited to lend her my voice. I think I could resonate with her, and especially in times like the COVID-19 pandemic, you know, our children, the younger generation, they have been suffering from fear and anxiety so this is a little something that we wanted to make and make sure that Priya enlightens the young kids and you know, it’s a beautiful story between Priya, Meena and the flying tiger.

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You’ve taken on some really important topics such as rape, acid attacks, sex trafficking. Why was it important for you to have a girl at the centre of telling these stories?

Mrunal: I think this proportionally, because of the pandemic, I think women are much more affected by what’s happening, and there’s just no authenticity and a story that’s a woman’s point of view. And I want to emphasize this project Priya’s Mask, especially, was created entirely by women. I’m just a producer, but the writer, the actors, most of the producers are all women.

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What were the comic books or a cartoon character that you related with, something you hold on to and you would tell kids even today to read and/or watch?

Ram: I grew up on a farm in South India. So I was just, you know, being on the ghat under a tree, reading the old Hindu mythological comics. So, I grew up on that. And later, I discovered the Marvel and DC Universe, you know. So, that’s where I, I mean I always joke around that India has its own superheroes, they are the mythological heroes that we all grew up on. And I always thought American superheroes are based on mythology. So, I always go back to that as a source. That was the inspiration when we started Priya's Shakti. We’ve moved on from that. We’ve sort of made it more general, universal superhero, but it started in Indian mythology.

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Was it difficult, Ram, to narrow down the content? You’ve tried to capture the migrant crisis, misinformation, and there’s so much more that needs to be catered to when you’re, you know, associating yourself with information around COVID-19. There’s a lot that’s out there, but there’s so much that’s not known. So, how did the process of putting in everything together come around?

Ram: I think I mean it’s the core of what we understand... the loss. The loss of normality, and that they know that something profound is happening around them. Even though they can’t express that in words. I mean, that’s why comics are such a powerful medium, because you don’t need as many words to express what you see. They’re right in front of you. The images themselves speak a ton. Next to the text, of course. But I think this comic book is very much like a pandemic. It has tapped into every part of human society. So, we tried to capture that in the comic. Not only from a kid’s perspective and from a woman’s perspective, but also from a migrant's perspective. We also saw a mental angle in the comic book, because one thing you clearly saw when the pandemic hit is the streets were completely empty of people.

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Was there something specific that stood out for you in terms of content as something that you still remember and can resonate with? As you said pretty much everything about Priya is something that you can go by.

Mrunal: I am the kind of person who likes to open up a conversation. Because I feel like communication is the key. If we don’t make people aware, how will they know that something is required to be changed? So, I think Priya is so gentle, she’s softer, and she’s addressing a larger audience. And talking about the pandemic, it has not just affected the economy of the nation, but it has also affected the mentality of our kids. I think, there are a few things like how to love yourself, how to take care of yourself, these things are never taught. Although we have history, we have geography, we have maths, we have science, but how do we deal with a year which is full of fear? In the pandemic period, you know, risking his life. Be (it) the policemen, who, like the frontline workers, are making sure that people are taking care of themselves by wearing masks. So, trust me, this entire lockdown period was so enlightening and I feel like Priya was needed. Earlier, it was very gloomy but Priya’s Mask made it very exciting for me. So 2020, people may look at it as a very gloomy [year], but I think it was a blessing in disguise, and few things have shaped out, turned out, fabulously for me.

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Vidya Balan is voicing Sahas the tiger. Was her participation in the project something that pushed you to better yourself?

Mrunal: Obviously. There was a time when I recorded first and then when I saw the final output, I felt like there were a few lines which I needed to re-dub. And obviously, because Vidya ma’am being Vidya ma’am, she’s fabulous and her voice is so powerful. And I had to just pull up my socks and make sure that I give my best.

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"This instalment will present a debut alliance between the two hugely successful female comic superheroes from neighbouring countries with Priya collaborating with Pakistan’s superhero Burkha Avenger,” reads the press release. How did this collaboration with a Pakistani comic happen?

Ram: I had known about the Burkha Avenger for a while, and we didn’t really know how we could connect. Because we were dealing with different countries and tackling different issues. But the idea [came] especially during the pandemic, because the virus doesn’t really respect borders. We felt we needed to come together. I mean, I would hope to have other famous superheroes come together in this as well but immediately Burkha Avenger was available. Through the US embassy in New Delhi, I was able to contact the creator because they (Burkha Avenger) had worked with them (US Embassy). They connected and it was this beautiful partnership. They really loved the idea, and mutually, we worked on bringing them together in the comic book, which I think is a first.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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