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Virgin targets Indian mythology

February 09, 2006 21:29 IST
India may soon become a rich resource for comic book characters and animation films thanks to a new entertainment partnership here to create such materials by re-inventing traditional characters for a worldwide audience.

Last month, Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin group, and Virgin Books Limited announced the partnership with renowned author Deepak Chopra, acclaimed filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and South Asia's leading publisher of comic books, Gotham Entertainment Group LLC.

The partnership will launch two new Virgin branded companies, Virgin Comics LLC , based in NYC and Virgin Animation Private Limited , based in Bangalore.

The company believes that in the next decade, Asia will become one of the largest producers as well as consumers of entertainment products. Virgin Comics intends to look to Asia, particularly to India, as both a growing market for consumers of entertainment products and also a source for 'unique, innovative content' to be brought to the world in comics and licensing into movies, animation, toys, video games and consumer products.

In addition to the Indian-infused, Shakti line – through the Virgin Comics Maverick and Director's Cut imprints – the company will tap into innovative creators in comics, film and entertainment from around the world.

'We are a generation whose identities are cut and pasted from cultural elements of east and west. Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation is our home where we get a chance to tell the new planetary stories that define us,' said Chief Creative Officer Gotham Chopra, son of Deepak Chopra in a press statement.

Although Chopra did not say in the release what the initial productions would be, there were indications that Ramayana, one of the two Indian epics, would be one of the first one to be produced.

'The Ramayana is the eastern equivalent of the Odyssey. It is our 'Lord of the Rings,' Gotham Chopra, a former Channel One TV personality as well as author and producer, was quoted saying by the Los Angeles Times as saying.

The Gotham Group has brought 'Spider-Man' and 'X-Men' to Delhi and Mumbai as well launched a new Indian version of  Spider-Man, aka Pavitr Prabhakar, the only culturally localized version of the superhero in the world.

The partnership between Branson and others like Chopra brings Virgin into the areas of comics and animation for the first time.

'India is an incredibly vibrant market which Virgin already, through Virgin Atlantic, has the pleasure of working in,' Branson said in a statement.

'Virgin Comics embodies all that Virgin stands for – innovation and launching, developing and opening up markets, for the benefit of the consumer – both at home and abroad. Virgin always strives to work with the best of the best, and with Chopra and Kapur we are certainly doing that,' he said.

'I am delighted that Virgin Comics, will not only help to launch the Indian comic market and spin it into the west, but will develop new and exciting talent – giving a whole generation of young, creative thinkers a voice.'

Adrian Sington , executive chairman of Virgin Books Limited, noted that on the back of global movie and licensing deals, the market for comics and graphic novels worldwide is exploding with the United States recording an increase in sales of graphic novels by 44.7 percent in the year to date.

'Much of the growth in both territories has come from the emergence of comics out of Asia. Not surprisingly, therefore, I am delighted to be Gotham Entertainment's new strategic partner in Virgin Comics, a venture that sizzles with creativity and energy.'

Deepak Chopra expressed hope that through Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation it will be possible to bring together the east and the west. 'At the forefront of this movement will be new minds, new voices, and new talents that will re-invent the stories that unite us, and that we live by,' he said.

Kapur said that he sees the future. 'It is the brave new world of entertainment. The art of the two-hour captive, non-interactive product called the 'movie' is history. Comic book characters – traditional and digital – are the new cult, the new religion. India's 600 million teenagers are now at the forefront of the creation of these new gods. For these new Indian Comic Gods are derived directly from the vast ocean of mythology.' he said.

Sharad Devarajan and Gotham Chopra, the principal architects behind the new partnership, are spearheading the new Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation, with Devarajan as CEO and Gotham Chopra as chief creative officer .

Suresh Seetharaman, a partner in the venture, will be president of the India based Virgin Animation.

'Similar to the phenomenon we have seen with Japanese Anime and Manga, which has influenced every aspect of popular media today, our mission is to spark a creative renaissance in India, reinventing Indian character entertainment and permeating this new style and vision throughout the globe" said Devarajan.

'Beyond India, we will create a haven for the world's most innovative creators, launching a new wave of characters that simultaneously appeal to audiences from Boston to Beijing to Bangalore.' Gotham Chopra added,

'We are a generation whose identities are cut and pasted from cultural elements of east and west. Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation is our home where we get a chance to tell the new planetary stories that define us. We intend to work with the world's greatest storytellers, both famous and first-timers,' he said.

Virgin Comics intends to launch its first original comic book titles in mid-2006 and will simultaneously be exploring partnerships for animation development.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York