Asvin Srivatsangam is brimming with happiness for obvious reasons. After all, how many Indian American, or for that matter, even Indian comic/graphic novel creators can take pride in the fact that their novel is making the transition from the bookstore to the silver screen, potentially expanding its reach to millions.
Srivatsangam’s graphic novel, “Rakshak: A Hero Among Us,” which was lapped up by fans when it debuted in India in 2016, gathered renewed buzz after renowned Bollywood director Sanjay Gupta tweeted that his production company, White Feather Films, had acquired the film rights to the novel about a vigilante.
“This is India’s first graphic novel to be made into a massive and ambitious feature film to be directed by me,” Gupta wrote.
It is indeed a major turning point in Srivatsangam’s creative career. A UX/UI engineer by day and a storyteller by night, the San Jose, California-based Srivatsangam told India-West that he is “absolutely thrilled!” that his graphic novel is inspiring a Bollywood film.
“It’s a dream of everyone to create stories that can be seen on the big screen. Seeing something from print to digital is like a roller coaster. It’s a great feeling, a mix of emotions,” he told India-West. “All the years of toil, you know, it has been proven that I’ve been doing something correct. Taking time off from work, from family, from sleep since I was collaborating with people in India, all the perspiration, I feel like is paying off. Of course, it’s a little too early to say that because the product has to be made and released but even to reach this far, I think, it’s still pretty exciting.”
In “Rakshak,” an ex-Indian army marine commando, or MARCO, Captain Aditya Shergill, who, after losing a limb while serving his country, and having seen the worst in humanity, wants nothing but to settle down with his family. But following a personal tragedy, he is forced to take the law into his own hands. He morphs into ‘Rakshak’ – the protector to fight injustice and crime. As his battles grow, he consolidates his allies and resources.
The four-part series not only chronicles the sojourns of Rakshak, a vigilante sans superpower, but also spotlights key social issues.
“What makes ‘Rakshak’ unique is that it’s gritty, dark and we have stitched in a lot of the stuff, a lot of social events that you and I would’ve read in newspapers or heard about. It’s not out of this world,” Srivatsangam explained to India-West. “We’ve tried to make it as realistic as possible. I love Superman but you know it’s not possible, but you might find Rakshak. If you can see through, if you peel some layers, there might be a person like Aditya Shergill.”
In the final chapter – for now – Aditya finds himself fighting against not just criminals but the very people who took up his brand of vigilantism. As this new generation of vigilantes cross the thin red line of morality, he is tasked with an uphill battle of stopping this mayhem.
Gupta, he noted, was the ideal person to take up this project since he is not only known for helming action films starring A-list actors but is also a comic book buff.
“He has the stature to pull in the stars. The gamut that he has worked with, Sanjay Dutt and Amitabh Bachchan... and that is something very important for a film of this scale and ambition,” he said.
Srivatsangam himself comes from an impressive family lineage. His paternal grandfather was a lawyer; his father was a scientist who worked for NASA; and legendary actor Kamal Haasan is his father’s second cousin.
In the last few months, Srivatsangam received a double dose of good news because it’s not just “Rakshak” that is leaping off the page and onto the screen; Srivatsangam is also reaping the harvest of his hard work on another novel, “The Village,” which underscores the stark differences between rural and urban India in 2023. Also, there are “bloodthirsty ghosts” and “horrid curses.”
“‘The Village’ is also set up with an OTT platform for a Web series. That also happened very recently in the month of November,” he told India-West, adding that he couldn’t reveal the name of the platform due to contractual obligations but shared that they’ve already signed the papers. The production on the Tamil series is set to begin in August 2020.
“That is unprecedented because it hasn’t happened with any other comic book company of Indian origin,” Srivatsangam stated.
Realizing his unwavering love for storytelling and after making the rounds of publishing houses for his first two novels, “The Dynast” and “Neelakshi: The Quest for Amrit,” in 2012, Srivatsangam co-founded the comic book company, Yali Dream Creations, which has published four graphic novels under its banner, all representing different genres. The other two are “The Caravan” and “Devi Chaudhurani.”
They are also hoping to tap into the mobile gaming market by licensing their properties with gaming companies.
Recalling how the film was optioned, Srivatsangam said: “We were involved in another project where Sanjay Gupta was there, and he heard about ‘Rakshak.’ Unfortunately, I can’t disclose the details of that project. Sometime in April 2019, he reached out to me and after some back and forth, I finally thought, I’ll take the plunge. He showed a lot of interest and then I flew to India. I met him thrice in December. And we were both on the same page so to how we envision the project.”
As a co-producer on the film and as a co-creator of “Rakshak,” Srivatsangam said he is hoping he’ll get to exercise some creative control over the project, adding: “Converting from a comic book medium to a cinematic medium would require some changes and if they are good, I’d definitely would be open to them.”
Srivatsangam’s upcoming projects include sequels to “The Caravan” and “Rakshak”; a dark fantasy, “Scions of the Cursed King,” inspired by “Game of Thrones” and “Mahabharata”; and a mythological fantasy called “Gandiva.”