By Parismita Singh
This essay is part of a series titled, ‘Challenging Visual Depiction of Women and Sexual Violence in Southasia’ published by The Southasia Trust. Editorial support was provided by Laxmi Murthy, Director and Pawas Manandhar, Program Manager, Hri Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange, an initiative of The Southasia Trust, Kathmandu. This article is available for free download and reproduction for educational and other non-commercial purposes. For any commercial reproduction, permission must be obtained from The South Asia Trust
The Times of India, one of the country’s highest circulating English language dailies, serialised Agent Rana, a comic-style graphic novel by Juggi Bhasin with artwork by Subodh Poddar, chronicling the adventures of the eponymous spy. Within months of its launch in 2017, a certain section of readers was alarmed by the graphic novel’s depiction of women and attitudes to sexual violence, with one report
calling the protagonist of the series “the worst kind of hyper masculine ‘hero’”.
This essay attempts to study the plot, panels and art of Agent Rana and make connections with the larger frames of thought that make such a problematic piece of work popular, and possible in India’s largest selling English language newspaper. Singh’s critique unfolds in two parts: one, as a series of art pieces that depicted the various popular themes of sexual violence and hate possible and acceptable in mainstream media of newspapers and TV channels, and two, analysis that places the graphic novel Agent Rana in the context of a larger system that valorises a nationalism that is intricately connected to toxic masculinity, counter insurgency strategies, sexual violence and hatred towards women and religious minorities.
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Parismita Singh is a writer and artist. She has written and illustrated the graphic novels The Hotel at the End of the World and Mara and the Clay Cows. Her other publications include Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India ( edited) and a collection of stories Peace has Come. She has worked on the graphic reportage series ‘NRC Sketchbook’ for Huffington Post (India). She writes an illustrated column on the confluence of art, culture, folklore and fashion for the Voice of Fashion. She also works in a community education and books project for the NGO Pratham.