Noir: The art of darkness

A look into the underrated trove of Indian noir graphic novels


September 17, 2018

/ By / Kolkata

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Mahapatra's "Mumbai Confidential" remains one of the ground breakers in noir storytelling

Mahapatra’s “Mumbai Confidential” remains one of the ground breakers in noir storytelling

Laced with stark art and stories bubbling with dark humour, cynicism and irony – the Indian graphic novel market is mostly unnoticed but still loved much.

A French word by origin, “noir” means black. It is also the word that has defined an entire culture of art. And this culture is not just limited to one particular variety of art but spreads across multiple art forms be it illustration, literature or cinema.

Neo noir and Indian cinema

India, though, was introduced to this culture almost six decades after the original film noir movement had expired. Neo-noir as the newest member of the noir family is now known as, entered the Indian conscience as late as in 2003 with auteur director Anurag Kashyap’s debut film, “Paanch”. Unlike film noir, which staying true to its name consisted of visual aesthetics such as black and white art deco, neo-noir ditches these visual classics in favour of muted yet contrasting colours while staying true to its narrative and psychological roots of human avarice.

Indian graphic novels: The unnoticed literary treasure trove

With the enormous critical and financial success of films such as, “Gangs of Wasseypur” and “Talaash” or TV shows such as “Powder” and “Sacred Games”, it is time that we acknowledge the severely underrated collection of noir themed graphic novels such as, “Mumbai Confidential”, “Kashmir Pending” and “Kari”.

A list of the best in illustrated literature

"Kari" is one of the most jarring and honest pieces in Indian literature

“Kari” is one of the most jarring and honest pieces in Indian literature

Perhaps, one of the best crime graphic novels, “Mumbai Confidential” by Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde, is about the Mumbai Police, its propensity towards encounters and how the justice system at times hovers past the moral bounds of humanity. Vikramaditya Motwane – the co-director of Sacred Games, has cited the various frames of Shinde’s artwork as inspiration for his Netflix original.

“Kashmir Pending” by Srinagar-based artist Naseer Ahmed is a graphic novel which perfectly encapsulates the political turmoil within the region. The novel revolves around several characters in Kashmir, striving to make their ambitions and dreams work for them. With immense critical acclaim for its realistic takes on politics and psychology, this novel is a cult hit.

Set in the scenario of Emergency in India, “Delhi Calm” – a soulfully crafted novel by Vishwa Jyothi Ghosh, is a great example of using this art form to propagate history and political plot holes, in a visceral and visual way. The whole state of things is shown through the eyes of a touring band called, “Naya Savera”, who dream of bringing about change in a nation which is being consumed by chaotic turmoil, civil imbalance and social reluctance.

No other graphic work has redefined the noir genre as much as Amruta Patil’s “Kari”. The tale which starts with two main characters Kari and Ruth, grips you with its hard choices, loss, pain and sharp academic observations. Kari, the protagonist, is brought up in the womb of the city’s sewers, forged by its hardships and accentuated by coldness all around her – a character who is going to haunt you long after you’ve put down the novel.

Universes are at stake in AppuPen’s “Moonward” and it all comes down to a mystical hermit to usher the world into a new dawn. And he shows the path by creating a creature which no world has seen before. Created in Tim Burton-esque style, with dark, lurking shadowy characters, it portrays rich visuals and thus establishes that a good noir does not need to be grounded in a sense of pseudo realism.

Noir lives on

With a youthful population becoming aware of and gravitating more and more towards graphic novels as a mainstream medium, it is safe to say that the medium is not losing steam in the area of being a popular medium of storytelling.



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