A bold comic strip delves into the harsh realities of Indian society through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl Marvi

In a country where more people have access to mobile phones than working toilets, Marvi is sort of an education. It explores the trials and tribulations of a working-class performers’ colony in India through the eyes of a spirited 16-year-old girl named Marvi.

A bold comic, it delves into the harsh realities of Indian society, surveying serious social issues like sanitation, women empowerment, rape, superstition and even incest, among many things.

The exciting drama unfolds in the fictional colony of Madari, following the life of Marvi, the heroine, who grows up being told that she has cursed the village. The colony’s only source of clean water — a well — is destroyed. Like with all previous misfortunes the colony has faced, the blame is put on Marvi, who was considered cursed from the day she was born. When she is banished from the colony, she sets out to prove that the curse is false; in doing so, she uncovers not only the truth behind the destruction of the well (and the other bad incidents), but also reveals a dark secret that has hung over the Madari colony for many years. In the process, she brings a village still living in the past into the 21st century.

“We wish to reach out to the masses about these social issues through the means of entertainment via a comic series,” says Trevor Blackman, producer of Marvi and managing director of Apple Pie Enterprises (APE Media) Ltd, a London-based media firm. “No child, teenager or adult should have to go without clean water, one of our very basic necessities. By using media, one of India’s strongest forms of communication, we hope to spread the message that this is still a terrible concern that needs to be addressed.”

The eight-episode comic series, funded by the British Council and Wash United (which last year conducted the social awareness programme Nirmal Bharat Yatra in India), is expected to be fully launched by early next year. For Mr. Blackman, who has also been director of Youth Engagement for the English government’s national anti-knife campaign, Marvi is a personal experience. His inspiration came from West Delhi’s Kathputli colony, a slum where Mr. Blackman spent a month with children last year as part of a fellowship with the British Council.

The children were full of energy and life, says Mr. Blackman. But living in the colony made him angry; it also made him happy. “Angry, because things were horrible; there was open defecation, the smell. Happy, because the inhabitants were all smiling, there were colours. They were happy despite living in a slum. They were content. They had accepted things; powerless.”

Mr. Blackman aspires to launch the comic in Uttar Pradesh and hopes to convince the State Education Department to form a policy around the issue. The next goal will be to approach the Centre. But for now, he will focus on one school at a time, beginning with an educational workshop for teachers. The students, once trained, can teach other children in their localities and so on. “One step at a time,” says Mr. Blackman. “The main idea is to send across a message.” 

The artists at the centre of the project reside in two different parts of the world. Rakesh Nanda, who graduated from IIT-Bombay with a Masters in Animation and Film Design, is responsible for the artwork.  “Water and sanitation is something we take for granted. This fantastic project highlights the communities in my country who consider clean water a luxury, and I’m honoured to be involved,” says Mr. Nanda, who specialises in 3D and animation filmmaking. The script is credited to Jafar Iqbal, a scriptwriter of Pakistani descent based in London, someone who has a personal insight into the poverty in the sub-continent.