Review: ‘The Pig Flip’ | A slice of Kerala’s gambling underworld

Animator Joshy Benedict highlights a popular card game that rides solely on luck and requires zero talent

February 23, 2024 09:10 am | Updated 11:54 am IST

Pages from ‘The Pig Flip’.

Pages from ‘The Pig Flip’.

One moment Babycha is soaring on his luck in a card game; the next, he is plummeting down a rabbit hole of guilt and shame. Spot Flip, the game Babycha plays clandestinely with a bunch of gamblers in a small Kerala village, is mortally addictive, and he is torn between the lure of the game and his life. 

Joshy Benedict’s graphic novel Pig Flip (HarperCollins), translated to English by K.K. Muralidharan, is a perceptive and compelling tale of addiction and the human predicament. The playful narration pulls the reader effortlessly along as Babycha navigates his myriad struggles. 

‘Pannimalathu’ (Pig Flip) — a card game popular in villages of Kerala — rides solely on luck and requires zero talent, says Benedict, who has watched gamblers in his village lose their minds and money to it. “Babycha’s character is a rough iteration of a person I knew from my village; I even told him that my character is based on him and he broke into a fit of laughter.” Benedict is from Pulloorampara, a hillside village about 40 kilometres from Kozhikode city. 

An artist and animator, currently working freelance, Benedict had been nurturing the seed of this story in his mind. “I wondered why it couldn’t become a graphic novel,” he says. “When I was working as an animator, I came across a couple of foreign graphic novels, especially in French, which were exemplary in style and presentation. When I set to work on my book, I wanted to do it in a way I liked, in my own style, but there could be influences from the works I have seen.” 

Author Joshy Benedict is an artist and animator.

Author Joshy Benedict is an artist and animator.

Translator K.K. Muralidharan is a Mumbai-based production designer and graphic artist.

Translator K.K. Muralidharan is a Mumbai-based production designer and graphic artist.

Pannimalath, in Malayalam, was self-published by Benedict in 2016. Though the book took him only six months (with just three days to write the story), the journey to publishing was rough. Graphic novel, as a genre, was still niche and the industry had not yet warmed up to its potential. It was serialised by a prominent publication in its online edition, and an indie comic festival held in Kochi, which Benedict attended with just two digital prints of the book, helped. The book clicked with the crowd and he received orders for it. “I printed about 200 copies in 2016,” says Benedict.

Going beyond the text

Pannimalath was praised for its rare blend of wit and substance; setting the tone for original works in the vernacular milieu. While we see Babycha’s hopeless addiction, we also see his tender love for his wife Paulikutty — he gives her fish bites on her feet, underwater, as she does the laundry in the river, a teeny gesture that makes her happy.

The graphic novel format is bursting with possibility — while to the reader it offers a comprehensive package, to the creator, it affords freedom to choose the scale and scope of the drawings and words. It is still very experimental in nature. A fleeting emotion that cannot be expressed in text can be effectively conveyed through the drawings. It often goes beyond the scope of the story to hint at things not explained,” he says.

Benedict prefers the old world way of drawing (with a ballpoint pen) on paper and then painting it with watercolour. 

Buoyed by the reviews for Pannimalath, Benedict decided to get it translated into English, which would automatically widen its reach. Translator Muralidharan is a Mumbai-based production designer and graphic artist, who transports the story into a different tongue without missing its cultural nuances. 

Benedict’s second graphic novel, Koprachevu (in Malayalam), published in 2017, is different in treatment and style, using more visuals than text. It is about the tiff between two families over a koprachevu, a term used in northern Malabar for a shack built to store copra (dried coconut). One hopes it too finds readers outside Malayalam via a translation soon.

Joshy Benedict’s favourite graphic novels
Yaxin The Faun by Vey Dimitri, Man Arenas
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Buddha by Osamu Tezuka
A Contract with God by Will Eisner

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