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Tue, Nov 23, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Deepak Chopra joins venture to bring Western comic book stories to India

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BANGALORE, INDIA

He has faced Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin, but can Spider-Man survive an encounter with Deepak Chopra?

Chopra, the author of best-selling self-help books, is part of an effort to bring Western comic-book titles like Batman and Superman to India's youth market and, at the same time, sell original stories to India and the world.

The newly formed Gotham Studios Asia is a joint venture between the media company Intent, run by Chopra with Shekhar Kapur, the director of movies like Bandit Queen and Elizabeth, and Gotham Entertainment Group, South Asia's biggest licensee for international comic magazines such as Marvel Enterprises, the publisher of Spider-Man and X-Men, as well as DC Comics and Warner Bros Worldwide Publishing.

Gotham Studios will offer an adaptation of Spider-Man in which the hero is a young Indian named Pavitr Prabhakar, who is shown bouncing off rickshaws in a dhoti, a loose Indian garment. There will also be a comic-book version of Ramayana, an Indian tale about faith, loyalty and war, to be retold in a sweeping style reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings. The titles are to be released in the middle of next year.

Gotham Studios is one of many companies trying to take advantage of an expected boom in the sale of books and music in India, fueled by rising literacy rates and buying power and changing spending habits. India's population of more than 1 billion is the youngest in the world. Projections are that, by 2015, India will have 550 million people under the age of 20.

"Imagine a country with a population of kids twice the size of the entire population of the United States," Kapur said.

Arvind Singhal, chairman of the retail consultant KSA Technopak of New Delhi, said that the Indian youth market was ripe for all kinds of entertainment.

"These kids are liberalization's children," Singhal said, referring to an economic boom in India that resulted from reforms put in place in 1991. "They are exposed to global trends through TV and the Internet and are not spending-averse, as the previous generation."

Until now, despite a thriving culture of myths that lends itself to the art of the comic book, Indian comic books have had poor visual content and production values. The market for Indian comics has been meager, too, and licensing extensions into toys or movies nonexistent.

Gotham Studios is banking on the creative cachet of its founders. Kapur, who was nominated for an Oscar for Elizabeth, will be the chief creative officer of Gotham Studios. The comic-book genre affords Kapur a creative outlet that is less expensive than Hollywood, where the economic risk can be huge. Chopra will infuse spirituality and mysticism into the characters. For instance, in the Indian version, Spider-Man gains his powers from a mysterious yogi, not from a radioactive spider. Spider-Man's enemy, the Green Goblin, is the reincarnation of an ancient Indian demon called a rakshasa.

"The superheroes of tomorrow will be cross-cultural and will transcend nationalistic boundaries," said Chopra, the chairman of the new company.

His son, Gotham Chopra, who is the story editor of the comic book Bulletproof Monk and was executive producer of the movie version, will write many of the comics for Gotham Studios.

The principals acknowledge there are challenges. The biggest will be in redefining popular art so that the style of stories and artwork remain authentic to Indians, yet accessible to a global market.

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