Priya Kuriyan is one of our favourite illustrators. The latest book she has illustrated is Ravana Refuses to Die by Rustom Dadachanji (August 2016). She is interviewed by Parinita Shetty, author, booklover, traveller and occasional firefly.
PS: When did you first come across the Ramayana as a child? What did you think of it?
PK: Hmm. It has to be either the Amar Chitra Katha version of Ramayana from where I received most of my knowledge about Hindu mythology. (You can read a bit about it here http://priyakuriyan.blogspot.in/2011/05/vibrator.html) 🙂 or Ramanand Sagar’s TV series which used to air on Doordarshanon Sunday mornings. I liked the comics more. I must have read and re-read them a gazillion times because the story was entertaining. The latter, with Arun Govil as lord Rama in his strange wigs, I found a bit amusing even then.
PS: Is there any story or scene from mythology (Indian or otherwise) which you would like to illustrate?
PK: I think the story of the churning of the oceans from the Dasa Avatar is one I might enjoy adapting. Apart from it having much visual potential, I think there could be a humorous take on the whole thing. Imagine what all could turn up out of the oceans. Maybe throw in some climate change into the mix.
PS: One of my favourite illustrations was the jam-picked glimpse of Babubari, complete with an elephant! There’s so much to discover in that image that I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Did you turn to your own travels in small-town India for this book?
PK: I’m sure that illustration is a mishmash of a lot of different places I’ve seen in India. I mean, in the 80s and the 90s, a lot of places that have now become big cities also used to look like this. Even now, if one goes to the older parts of towns like Udaipur, Jodhpur, Ahmedabad or even Kochi, it sometimes feels like time stands still. I love drawing chaos as there is so much more scope for humour and detail out there. Which is why, despite everything about India, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s sometimes unnerving and boring to find yourself in places that are really sterile.
PS: Another illustration I loved was the interior of the Cosmodrome. Which illustration did you have the most fun working on?
PK: I loved working on the first illustration of Ravana in his undies. People are always my favourite thing to draw. I loved Rustom’s description of Ravana, especially the frayed VIP undies.
PS: Did you seek any references for your stunning portrayal of Ravana in all his glory? Who (from real or fictional life) do you think would make for the perfect Ravana?
PK: I’m sure some old memories of watching a Ram Leela during a Diwali somewhere must have influenced my depiction of Ravana. Also, for some reason, even though it was the Mahabharata, I did watch that famous scene from Jaane bhi do yaaron because a similar kind of madness ensues in the play that’s enacted there. I think some of our politicians might make for good Ravanas . They’re better actors and cartoons than most full-time actors.
PS: The stories in the book offer so much potential for fun characters. From your illustrations of the Babubari Gang to the deliciously terrifying baba; from the aforementioned stunning Ravana to the two pointy-shoe-wearing bodyguards–I loved meeting them all! How do you come up with such distinct yet distinctively Priya Kuriyan character illustrations? Do they all tumble readymade from your brain? Do you discuss them with the author? Do you have a book full of characters waiting to be used at moment’s notice?
PK: Thank you! but To be honest, I really don’t know! I like watching and observing people in everyday life. So, I guess some things get stuck in the recesses of my brain, and just appear in my drawings when the moment arrives. There must be a library somewhere. I sometimes do discuss the characters with the author. In this case, Rustom had given me a lot of pointers regarding what the ‘villains’ in the book would look like. I guess, the job of the illustrator is to use these pointers and then add to it.
PS: You’ve illustrated a few animals in this book and several for other books. Which animals do you enjoy drawing most? If you had to combine a couple of your favourite animals, what sort of animal would emerge?
PS: Elephants, I think. I love the way they are so large and yet look so kind. Watching baby elephants bathe is one of the nicest things to watch.
If I combine a couple of favourite animals? Hmm. A Pachydermus-oinko-caninus.
PS: Writers have the (sometimes accurate) reputation for sneaking in people they dislike into villainous roles in their books. Do illustrators do this too?
PK: Haha.. if they look like they’ll visually fit the part. But, jokes apart, I think if one is designing or writing so called ‘villanous’ roles in children’s books, I always feel there should also be something endearing that should also make it’s presence felt in the character … a teeny weeny scope for redemption, you know. Otherwise it becomes just too black or white.
PS: If you had to design a rudimentary vimana using the items in your house (Rustom’s Top Secret Instructions having been unfortunately misplaced), what would you do?
PK: I have very few items in my house unfortunately. So, maybe I’ll have to use some of my ceiling fans, that big pile of books and my refrigerator to create some kind of vatanukoolpustakalaya-vimana .