Kari features a lesbian woman as its central protagonist. It is a work of art by the exceptionally talented graphic novelist – Amruta Patil. But Kari is not just a lesbian graphic novel, it is much more.
Kari explores themes of friendship, love, and death in Smog City, a magical-realism version of Mumbai (Patil). The novel follows its titular character, Kari, in the aftermath of an attempted double suicide by Kari and her lover, Ruth. At the time of its publishing, Kari stood out in great contrast to other Indian comics. The decision to portray the protagonist of the novel as an antisocial lesbian was far different from what one would see in most Indian comics at the time. Patil skillfully utilizes Hindu mythology, an eclectic art style that includes imitations of famous paintings, queer themes, death motifs, and strategic use of the comic form to create a graphic novel that sets itself apart from others of its kind.
Kari is the story of its eponymous heroine, who leads a double life. By day, Kari is a writer in an ad agency, and at night, she’s a boatman. Obsessed with life and death, Kari’s life deals constantly with both — whether in the form of comforting her colleague Lazarus at work, or in the form of Ruth finding fetuses in the gutter. Patil’s style is dark and colour is something she uses with a lot of care – its presence only conveys a certain mood that wouldn’t have been possible in the black & white which dominates the novel.
The book attempts to portray the lived realities of homosexual women in a highly heterosexual society. While the graphic illustrations in a city alludes to a certain specific geography, Kari could be situated in any place in the world. Patil’s Kari is an important revelation of how the city which is supposed to be progressive and modern still continues to harbor a highly heterosexual understanding of society. She uses the metaphor of suffocation in the “smog city”.
About the author: Amruta Patil, writer and painter, is the author of graphic novels Kari (2008), Adi Parva: Churning the Ocean (2012) and Sauptik: Blood and Flowers (2016). Patil has a freewheeling visual style that incorporates acrylic painting, collage, watercolour and charcoal. Recurring themes in her work include memento mori, sexuality, myth, sustainable living, and the unbroken thread of stories passed down from storyteller to storyteller through the ages.