From Doodles To Local Comic Heroes
The trailer opens like any epic blockbuster. There’s a dramatic violin score in the background, cinematography complete with fights, familiar locations and bloody close-ups.
With a sprinkling of dialogue and just enough of an action-thriller punch to keep you hooked, it’s hard to believe that the trailer for “No Man’s Land” is a comic come to life, created by a group of young Sri Lankan cartoonists who began their career doodling on schoolbooks.
The cover of Chaturmana
Released at the Colombo Comic Expo in December, the trailer is an enticing prelude to “No Man’s Land” –a short film based on the characters in the PRUVE comic series ‘Chathurmana’. The first Sri Lankan comic book to be adapted as a short film, the multi-talented team will release the movie later this month.
The trailer was released to a lot of fan buzz including positive feedback for the young artists behind Pruve, who’ve been expanding their creative horizons for more than a decade. We caught up with two of Pruve’s founding members- Rusiru Ranasinghe and Uvindu Mahagamarachchi to take us into the world of ‘’Chathurmana” and the story behind the multifaceted brand.
“We were not doing well in our classes or any of the extra curriculars, ” laughs 22-year-old Uvindu who together with Rusiru were classmates at D. S. Senanayake College, finding their identity doodling and drawing comics on their schoolbooks. The creative partnership began with a broken nose- “I came into class one day and there was a tall thin guy seated in my place,” says Rusiru. The fisticuffs that ensued saw Uvindu’s nose broken but would be the start of a beautiful friendship and an artistic collaboration.
While they are longtime fans of the DC universe, Rusiru and Uvindu’s superheroes were fighting crime at a more 16-year-old pace with characters such as “Bubble Buddy”- a talking living bubble and Power Boy, Red Laser and Ninja Man (the cartoon versions of themselves) who had by then a classroom of eager followers (with the exception of their teachers), looking forward to the ‘latest issues’ of their works.
Though they were sketching Dragon Ball Z and other popular anime, they bonded over Batman Hush- the common favourite comic they discovered at the British Council which remains their number one even today. “As our stories grew, we grew better,” much like Batman Hush, which “even if you read today, you’ll find something new to it”-their goal for the growth of their comics.
In between the characters’ adventures across their schoolbooks and the artists’ escapades in detention for their “doodles” ‘Pruve’ was born. Simply the amalgamation of the artists/classmates in their group- Pruthuvi Heenatigala, Rusiru, Uvindu and Vimukthi Gamage, the passage of a few years saw only the R and the U remaining- with Pruthuvi and Vimukthi breaking off to pursue other paths.
In 2011 Pruve took a step in a more serious direction, together with several new members who would shape the brand as we know it today. Almost everything about the group is spontaneous, we realize, as Uvindu and Rusiru share their story. Their creative ideas, dipping their toes (or pencils in this case) into film making and as always their first encounters with each other are as fascinating as their comics. Their current line-up is a mixed bag: 25-year-old Asad Farook – an already established digital artist at the time, Sahan Munasinghe (23), Sajith Kandanarachchi (22) and Isuru Abeywickrama (29).
Dushantha in a scene from No Man’s Land
“They saw something in us,” the duo explain. Asad approached them at the Sri Lanka Cyber Games in 2012 while Sajith and Isuru’s introduction to the group was a lot like Rusiru and Uvindu’s- minus the punch in the face as they found themselves in intense Facebook arguments over Spiderman and Lord of the Rings.
Pruve now had an organized vision- complete with a logo and Facebook group. “We were always friends,” they say and so rather than competing against each other, they worked together on new projects including an unexpected superhero- Tikiri Leah. Unlike every child’s favourite song about a snake attack, Pruve’s Tikiri Leah was initially the girlfriend of the original star- “Ranjan”. Created by Asad, who loves to include allegories in his work, a spur of the moment decision found Ranjan having to play sidekick to his more interesting girlfriend- Tikiri Leah as she journeys through a post-apocalyptic Sri Lanka. The comic was released gradually to an eager Facebook audience and continues even today. But it’s “Chathurmana” which has proven to be their biggest work yet.
“It’s interesting because of the lack of original comics in Sri Lanka. We couldn’t relate to the heroes we loved,” adds Rusiru. The typical American city captured by aliens trope wasn’t appealing to them any more. Enter two Naghas- Aghni and Rahal, Chaturmana’s protagonists along with the ruler of hell, Yama and a local deity, Saman.
Based on epic literature, the Mahavamsa, Mahabharata and others, the universe of Chaturmana is not just for the epic fantasy lovers. “We wanted to make a cultural and social impact with our work.” Millennials who grew up watching “Avatar: The Last Airbender” or the Lord of the Rings Trilogy may be drawn to Chaturmana; with its ‘other world’, characters on a mission, magic and epic battles. But for Uvindu, the writer and researcher behind Chaturmana, the story is more than that. “It explores existentialism.” An undergrad specializing in English Literature, the young writer has made sure that readers can explore both fantasy and reality through his conflicted, humane characters.
Tikiri Leah (right), Fanart (centre), Krystal Valentine from Rain of Dawn (left)
“No Man’s Land” has also been scripted for those viewers who haven’t been following the comic- of which one chapter has already been released. Between them; Pruve has digital artists, students and an administrator. Probably their biggest challenge was the idea of doing a short film. The idea was always at the back of their minds. An opportunity came in the form of a fellow member- Tharindu Jayadev’s VFX assignment due for a class. “It was an excuse to do the film. Once the assignment was over, they continued.
Later this month, the anticipated movie (the trailer has received positive response from film makers as well) will hit YouTube. “We had to learn everything on our own” they say from using a towel to steady the camera to performing stunts and choreographed battles to picking locations (you might identify one or two from the trailer).
“We had low expectations for the trailer,” Rusiru admits. Also low were their funds. Desperation pushed them to enter the Mo Film Competition 2017 hosted by the Ministry of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Languages. Producing three short films in a day, they were surprised when they bagged 1st and 2nd place, a double boost- in the prize money and the confidence to push ‘No Man’s Land’ to its highest potential including a stunning original soundtrack by Umesh Rajapakse.
These days the boys are busy wrapping up with production and working on the pre-production of a new short film. Pruve has come a long way since the two 16-year-olds first fought over the same chair in the classroom. “Creative ability isn’t enough,” Uvindu echoes a phrase Isuru always told them- “You need to keep practising.” Behind their humble confidence is a strong identity. Stealing a line from “Watchmen” another comic turned movie Rusiru adds- “Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.”
Check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/PRUVE.comics/ or their YouTube channel for more details on “No Man’s Land”.