Deep Hundal is the imaginative soul behind ‘Echoes of Mutiny’, a graphic novel project crowdsourcing funds through the Kickstarter website. The truly unique and exquisite imagery of the sample artwork captured my attention, but it’s the sub-heading – “Steam-Punk and British Colonialism meet an unflinching and epic Sikh resistance” – that hooked me to this project. So just what can financial contributors and future readers expect from the project?
‘Echoes of Mutiny’ is an interpretation of ‘Ghadar di Goonj’ – a work of poetic literature depicting Sikh resistance fighters during the rule of the British Empire. In this iterative project, the reader is introduced to a group of revolutionaries as they try to recover a lost piece of steam-power technology which they think can destroy the British and help them reclaim their land. But, having to reconcile the emerging threats of Brahmin Hindus colluding with the British as they try to cleverly implode the Sikhs from within, the Sikh revolutionaries are in for a long and bloody battle.
Your first question, like mine, might be ‘what is steam-power technology and why here?!’ ‘Echoes of Mutiny’ has no ordinary setting; it is written in the genre of what is called Steampunk. Steampunk is modern technology powered by steam and set in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. ‘Steamboy’, ‘Wild Wild West’ and ‘Hell Boy’ are some of the more well-known Steampunk-inspired productions the uninitiated might have come across without realising. “I’ve never been a diehard fan of Steam Punk,” says Hundal. “I just thought it was cool whenever I would come across it. And quite frankly, I don’t know a single Sikh that likes steam-punk. Hell, I may be the only one!”
The story features characters representing the British Empire, Sikh revolutionaries, and Brahmin Hindus; such an explosive mix promises a graphic novel that is not quite like anything seen before. But then Hundal is no stranger to tackling sensitive subject-matter. In 2013 he produced a short film titled ‘The Condemned‘ which follows a retired Punjab Police Officer who is haunted by a child he had once tortured. As with that narrative, Hundal is choosing to tell the story here creatively, taking artistic licence with the historical research he has undertaken. There is in fact only one character in ‘Echoes of Mutiny’ who was a historical figure and that is Harnam Singh, although his steam-powered arm is a creative addition. Loosely, the character is based on the great-grand uncle of one of Hundal’s good friends who he thought, “had a pretty dope story“.
The illustrations and colours of the sample graphics look incredible and Hundal puts this down to the collaborative effort of his highly talented team. He wanted to avoid conventional colours used in Punjabi creative arts and so opted for a softer pallet, but as director of the project, commendably allowed his team the freedom to impose themselves on the work.
It’s interesting to consider what Hundal says is the driving force behind this project. “I think the last ten years of organising in the Sikh community and being involved in so many Sikh orientated politics has led me to the eventual realisation that we need to reclaim so many of our narratives. The Ghadar movement, and beyond that the Sikh sangarsh against the British Raj, is one of those narratives that has been appropriated and acclaimed by Indian Nationalist/secularists.” Hundal points specifically to a public lecture by the author Ajmer Singh for instigating the subject matter of ‘Echoes of Mutiny’. “About 6-7 years back, Bhai Ajmer Singh had made a trip to my city (Edmonton, Alberta) where he was speaking about a book he had just released, ‘Ghadri Babe Kaun Sun’, during which he carefully described how the communist movement has essentially hijacked the Ghadar movement and slowly morphed it into an Indian Nationalist movement with secular and atheistic dispositions. As Ajmer Singh went on to describe the Ghadar movement in their own unmolested words, I remember sitting there and feeling a pit in my stomach. So much of our Sikh history is being torn asunder and we have a responsibility to stop that.”
This crowdfunding project is not driven by commercial interests with Hundal investing a significant amount of his own funds into the project. He doesn’t want to cut corners, aiming to publish something strikingly beautiful, which for the amount he is looking to raise should be achievable. His words about existing ‘Sikh cartoons’ struck a chord with me, as did his view on why a steampunk graphic novel was a desirable project for the Sikh community. “The reason we don’t see such great Sikh animation is that those at the helm of current ones have such a limited scope of reference that it narrows their imagination. Our younger generations need to imagine themselves, as Sikhs, in every possible, crazy, fantastical, unrealistic universe possible. Given the lack of Sikhs we see in current mainstream narratives, it’s up to us to create those universes.”
‘Echoes of Mutiny’ is being crowd-funded on Kickstarter until Monday 17 July, 2017 for the humble total of $15,000 (Canadian dollars). Contributions are only taken once the entire amount has been procured and the crowd-funding period has concluded; you can pledge your support at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1033862513/echoes-of-mutiny. You can read an interview conducted by naujawani with Deep Hundal at Sikh Siyasat.