Of all the notable works done on visual media in our country, Shabash by Mighty Punch Studio came as a welcome surprise to me. From the tone of storytelling to the beautiful visuals, Mighty Punch Studios paint a unique stroke.
The story of wacky Shabash, who gained his superpower after consuming a magic mango which stemmed from a meteor (yes, you read that right), is not the one we will be talking about here, however. We'll be looking at Ms Shabash, who shares the same origins in a parallel universe set in Dhaka. Like Shabash, who bears with him a goofy, endearing personality, Ms Shabash too wants to help the 'mango people', but she also has to deal with the challenges that every woman in Bangladesh faces without superpowers. From casual harassment and patriarchal mindset to forced beauty standards, Ms Shabash encounters caricatured antagonists who don't stray far from reality.
Ms Shabash stands out in her simplicity. She has not been whitewashed into a fairer complexion. She is not described as overtly beautiful. Her personality isn't defined just by the fact that she's a woman. Her adventures, accompanied by her colourful companions and magical powers involving mangoes and fairies, pull off a lighthearted, humorous tone that is accessible to people of all ages. And the comic book's portrayal of prevalent misogynistic traits manages to send an important message without sounding patronising.
"We believe that through art, entertainment, storytelling and endearing characters, we can not only captivate audiences but also inspire them to bring about positive change in the world," Samir Asran Rahman, CEO and creative director at Mighty Punch Studios, tells The Daily Star.
They have made the 42-page third installment of the Ms Shabash comic series free for download on their Facebook page, in light of the ongoing conversation around sexual violence. They have also cropped the panels to ease the reading experience. Written by Samir Asran Rahman and illustrated by Asifur Rahman, the book follows Dhakaites celebrating Pahela Boishakh at Ramna Park, when some men decide to assault the women enjoying the festivities. Suddenly, a shalwar-kamiz clad Ms Shabash crashes the scene to fight the villains. "These creeps don't respect women because they've only been taught to objectify them by society, not regard them as equal human beings. Broken bones will not change that mentality," she later points out to her friend.
"While most of our comics promote moral values, empathy, and kindness (in a subtle way of course, because no one likes being preached to), we have tackled more serious issues such as harassment, albeit in a way that is suitable for children," Rahman explains.
In all of their running series, Mighty Punch's artwork takes influence from old cartoon network series as well as local art. Rahman shares how their attempt at the traditional art style of Tepa Putul seeped into other projects, resulting in an amalgamation of local and western visual styles.
So what's next for Mighty Punch Studios?
Rahman shares, "While we don't plan to stop making comic books, we are concentrating more on animation these days. Eventually, we want to be able to pitch a series to a streaming platform like Netflix." A pilot episode of Ms Shabash is also in the pipeline. With unique projects including Shabash, Ms Shabash, Lathial, Team Dalim, and Captain Kathal, Mighty Punch Studios are doing an excellent job of mixing humour and socially conscious stories in an accessible and colourful format.
Nuren Iftekhar is a contributor for Daily Star Books.