Comics go the Kalari way

Published Sep 12, 2015, 5:28 am IST
Updated Mar 27, 2019, 8:57 pm IST
Comics Odayan and Little Kalari Warriors have characters who practise Kerala’s oldest martial art form Kalaripayattu and don Kathakali makeup

SWISH... BOOM!!!... KLANG...!!! All familiar words for the comic and cartoon nerds... But when these words appear in Nihodo comics’ Odayan and the Toonz Animation cartoon Little Kalari Warriors made for Cartoon Network, there is a slight change.

The text is in Malayalam!!! Why not? After all, the weapons and fighting styles used in these action sequences also belong to Kerala’s very own kalaripayattu!


While Odayan, set in feudal Kerala, has a kalaripayattu warrior in kathakali mask as the hero, in Little Kalari Warriors, the kalaripayattu warrior in Kathakali mask becomes the villain.

But what’s common to both is the idea of promoting Indian martial art forms and culture among the international audience through the use of popular digital art mediums.

“Little Kalari Warriors was developed by me and Anand Babu. We created the concept for the show with the idea of exploring Kerala’s own kalaripayattu, one of the oldest martial art forms in the world. So we researched the stories behind its origins and adapted it to fit the cartoon format. It talks about the Maha Guru of kalaripayattu and his six disciples, how one of them turns evil and kills the others, the Maha Guru fleeing with the Last Scroll to a remote village and his two kids - Chandu and Ammu — along with his assistant’s kid Karumban fighting the villain who returns,” says Rathan Sam George, project head of Little Kalari Warriors, Toonz Animations.


“We have made the cartoon in Flash as 2D digital art and have mirrored the characters movements to the kalaripayattu videos we found. Apart from using the fighting style and weapons we have, the settings and background visuals have also been derived from the scenic beauty of Kerala,” Rathan adds.

“We have tried to incorporate as much of the Kerala culture as possible into the cartoon, while keeping in mind the limitations of the cartoon format and the tastes of international audience. The cartoon is scheduled to air close to Diwali this year,” he says.


Apart from the cartoons produced in India or the cartoons based on Indian mythology like Arjun — The Warrior Prince, kalaripayattu has been adapted as a fighting style by independent characters of stories set in American and European context as well —  like Connie Maheswaran in Steven Universe or Cyril Rahman, Ethan Stanley and Sho Kano in Japanese Manga Keinichi.

Apart from the comics and cartoon world, where the fierce kalaripayattu moves become animated lines that make you gasp and chuckle all at the same time, the martial art is also being adapted into the digital gaming world for interactive action-lovers. Aswathama — The Immortal, an Indian mythological RPG game developed by Virtualinfocom also makes use of the kalari style of fighting for combat.


“When we decided to make video games, we wanted our games to be based on Indian mythology and styles because I feel, it’s important to show the world our rich heritage and culture. We have modelled the fight sequences in the game after kalaripayattu as it is something that will help users understand the strength and origins of Indian fighting styles and martial arts in general. All the characters are developed from real people as we got many moves through motion capture of some kalaripayattu masters,” says Arijit Bhattacharya, founder and CEO of Virtualinfocom.


Apart from this, characters like Voldo in Soul Edge, Asura in Death Battle and Zafina in The Tekken series are examples of kalaripayattu style of fighting integrated into international games.

With kalaripayattu taking over different digital platforms by storm, close at the heels of Bollywood and Hollywood adapting it as the new fitness fad, the martial art form is making its presence felt on national and international platforms like never before.