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Spider-Man Spins a Magical Web in India

By S. Srinivasan
Associated Press
Monday, January 3, 2005; Page C03

BANGALORE, India -- In a land of magic and mystics, beyond the waves of the Arabian Sea, lives a hero whose soul will forever remain American. But in body and form he now belongs to India, where his story unravels in the tale of a wall-crawling do-gooder.

Spider-Man, they call him. But the next time he unmasks, an Indian boy named Pavitr Prabhakar will be revealed.


Artist Jeevan J. Kang's Spider-Man gets powers from a holy man's spells. (Gautam Singh -- AP)

Peter Parker may be America's Spider-Man, swinging among the skyscrapers and contemplating his urban angst. But in India, he's Pavitr, with his own comic book for young Indians eager to embrace their own superhero.

Readers will find Spider-Man living in Bombay, a seaside city flush with gangsters, movie stars and some of the world's largest slums. It's a city with a generous supply of good and evil, fragrant with riches and smelling of poverty, where small-town Indians go to make it big, and ill-meaning men lurk in every corner.

But the basic plot is the same: A quiet orphan stumbles into the role of superhero, fighting for justice with a law set down by his uncle: "With great power comes great responsibility."

The original story echoes in the new one: Pavitr courts Mira Jain, rather than Mary Jane; Uncle Ben is Uncle Bhim; Aunt May becomes Aunt Maya.

But true to India's ancient, mystical heritage, Pavitr will stray deeper into the supernatural world than Peter Parker ever has. Pavitr's powers come not from a radioactive spider but from the incantations of a Hindu holy man. The Green Goblin has become a rakshasa, a mythological demon.

Blame it on Jeevan J. Kang, an Indian artist with two obsessions: the drawing pencil and Spider-Man.

He first read a Spider-Man comic at age 5 and consumed the stories growing up. His passions came together when India's Gotham Entertainment Group signed a deal with U.S.-based Marvel Enterprises, the Spider-Man publisher. Gotham then brought on Kang.

"I thought, 'What if Spider-Man had been born in India?' " says Kang, 25, a quiet man given to untucked shirts. "Wouldn't that be interesting?"

The Indian tale begins with Pavitr leaving his poor village for Bombay, where he's adopted by his uncle and sent to a large school. It's a tough change. His humble origins and his dhoti -- the wrap worn in the Indian countryside -- make him a target of his richer, snobbier classmates.

Soon, though, he gains his powers, and school troubles are exchanged for more important battles. He weaves his web on the Taj Mahal and leaps from auto-rickshaws, the three-wheeled taxis that zip through India's cities. He fights for justice and helps the weak.

The comic will also be sold outside India, including in the United States, and its readers will find their hero in a world of "mystics, mythologies and magic," says Suresh Seetharaman, a Gotham Entertainment executive.

As in America, though, India's Spider-Man is as much about money as entertainment. Gotham is tapping into an exploding youth culture here, appealing to Indian kids by putting Spider-Man in their back yard.

And these days, India has plenty of money. While hundreds of millions still live in poverty, there are also malls, millionaires -- and middle-class children looking for comics. Now, though they've long had Spider-Man, Batman and the rest, it's time for their own.

But Pavitr's arrival does create one important question: Will the two Spider-Men ever meet?

"No," said Seetharaman. "They aren't different. There can be, and is, only one Spider-Man. It is just that in our imagination and yours, he is born in India."


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