Go behind the yellow tape of the cybercrime-inspired comic book with the creator himself.
By Ashima Sethi
A police officer with a dark past is tasked with escorting an escaped inmate back to an asylum. Along the way, he suspects that the inmate might be a serial killer and that the asylum might be haunted. A series of events unfold that take him further down the rabbit hole; the question is, are you ready to join him?
Gone Case, written by Mumbai-born Shiv Panikker and illustrated by Karan Danda is touted as the first horror graphic novel based in Mumbai. With relatable characters, cameos from Bollywood celebrities, and an unpredictable plot, Masala goes behind the yellow tape of this cybercrime-inspired comic book with the creator himself.
What motivated you to pursue a career in film?
When I started modelling after college my father told me that if I wanted to make it in film, I’d need a more stable job, one that doesn’t require me to be in front of the camera, but behind it. However, I knew that to break into the film fraternity, I’d need basic knowledge about the technical aspects of filmmaking. My family is based in Dubai, so I decided to attend the New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi.
What were some experiences working in the film industry?
The industry is very unpredictable, and oftentimes you don’t know when your next paycheck is. Years ago, I was working alongside a production house to secure a TV commercial and we received approval confirming it was going to be my directorial debut. However at the 11th hour, the campaign went to someone else. That was hard to digest, but my ex- boss always told me, “Nothing is confirmed until the advance hits your bank account.”
The next day, I got a call asking me to direct a commercial that was going to be in Badlapur (2015) starring Varun Dhawan. The shoot was happening that night and the film needed to be edited and completed within 24 hours. Thankfully, it went well and I was thrilled to see my name appear on the big screen for the first time after a total rollercoaster of emotions.
In 2018, I was visiting my parents when I came across a casting call for a film starring Ryan Reynolds. The casting call was for extras, and even though I was an established director at this point, I couldn’t think of anything better than being on legendary director Michael Bay’s set. When I landed the gig, I was stunned to discover that the film, 6 Underground (2019), was a Netflix Original, as the scale of the production, the budget, and the star cast were very impressive. That’s when I realised that the industry is changing, and I was compelled to write my own script.
How did your interest in film evolve into an interest in graphic novels?
Gone Case was initially written as a feature film, and I’d begun working on the script while I was living in Bangkok. I travelled to India to pitch it, but while the story was unique, we were told we needed to add a love story arc and a minimum of three songs to make it ‘commercially appealing’. As outsiders, landing a meeting was an achievement in itself, so we knew challenging their outlook would bear no results, but we still wanted to tell the story our way. I decided that we would tell the story of Gone Case in the one medium I knew best apart from film…as a comic book!
Who are some of your heroes in the comic book industry?
I’ve been reading comic books since I was a kid, so my living room is essentially a comic book library. I’ve been inspired by Todd McFarlane, Lee Bermejo, Jeph Loebb, Tim Sale, and Rob Leifield. However, Jim Lee, illustrator of the Batman: Hush series, is one of my biggest heroes. After reading his books, I understood that comics don’t need to have supernatural elements, time travel, or monsters to be considered a ‘good traditional comic book story’.
What was the inspiration behind Gone Case?
Gone Case was actually written from a personal place. When I was in Bangkok, I fell prey to debit card theft and the experience led me to research about online fraud, hacking, and the Dark Web. I was surprised to find that so much stolen card information was being sold online and no one was really talking about it. I wondered: “Why wasn’t there a movie based on this in Hindi cinema?” And so the detailed research I conducted ended up inspiring my work.
What makes Gone Case so unique?
Gone Case covers topics rarely spoken about, particularly the Dark Web. It was written with input from a cybercrime specialist, a hacker, and the dialogue is kept in the local Mumbai-Malvani-meets-Anglo-Indian-style to ensure realism.
Now that you’ve published your first novel, what are your future plans?
Within three days of launching, the novel was #1 on Amazon’s Hottest New Seller list. Since then we’ve been approached by two streaming platforms to adapt Gone Case into a film, so we’re currently polishing the script. Additionally, Gone Case 2 will be released early next year, we’re working with a company in Malaysia to launch a line of Gone Case action figures, and next April, I’ll also be releasing a graphic novel outside of the Gone Case universe called The Stuntman.
Do you have any advice for Thai-Indians who want to make it in a creative industry?
Always leave a little bit of yourself in whatever art form you pursue, that’s the best way to stay authentic while standing out. We also live in the best generation for pursuing your dreams. Nowadays, you don’t even need an office, all you need is your phone. I find the best ideas for my videos on social media. In fact, Gone Case has turned into what it is because the trailer went viral on Instagram. It’s a great platform for showcasing your creativity and monetising your passion.