the new incredibles
by Shannon Sexton
for Yoga Journal (March 2012)
Pixar animator Sanjay Patel celebrates Hinduism’s superheroes through on-of-a-kind, Disneyesque illustrations. The 37-year-old artist’s new release, The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities, features 12 posters you can use to decorate your home or yoga studio. Patel, whose work has appeared in Toy Story 3, The Incredibles, The Simpsons, and even a Björk music video, says he hopes his pop culture take on his Indian heritage will serve as a “21st-century bridge” for people who are seeking “a doorway into traditional South Asian art and traditional tellings of these really meaningful, spiritual stories.” Each poster includes a mini-story and his work-in-progress “dorky doodles.”
Q Yoga Journal Can you tell us about your background?
A Sanjay Patel My parents are Indian, but I grew up watching TV and reading comic books in LA, so I’m also very American.
Q YJ What inspired you to re-imagine Hindu deities?
A Patel When I finally stumbled onto South Asian art about 10 years ago, I realized there was so much room for modern interpretation. Maybe it’s my training at Pixar and in animation: how do I make this stuff graphic, cute, relatable, arresting? How do I make an image that’s appropriate for
my wall, that I’d be proud to wear on my T-shirt? How do I educate people about how cool this culture is? My mission is to celebrate South Asian art and mythology in a fun way while also honoring the teachings and the stories.
Q YJ How did you get into yoga?
A Patel When I was trying to finish my graphic novel for Chronicle Books, Ramayana: Divine Loophole, I took a year off from Pixar and got divorced. All of a sudden, I couldn’t draw a thing. My therapist recommended yoga, and it really helped me cope with being alone and not being able to finish my book. It made me feel whole in soul.
Q YJ What’s next on the horizon?
A Patel The Ramayana was optioned by Dream Works, and they’re working on an animated Bollywood version. They got A.R. Rahman and the songwriter for Wicked to create the music, and the writers are from Bend It Like Beckham. I’m tinkering with ideas from the South Asian universe for a short film. And I’m almost finished with my first children’s book for Chronicle Books. It’s about Ganesha and how he breaks his tusk by eating a jumbo jawbreaker laddu [Indian sweet] to write [the Hindu epic called] the Mahabharata.
Q YJ How would you describe your art?
A Patel I’m just the candy-coated cherry flavoring on the medicine. But if that’s what it takes to make you learn about the story of Ganesha or the journey of Rama the, man, I will do it!