Samina Mishra
THE LEGEND OF THE ORANGE PRINCESS by Retold and illustrations by Mehlli Gobhai Talking Cub, An imprint of Speaking Tiger, 2023, 32 pp., INR 250.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Mehlli Gobhai, known as one of India’s foremost abstract artists, writes a magical tale and paints in a most un-abstract style in The Legend of the Orange Princess. Presented as a retelling of an ancient legend, the story is about a princess who is an orange by day and woman by night, and a prince who falls in love with her. As in many fairy tales, the magical realism becomes a way to speak of love, transformation, conformity, memory. The art is figurative and often suggestive of miniatures in the way the narrative unfolds visually except that each spread is a step in the story rather than one image containing the entire story. There are some beautiful spreads in which rich colours come together to create dense forests, rippling water, a floating breeze. The compositions evoke the central emotions—the surprised king in the foreground and the sad queen in the background when the orange princess is born, the stereotypical close-up of the prince and princess to convey their love, the outstretched hand of the prince in the centre of the spread as the orange princess fades away into the sunlight.
While the artwork is lovely and the idea of an orange princess is whimsical, the characters are quite flat, and the story is unremarkable. Nothing terribly exciting happens once we have learned about the princess transforming daily. The only other plot point is the prince getting into trouble and the orange princess rescuing him that leads to the end. It is good of course to have a role reversal with the princess doing the rescuing. So read this one, mainly for the art!