Thursday, August 07, 2014

Beyond Chacha Chaudhary: Legendary cartoonist Pran's comics rooted for secularism and communal harmony too [Communal Harmony Project-21]

The news of cartoonist Pran's death in a hospital in Delhi, led to widespread grief and nostalgia--both on the street and on social media.

Those who had grown up reading his comics, paid rich tributes to him, and there were numerous obituaries in newspapers and websites.

Pran, who was born in Kasur town in undivided India, is mostly remembered for his creation of the iconic Indian comic character, Chacha Chaudhary.

But the gifted artist created many more characters which include Billu, Pinki, Shrimati Ji, Channi Chachi, Dabu and Raman amongst others.

For decades Shrimati Ji was published in women's magazine Manorama. There's no doubt that Pran got immense success with Chacha Chaudhary that was published by Diamond Comics. 

I remember that initially I was not a big fan of Chacha Chaudhary because the stories were not long. Most of us got the comics for 25-50 paise from neighbourhood libraries. I expected the story to be a bit longer. Each comic had many short stories that ran into 4-5 pages.

This was unlike Lambu Motu, Rajan Iqbal, Fauladi Singh and other comic strips, which had a long story line running into 45-48 pages. However, I enjoyed reading the naughty Billu and the Pinky, the girl who was always up to some tricks. 

When Secular hadn't  become 'SICKULAR'
However, after the 'villain' Raka was introduced, there were long running stories too in the Chacha Chaudhary series.

When Chacha Chaudhary was launched, there was still a generation which was hooked to Indrajal Comics.

But Chacha Chaudhary went on to enjoy cult following. The character of Sabu, especially, made Chacha Chaudhary more interesting and different from other similar characters.

Diamond comics became the market leader. As far as art, humour and stories are concerned, there are numerous aspects that can be discussed.

However, I would like to reflect on how Pran's comics were always centred on communal harmony and inclusivity.

It was not the era when 'secular' was called 'sickular'. The stories had Muslim, Sikh and Christian characters, quite often.

There would be a Khalifa, a David, a Sardarji or an 'Amjad' in every third or fourth story in most of his comics.

When the new character, Raman, was introduced, the comic-Ham Ek Hain, was a nationwide hit. It was available at all the book stores.

I still remember that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had released this particular issue. Today, many people may not realise the importance of it. 

But the message of secularism through comics can't be underestimated. This was visible in Chacha Chaudhary, as well as other comics of Pran.

There were few other cartoonists who took care to have characters belonging to different regions and religions.

Soon, Diamond Comics lost to the new emerging Raj comics. The strips were now focusing more on crime, violence and superheroes.

The stories often showed triumph of good over evil but the message of social inclusion and harmony wasn't seen thereafter with such passion and intensity in comics of the later era.

Certainly, Pran is immortal. The man, his works, his characters can't be forgotten. 

[Photos courtesy:]