Friday, August 5, 2016

The Pran of Indian Toons

This piece first appeared in The Hindu. 

Long before I set foot in Delhi — a city I now call home — I had seen it through the strokes of his brush. Not only Delhi, I had also seen Jupiter, an alien and a computer much before I had actually seen any of them, and I was not the only one, there was an entire generation of children who did.
As a young girl of six, who had just learnt to read, my motivation to visit my uncle’s place in Allahabad would be the many books that I got to read there. I would often ride pillion on his assistant’s bicycle and go to Civil Lines to pick colourful comics, which kept me entertained and engaged for hours. All these comics — Billoo, Pinki and Chacha Chaudhary — bore a similar signature on them, which, at that time, I read as Prap (I was too young to understand arty fonts). It was much later that I realised that the man was called Pran, a name well-suited for someone who infused life into mundane, everyday incidents and characters, and made them immortal. 

Pran Kumar Sharma, fondly known as cartoonist Pran, can easily be called the pioneer of comics in India. In the 1960s, when he started drawing Daabu for a Delhi-based newspaper, there were hardly any comic strips around. Most comics available at the time were reprints or imported versions of Phantom, Mandrake and Superman. In 1969, he created Chacha Chaudhary for a magazine called Lotpot. A character that later became his trademark, and found itself a permanent place in the International Museum of Cartoon Art, USA.

An extraordinarily intelligent old man, Chacha Chaudhary, is always impeccably dressed in a white shirt, black waistcoat and a red turban. Armed with just a charming smile and a small wooden stick, he can, in no time, make the fiercest of dacoits and strongest of villains bite the dust. His mind is faster than a computer and sharper than a needle, which he uses to tackle the toughest of situations with élan, when he needs strength; he has Sabu, an alien from Jupiter and his dog Rocket. The endearing old man, not only overpowers the rogues but also teaches lessons in honesty, goodwill and brotherhood — all this while entertaining you.

While, on the one hand, you have the larger-than-life, fantasy-driven adventures of Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu, on the other, you have the very real boy – and girl – next door in Billoo and Pinki, the other two most famous characters of Pran. 

Billoo is our very own version of Archie Andrews — an average school-going teenager, who loves watching TV and hates studies, he tries hard to woo his classmate Jozi, and is often chased away by her rifle-wielding father, Colonel 3-0-3. He also has his run-ins with the neighbourhood wrestler, Bajrangi Pahalwan, whose windowpanes are often a subjected to the wrath of his cricket ball. 

If Billoo is your average teenager, getting into trouble with his teachers and parents, Pinki is a cute little five-year-old. The apple of everyone’s eyes, she lives with her grandfather called dadaji, an elder sister called didi and a squirrel called tuk-tuk. A hyperactive child, Pinki tries her best to help her family and friends — whether they need it or not — and invariably ends up creating bigger problems for them. Her goofy moments, cute mannerism and disarming smile are not only delightful but also relatable. 

Together they — Chacha Chaudhary, Billoo and Pinki — transport you to a land of fantasy, happiness and joy, a land where I, and many more of my generation, have not been in a long, long time; the land where Pran, the Walt Disney of India, in his passing, seems to have escaped to, to become immortal like his characters.

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