(Published on February 14, 2014 in The Hindu Business Line – BLInk)
Pran Kumar Sharma on creating Chacha Chaudhary the old man with a stick, who uses his brain to pack a punch.
In the ’60s, when bell-bottoms and The Beatles were all the rage, Indian readers were attached to strongmen such as Phantom, Superman and Mandrake, who could knock villains down with an agile punch or a swift kick. But Pran Kumar Sharma didn’t want to create mere musclemen, he wanted a more realistic hero. He thought of the quintessential Indian man and created Chacha Chaudhary — the old man with a white handlebar moustache, who wields a wooden stick and solves problems on the go. Chacha was of average height and medium build, had no super powers whatsoever, but was blessed with a brain as fast as a computer. He used his common sense to solve problems and it was his unhurried, easygoing disposition that resonated with so many people. The comic book went on to become a blockbuster and Chacha Chaudhary became India’s first comic hero.
“Chacha was not a hero who could bash up 12 crooks at a time; it would look unnatural. That is when Sabu came into the picture,” says Sharma, talking about the giant man from Jupiter who arrived on earth and became Chacha’s companion. “Power and wisdom became a team and together they could beat the baddies of the world,” he says.
After 50 long years of making readers laugh with unadulterated honest humour, Sharma was honoured last weekend with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the fourth Indian Comic Con, held in Delhi. It has been a long journey from his days as a cartoonist for the Delhi-based newspaper Milap where he drew comic strips with two characters Daabu and Professor Adhikari. It was only after he invented Chacha Chaudhary that Diamond Comics showed interest in his work. They offered to compile the comic strips into a book, which became immensely popular. The first lot sold out within a week and the publisher kept returning for more stories.
Sharma was born in Lahore and moved to Gwalior first, and then Delhi with his family after Partition. As a child, Sharma took inspiration from his elder brother who was an artist and used his leftover colours to draw cartoons on the walls of his home. His mother repeatedly punished him for this ‘vandalism’, but he paid no heed. He studied fine arts at Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art, Mumbai, as a private candidate and simultaneously political science, from Punjab University, but found his joy in sketching. He values cartoonists over writers and painters as only cartoonists have the gift of creating both scripts and pictures.
Printed comics have become a near relic of the past and events like the Comic Con remind one of those paper heroes. But Sharma is not despairing, he says, “When I was invited by the National Cartoonists Society of America to deliver a lecture on comics in 2006, I spoke about the importance of the convergence of print media and television. As soon as Chacha Chaudhary went on air, the sales of my comics increased and the channel made good revenues, so it was a symbiotic relationship.” While he appreciates technology, the 75-year-old prefers his pen and paper over a screen and stylus.
Sharma uses humour to convey a message and tell his stories. “No one has the time to listen to lectures. All my characters are common people — Pinki is a naughty 5-year-old girl, Billu is a cricket fan and Shrimatiji is a middle-class housewife,” he says. In making the common man the hero, Sharma has ensured superhero status for himself.