Had Pran succeeded in becoming an art teacher in a school, millions of Indians might not have encountered their unlikely childhood hero – Chacha Chaudhary, a diminutive old man with a white moustache and a red Haryanvi turban. Fate had other things in store for Pran. And ten years after he became a cartoonist for a newspaper in Delhi, he created Chacha Chaudhary, the character that changed the Indian comic book scene, in 1971.
“At the time, imported comics like Superman, Phantom and Tarzan had total monopoly in the country,” says the 74-year-old, when you meet him at the second annual Comic Con India Awards on February 7. Pran himself grew up on Blondie and Beetle Bailey.
“Indian readers could not relate to American superheroes. So I gave them a middle-class character without supernatural powers,” he says.
Initially, Chacha, who was accompanied by Rocket, his loyal dog and armed with a brain that famously worked “faster than a computer”, solved petty crimes. Then Sabu, a giant alien from Jupiter, whose brawn aided Chacha’s brain as they fought bigger evils like kidnapping and terrorism, entered the scene. Pran’s other creations, Pinki, Billoo and Shrimatiji, were also immensely popular. In 1980, Diamond Comics compiled the cartoon series into comic books.
By the end of the 20th century, however, the comic book had fallen out of favour. “Sales were down everywhere, thanks to television and the internet,” says Pran, recounting how even “greats like Mort Walker, the creator of "Beetle Bailey” had looked dejected at a convention of cartoonists held at Chicago in 2006.
Pran, whose Chacha Chaudhary had been adapted into a successful TV series, told the convention that the way forward was for the electronic media and comic publishers to cooperate.
“The sales of my comics increased after the TV series,” says the legend, who was labelled the ‘Walt Disney of India’ by Maurice Horn, editor of the World Encyclopedia of Comics.
Now, the good times are back. “Sales are rising worldwide. There are more publishers today. And events like Comic Con are a good sign,” says Pran, whose most famous character will soon make his film debut. Chacha Chaudhary’s numerous fans can’t wait!