Whenever I would pick up a Chacha Chaudhary comic book in my childhood, there was this one face that I had gotten very familiar with apart from the comic characters themselves. It was this smiling, benign-looking man, clad in a dapper suit and tie, whose face would be displayed on the front page of every Chacha comic book. That man, of course, is Pran Kumar Sharma.
Even without intending to, Pran had become a part of my life. When I realized that the wonderful world of comics I am so besotted with is created by this man, I began idolizing him. I and my brother were both quite fond of the Chacha Chaudhary universe and thus Pran slowly became a household name for us. We loved the simple and enchanting world he had created in those comics. Of particular captivation for us were his illustrations; the houses, the lanes, the trees, the clouds, the clothes - everything had such simplicity and allure that we often wished we could dive into that world sometimes. Then there were the chaste Hindi dialogues, the wacky plots, the absolutely bizarre names of characters; it was all so charming. We understood then that the sole credit for all that goes to Pran and our admiration for him thus grew manifold. We would always wonder then how Pran must be like as a person; how would his voice sound like and what would I say if I ever met him?
As I stepped in the career of journalism, my little fascination of knowing the person behind the Chacha Chaudhary comics intensified further. And hence over the last few months, I have been striving to contact the man. The efforts finally bore fruit a few days back.
With quivering hands, I dialed his number; not knowing what to expect. The call connected and a husky, tired voice answered at the other end. My mind was a little blank and the heartbeat had risen quite a few notches, but I still managed to introduce myself. “Am I worth it?” was his question when I informed him the purpose of my call. I laughed nervously. But he was very friendly and eased my nerves. Thankfully, he agreed to the interview for the coming Sunday afternoon. His approval made me feel like I was walking on the clouds. Over the next few days, I pompously declared to anyone who would listen about my ‘achievement’. I felt like the child who had got the autograph of his favourite film star.
The day of the interview was a monumental achievement for me; it shall always remain as one of my biggest career highlights, no matter what. I had ceased all my other tasks to dedicate my concentration solely towards this interview. I knew very well that there would not be another moment like this. It felt surreal, almost bizarre, that I would be interviewing the man who had provided for innumerable of my memorable childhood moments. When I made the call, the first thing he said was, “I was waiting for your call.” Wow, I thought. The legend of Indian comics was waiting for my call. This is crazy! Before I could begin the interview, he asked me politely, “Paani pee loon thoda?” (Can I drink some water?). I smiled and waited patiently for him to finish. And then began the interview.
Over the course of the next two hours, I cleared my heart of nearly all the things that I had always wanted to ask Pran. Fortunately, he obliged me. I feel he almost enjoyed the interview as much as I did. Almost.
Now I will let the legend do all the talking.
Excerpts from the interview.
Q. The one thing that many of your fans are concerned about these days is that do you still make new comics at this age?
Pran: Yes, of course. The day I stop creating comics would be the death of me. I will make comics till my last breath. Yes, I have adapted with the times now. I do not make as many as I once used to because of old age. But I do have a couple of assistants with me now who help me out. I give them the cartoons and dialogues and they colour them digitally. That does help a lot.
Moreover, I have also adapted in the stories of my comics with the age. Previously, the themes of my stories were very simple. But today’s kids are very smart. Hence, I have introduced computers, mobile phones and things like Facebook in my stories now. Kids like that I guess. And I enjoy the fact that I can bring smiles on their faces. I will keep enjoying making comics until my end comes.
Q. How did your interest in cartooning begin?
Pran: I was always interested in drawing cartoons from my childhood, but never really thought of it as a career option in my early days. Like every other youngster, I too wanted to establish my career first. Hence, I did my M.A. in Political Science. But even after that, the cartooning bug was always there inside me. In those days, there were no such special cartooning courses. All the legendary cartoonists of India like R. K. Laxman and K. Shankar Pillai were self-taught. I too got inspired by them and then started considering cartooning as my career option.
The fact that many of my cartoons had already been published in some of my college magazines, made me eager to get many more published across many other platforms. Hence, I put my foot down and declared to my family one fine day that I am going to be a cartoonist. They were shocked. They wanted me to take up a government job as that was very popular in those days. But my mind was made up. The cartoon bug in me had risen like a storm and there was no looking back ever since.
Q. Why did you specifically choose comics? There are so many other forms of cartooning that you could have taken up?
Pran: Cartooning has basically three branches- social, political and comics. The last one is my area of interest. See, the thing is, in the late 60s there were many legendary Indian cartoonists, but all of them focused more on serious topics like politics and social issues. I thus wanted to attempt a different genre of cartooning.
Moreover, in those days, whatever comics we had were imported from western countries like Spiderman, Superman, Dennis the Menace, Phantom, Mandrake etc. I wanted to create comics completely and solely rooted in the Indian sensibilities; which would have characters and issues which our children would be able to directly relate to. And in doing so they should also have fun. Hence I started creating diverse comic characters which thankfully people loved and many of which have stayed on even now.
Q. Tell us about your career progress in your initial days.
Pran: When I had made up my mind that I would be a cartoonist, I then started approaching different newspapers to get my cartoons published. Those days, the concept of comic book wasn’t there, so I had to rely on newspapers. I struggled initially, but soon enough a couple of newspapers showed interest in my cartoons and published them. As my cartoons got published, other newspapers too got interested. Punjab Kesari, Navbharat Times, Karamveer and many other newspapers published my cartoons and my name thus started getting popular.
Back then, I used to make my own cartoons and post them myself to the local newspaper houses riding on my bicycle. I didn’t get much for those cartoon strips in the newspapers; around 10 Rs. for each strip. It was a struggle. But it sure was fun.
Q. How did your association with Diamond Comics begin?
Pran: It was in the 1980s when these two guys from Diamond Comics (DC) came to my residence to meet me. They were keen to compile my comics, which had been published in the newspapers and magazines like Lotpot, into a book form. I immediately agreed to the fact that my comics would come out separately in a book was a huge motivation for me. Plus the money they offered was good; I was taken in.
I initially gave them content for two comic books, which they published as 45-page comic books. Luckily the response was so good that all the prints got sold out within two weeks of their release. There was no looking back after that. The DC guys kept coming back to me for more and I kept creating the comics with passion. I slowly became a household name. It also gave me a stable income for survival. There is no denying that DC gave me a platform to be famous. And now I have more than 600 comics books in my name.
Q. Was there anything specific in your mind when you created your characters?
Pran: I wanted all my characters to be connected to the Indian middle-class sensibilities. Hence you will find all my characters facing similar issues and problems to tackle in their everyday lives. My world was simple- the lives of the people, the houses they stayed in, the buildings in the background; everything was very simple and hence people connected to it. Moreover, I never wanted any of my characters to do anything unnatural; like I made sure they should never fly or crawl up the walls. Children relate to these things very quickly. I hence did not want to show them any unreal things and instead wanted to tell them that our world can be fascinating even in the simplest form.
Q. How did the character of Chacha Chaudhary come into being?
Pran: In those days, we did not have any Indian comic character to relate with. Even if someone came out with something, people would label it as a copy of western countries. I was thus determined to make something entirely unique and Indian. Hence Chacha Chaudhary took birth. He is not handsome or strong like other superheroes, but his entire strength is his common-sense. He wears a turban, has a walking stick as his weapon and still solves the problems of the world. He is our very own Indian hero with whom everyone can relate to.
Q. What made you form Sabu’s character?
Pran: Chachaji was having to face a lot of issues you see. Tackling goons, solving mysteries was fine but the issues started getting graver. Things like terrorism and bomb blasts started taking place. I thus thought that Chachaji should have an able companion with him to tackle all these. Hence Sabu took birth.
He is a massive and powerful man from Jupiter. Everyone in his planet is strong and tall like him. One day he was flying his spaceship and happened to land in India. He was instantly mesmerized by the beautiful scenery; the snow clad mountains, the crystal clear water. He then met Chachaji who took him home and the two then instantly formed a friendly bond. After Sabu drank Chachi’s lassi, he then decided to stay here for the rest of his life. Sabu became like a family to Chachaji; the two are inseparable now. If Chachaji is Lord Ram, Sabu is like Lord Hanuman. Chachaji is the brain and Sabu is the brawn. Together they are the perfect heroes that our society needs.
Q. Talking about Sabu. Correct me if I am wrong, but in my childhood, I remember reading a chapter in the comics where Sabu was a genie. Is that correct?
Pran: (Laughs loudly) No one has ever asked me this question before. But you are correct. Aaapke yaddasht ki mai taarif karta hoon. I really admire your memory.
When you create a character, it goes through many shades. Yes, there was just this single episode where Sabu was initially introduced as a ‘Jinn’ who came out from a lamp. However, when I saw the print, I did not like it. Furthermore, I realized that I should not be showing something totally unrealistic to children. Hence I changed his character and modified him to be from Jupiter. That has stuck ever since.
Q. Was the idea of keeping ‘Rocket’ as a vegetarian dog deliberate?
Pran: Yes, I like to keep things in my comics a little different. Rocket too was born out of that. He is not an expensive or beautiful dog. He is a very simple dog that can be found in any lane. Chachaji once fed him some milk and since that day the dog has been with him. I kept him vegetarian deliberately so as to not let the crooks feed him meat or bones when they want to commit any wrongdoing. Thus Rocket too is an able companion of Chachaji and is like his family. He also helps him solves mysteries and takes on many bad guys.
Q. The villains in your series were generally pretty funny and goofy. However, the character of Raaka took the series to a very different level, isn’t it? He was the first really violent and dark antagonist in your series.
Pran: I wanted to create a completely different character that would take everyone by surprise. Hence Raaka the dacoit was formed. He is unabashedly violent and kills for power and pleasure. When he grew immortal, there was no stopping him except Chachaji and Sabu. People fear him, but in the end, he is always packed off in some far off and desolate place. The idea was to be innovative and not get repetitive with the stories that I came out with. Raaka’s stories take my comics to a different genre; while certain sensibilities about good and evil remain the same.
Q. The names of your characters are quite funny and unique.
Pran: Again, the idea was to be different and unique. I did not want to borrow names of normal people but create ones that are unheard of and sound funny at the same time. That too does take a lot of thinking though. I had to sometimes sit for hours to come up with names. I am happy people liked the names that I created.
Q. You created so many characters, but Chacha Chaudhary was the most famous. Was there any other character before Chacha Chaudhary that had become well-known?
Pran: Actually Chacha Chaudhary became famous in the mid-70s. There was another character of mine which was extremely renowned in the early 70s- Shrimatiji. I can’t tell you how popular she was; especially amongst the females (laughs). The Shrimatiji comic strips first appeared in the women magazine Sarita. Within just a few weeks, its popularity really soared and people just loved her. Later on, Shrimatiji started getting published from the magazine Manorama because I had some dispute with the Sarita owners. Shrimatiji ran quite successfully in Manorama for several years until the magazine was closed down. Nowadays, apart from the usual stand-alone comics of Shrimatiji, its comics strips also appears in Gujarat Guardian Daily (Surat) as well as Sudha Weekly(Bangalore).
The reason Shrimatiji's character became so popular was because she is like the very average middle-class married woman. She is always on the lookout for the street-side sales and would find out other ways to curb her household expenses. Plus, people really enjoyed her constant banter with her husband.
Q. Any particular character from the many that you created that is your favourite?
Pran: I created all my characters with equal love and passion. They are like my own babies. I can never be partial towards any one. I love them all equally.
Q. There was a TV serial that was made on Chacha Chaudhary.
Pran: Yes, it was in 2005 I guess when these Sahara guys contacted me for the want of adopting Chacha Chaudhary into a serial. Those days Subroto Roy's Sahara TV was quite popular. It was Roy's son Sushanto Roy who was primarily interested in this adoption of the series into the serial. He was the one who sent for me to meet them at their Mumbai office. He told me their wish and I had no issues. The money was good and they seemed genuine people. My only problem was with royalty. I told Sushanto that companies don’t generally give me royalty and at this age, I won’t be able to run after you, so if you can provide me the royalty I will be happy. Within minutes Sushanto asked his accountant to pay me my royalties and I was thus content. The serial too was quite good.
Q. You started way back in the 60s.What difference do you find in the cartooning style of today and that of the past?
Pran: It has changed a lot. In my initial days, drawing comic strips took a lot of effort; sketching the characters, making the backgrounds, filling it with vibrant colours and giving dialogues to the characters. It was really a tough and time-consuming job. Now, things have become comparatively easier as most people like to take the help of computers and make cartoons digitally. I, however, still prefer to make my cartoons on paper. It takes a lot of hard work. But it is fun.
Q. From what I have come to know, you were invited to many cartoon conventions from around the globe. Can you elaborate?
Pran: Yes, after more than 20 years in the field, my name had reached to different corners of the globe. In 2006, I was invited by the Cartoonists Society of America in Chicago to deliver a lecture there on the subject of comics. It was an enriching experience as the audience there loved to hear my views. I also got a chance to meet some of my idols from the cartooning field like Mort Walker (the creator of Beetle Bailey) and many others. A few years later, I was also invited by the Cartoonists Club of Great Britain; that too was a landmark. There were many other places after that which kept inviting me like Australia, New Zealand, Moscow and different countries from Europe; I had become a known name. More than anything else, these tours gave me the chance to relive my childhood dream of visiting foreign lands. It was my passion, you can say, which made me achieve that. At first, my friends and relatives would mock me for being a cartoonist, now they are proud to be associated with Pran!
Q. What would your message be to aspiring Indian cartoonists of today?
Pran: Perhaps I should not say this, but I find a real lack of originality in our Indian cartoonists today. They tend to get inspired by western countries and concepts and try and emulate their characters. Most of the Indian comics and graphic novels that you find in the market today are modified versions of western comic characters. I thus want to tell young Indian cartoonists to please be original. If you make Spiderman wear a dhoti, he will still be a Spiderman. He will not be Indian. These cartoonists should take inspiration from Indian sensibilities and emotions. There are innumerable stories and characters that can be taken out from our country.
Furthermore, to be a good cartoonist you should have a very deep sense of humour and good intellect apart from having a balanced and good drawing sense. These are the most vital ingredients one must have if they desire to be a good cartoonist.
Q. You have often been quoted talking about the need for a comics museum in India. Please elaborate.
Pran: Places like America, England, Australia, many countries in Europe and even many smaller ones around the globe have comics museums. They know how to respect their legendary cartoonists. But unfortunately, our country does not have a single genuine comics museum. The need for such museum arises as they can preserve some the gems created by the legendary comic artists of any country which we can show to our children.
Our country too had legendary cartoonists like R.K.Laxman, Kutty, K. Shankar Pillai and others who have even contributed in our independence through their cartoons. They had themes which showed our plight during those days and ignited the patriotic passion in people. But where are those cartoons? We need to show them to our children and a museum would have been the best option to display these cartoons of our legends. I hope someday soon our country too realizes the need for this.
Q. You must have received endless praises from your fans over the years. Any particular comment that has stuck with you?
Pran: It’s really difficult to point out any one. My fans have been very generous with me. I am overwhelmed with their love for me. However, I would like to share a recent incident.
I was at a hospital, undergoing surgery for some intestinal infection I had been infected with. The day before I was admitted to the hospital, the legendary actor Pran had passed away. I was sitting in my hospital room and reading the newspapers which carried this news when the doctors came in. I looked at them and said in jest, “Looks like it’s the turn of the other Pran to go as well.” The head surgeon, however, held my hands and told me, “Pran ji, I will never let anything happen to you. I have grown up reading your comics. You are my hero.” I was extremely touched by that. It is moments like these which make me realize that my life has been worthwhile after all.
Q. You are an inspiration to many. Have you got inspired by anyone?
Pran: Oh, of course. Many people inspire me from different fields. Currently, though, I am a big fan of Indian cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He is a real inspiration for every one of us. Just look at the way he has risen from a small place (Ranchi) and has become a world-renowned face. We are all so proud of him today. And that is not just luck; he has put in a lot of hard work, passion, and dedication into it. Though I am nowhere as close to him in success, I can relate to him as well because I too have reached where I have because of a lot of hard work and dedication.
Q. What would you say has been your biggest achievement in life?
Pran: I can’t call this an achievement but I guess I have contributed something towards the society; even if it is very small. I guess I provided the people of India with a ‘sasta’ entertainment. The fact that I could bring smiles on the faces of different people, made them forget their troubles for a few minutes, gives me the greatest satisfaction. That I could say is my biggest achievement in life. My fans are the ones who keep me alive even today and would do so even after I am no more. Without them I am nothing.
This is not just an interview for me; it is a monumental career achievement.
One of the primary reasons for me to do this interview, other than my fascination for Pran, was the fact that I could not find anything comprehensive written on him in the online media. Furthermore, in the making of this interview, I spoke to many fans of Chacha Chaudhary. All of them still fondly recall the comics, but very few of them know about the man behind them. I thus thought that it was my responsibility as a journalist to present this interview to the fans of Chacha Chaudhary. It is essential that they know about Pran. They deserve this. He deserves this.
There will never be another Pran in our lifetime. Hence, this is my way of saying ‘thank you’ to my childhood hero. That is all I can give him in return for making my childhood so delightful and memorable.
This one’s for all of us. This one’s for ‘our’ childhood.