Remembering Gulshan Rai of Diamond Comics: The man who gave us Chacha Chaudhary

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My confusion with encountering the Chacha Chaudhary comics as a boy of seven was one associated to scale. The show that I had come across on television featured Raghubir Yadav and Praveen Kumar Sobti in the roles of Chaudhary and Sabu. Sobti was a celebrated national athlete, who had also famously played Bheem in BR Chopra’s Mahabharata and due to this fact had the commanding physique to match it. The relatively diminutive Yadav performed the brains to Sobti’s all-encompassing brawn. But nothing prepared me for the striking contrast that was depicted in the comics.

Pran Kumar Sharma’s Chacha was a person more moustache than anything else, a curious amalgamation of Mario and Mickey Mouse to my younger thoughts, but far from spinoff in any real sense. Sabu was a giant with the soul of a djinn distilled into the frame of a wrestler or circus strongman. Yet none of that episodic splendour would have been potential on tv if Chaudhary had remained confined to the three-page strips of the Hindi children’s humour magazine LotPot that he had launched in 1969.

Chacha Chaudhary made the jump to his own comedian books solely in 1981, after an intrepid new writer took the reins of his family’s pre-Partition pocketbook publishing firm and decided to go all-in on Indian comics.

The legacy of Diamond Comics

This man was Gulshan Rai Verma, a physics graduate who had until then shown little interest in his family’s modest Hindi pulp fiction and spiritual texts enterprise. But one thing modified when – armed with a Diploma Course in Printing Technology from Heidelberg University – he branched the business off into publishing comics together with his brother Narendra Verma under the banner of Diamond Comics in 1978. This was occurring at a time when the prevailing tradition of Hindi comics consumption in Mumbai-based publications like Indrajal Comics and Amar Chitra Katha was shifting in course of the cheaper manufacturing ethos of the pulp markets in Delhi and Meerut.

Rai moved fast to each acquire publication and distribution licences for present characters like The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician and in platforming a slew of unique, relatable character-led titles set within the middle-class milieu.

Leading with characters like Pran’s Chacha Chaudhary, Billoo, Pinki, Raman, and Shrimatiji this line-up additionally extended to the likes of Motu Patlu, Chotu Lambu, Tauji, Rajan Iqbal, and, arguably India’s first superhero to debut in his own comic book, Fauladi Singh. They additionally made a foray into more adventure-based serials like Mahabali Shaka, Dynamite, and Agniputra Abhay that had been extra in line with the brooding anti-heroes that had been emerging out of Bollywood. The popular Hindi movies additionally impressed a line of photo comics known as Film Chitrakatha that used stills from new and well-liked films to repackage their stories within the comics medium.

Alongside its give consideration to ethical, message-oriented narratives, Diamond Comics doubled down on an strategy that emphasised the bottom-line. Comics had been printed in colour on cheap, easily out there paper packed with commercials. They pioneered directly associating sponsored merchandise marketed to youngsters with their comics, resulting in synergies with prominent brands like Rasna, Britannia, Parle, Maggi, etc. that every one but cemented their place because the dominant participant within the comics trade.

Their own ads echoed across mediums, from print to radio, the place the tagline “Chunnu Padhta Diamond Comics, Munnu Padhta Diamond Comics, Mazedar Hain Diamond Comics” virtually turned the company’s credo. With a give consideration to translation, they channelled the wide reach of their present pocketbook distribution networks to make these comics available at competitive charges on newsstands in far-flung transport stations and road bookstalls in city areas. This enabled the titles to be accessed by readers throughout an enormous spectrum of age, location, affluence, and ranges of literacy, thereby creating their media empire because it stands right now.

A transmedia empire

However, it’s insufficient to restrict Rai’s contributions to solely that of a writer. The assembly line-like manufacturing system that churned out tons of of these comics on schedule month after month have been very much centred around his (or, on occasion, a household member) determine as an editor. Though not often acknowledged, his hand in shaping and conceiving of conceits for sequence like Lambu Motu, Tauji, Dynamite, Shaka, and others have not even begun to be documented yet.

What we do know from existing histories is that akin to the much storied and maligned Marvel Bullpen, the editor typically produced plots for tales that had been then developed and illustrated collaboratively by writers, pencillers, and colourists. The dialogue was then translated into multiple languages by translators, enabling the nation-wide attraction of those comics.

Diamond Comics under Rai ran a whole line of comics collectively known as Pran’s Features, with the titular artist’s title prominently featured on every concern. But the credit score because of everybody else (like their American counterparts) largely fell by way of the cracks of their work-for-hire freelance contracts. The same system has sarcastically also led to an effacement of Rai’s own contributions to so many of these comics.

Chacha Chaudhury’s personal transition to full-fledged comic e-book is probably the most outstanding example of this. The change in format fundamentally modified the characters, creating the quirks we now know them for. Chacha’s aged, rural, Krishi Darshan-friendly outlook was replaced by a well-dressed, middle-class suburban Nehruvian while Sabu reworked into an alien superhuman from Jupiter.

While these may be read as mirroring the uneven urbanisation of the nation, what it created was the seeds of a transmedia empire. The comics and their recall worth have turn into fertile sources for adaptation into live-action and animated reveals. It has also turn into common apply for Bollywood to either market their movies or money in on their success through various tie-in or tailored comics.

Advertisement for the startup CRED, that includes Chacha Chaudhary.

Diamond Comics continues to be run as a family-owned business, now hedging its bets towards the longer term by investing in digitisation, the metaverse, and minting their own NFTs. Their success also impressed the rise of many of their competitors, together with Raj Comics and Manoj Comics. But the legacy of Gulshan Rai, who handed away in December 2022, could be higher sought elsewhere.

Earlier in the same 12 months, the cartoonist Sumit Kumar, one-time intern for Pran, appeared on the business reality present Shark Tank India asking for funding his comics and animation company, Bakarmax. While the Sharks have been entertained by his pitch and the probabilities his relatable, millennial content material introduced, all of them passed on investing, asking him to refocus on animation-related providers to boost income. Kumar was also asked to toil away till he hit upon Intellectual Property that would maintain him afloat in franchising deals for the rest of his life.

BharatPe founder Ashneer Grover painted an image of Kumar as somebody who laughs at his own comics between the sheets, of comics as a self-indulgent medium that was immediately liable for Bakarmax not having the type of following its animated projects demanded. Rai – who also shepherded the corporate by way of the notorious low-selling “Dark Ages” of Indian Comics from the 1990s to the 2007s – had remained far from enthusiastic until the top about the current wave of independent Anglophone graphic novels and anthologies from commerce publishers, saying that “[t]heir readership…is proscribed to 11–17 % of the market. If you step out of the metropolitan cities, no one even knows about them.”

Comics should have their attraction as a mass tradition in India in the vernacular languages and in translation lengthen beyond nostalgic memory into a braver new future. Gulshan Rai blazed a trail with Diamond Comics, proving this was potential. What a Bakarmax needs at present is similar factor that Pran needed within the 1970s, someone with the vision to spend money on the economies of scale that makes comics accessible for everybody again.

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