New Delhi: For those born in India before the advent of cable television or prior to economic liberalisation that made international cinema accessible and before the existence of the Internet, there was an iconic comic book series that filled the void — Chacha Chaudhary.
First issued in 1971 for Hindi magazine Lotpot, the comic book series was created and written by cartoonist Pran Kumar Sharma.
Pran, through the comics, narrated the story of Chacha Chaudhary, a wise-old man who always sported a red turban, whilst strutting along with a walking stick. Chacha in Hindi means father’s younger brother, but is also colloquially used to affectionately address an elderly uncle.
Chacha’s distinctiveness rested in his ability to solve problems, which was a measure of his sagacity — a gift of time and experience. The appearance of his character filled a huge vacuum in society in 1970s India — that of an Indian hero — whom impressionable adolescents could admire and look up to.
“While Chacha Chaudhary had a sharp brain and a problem-solving mind, he had no magical powers or skills. However, he had this distinct ability to get out of any fix,” Dev Kumar Singh, a businessman now based in California, tells ThePrint as he reminisces about the comic books being essential reading in his school days in 1980s India.
Though fictional, the comics are indicative of a larger Indian milieu that looks up to “older” community members as problem-solvers — those septuagenarians and octogenarians on whom society falls on in times of crisis.
Import of Pran’s Chacha Chaudhary for Indian storytelling
Born in undivided Punjab’s Kasur village near Lahore, Pran changed the landscape of India’s comic industry with Chacha Chaudhary.
Until Chacha Chaudhary, “most comic books in India were reproductions of foreign publications,” said Gulshan Rai, managing director of Diamond Publishers, who have been the sole publishers of the comics since 1978.
Many iconic Indian comic book series came up a little before or around the time of Chacha Chaudhary’s publication. Some of these were Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha and Champak, which together heralded a new era of Indian storytelling.
Then Pran’s Chacha Chaudhary became the harbinger for a whole new body of Indian writers and storytellers.
His comical, simple, and warm-hearted narrative of Chacha ensured that post-colonial Indian writers found space and agency in a medium that had till then been “reserved” for “western” voices.
Further, Chacha’s character was also Pran’s way of breaking the stereotype of masculine archetypical comic book heroes — like Batman, Superman, and Iron Man.
In essence, Pran created a hero, who could be old, seemingly an average bloke of society, yet special. A Chacha, in the truest sense, to who everyone could relate too.
Pran’s narrations of Chacha Chaudhary’s exploits revolve around him solving everyday problems, dealing with societal ills, and defeating enemies through practical, pacifying, and quick solutions.
Iconic supporting characters
In his conquests, Chacha was accompanied by some iconic supporting characters — like Sabu — the mercurial “extra-terrestrial” from Jupiter.
Sabu was a tall and heavily-built individual with a bald head and a small ponytail at the back. In the comics, when Sabu would lose his cool, a volcano would erupt somewhere in the world.
Another character of significance was Chacha’s loyal dog, Rocket. Akin to the relationship between dogs and humans, Rocket gave Chacha unconditional love. Rocket helped Chacha solve many problems through his deft observations. Intriguingly, Pran depicted him as a vegetarian dog.
There was also Bini Chachi, Chacha Chaudhary’s wife with her bailan (kneading pin) in the comics, who helped take down many robbers.
Continuing legacy & relevance
In October 2021, the Union government’s ‘Namami Gange’ initiative declared Chacha Chaudhary as their mascot.
Chacha Chaudhary declared the mascot for Namami Gange Programme!@cleanganganmcg has tied-up with Diamond Toons to develop & distribute comics & animated videos for bringing behavioural change amongst children towards Ganga & other rivers
(Representative Image) pic.twitter.com/fCXXTbRi0X
— Prasar Bharati News Services पी.बी.एन.एस. (@PBNS_India) October 1, 2021
Reflecting the contemporary relevance and popularity of the iconic comic book series, Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General of the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), declared that using Chacha’s character was a means to reach the children and the youth of India and inform them about the significance of the rejuvenation of Ganga and other rivers.
Mishra stated, “NMCG has always been into community engagement with special focus on youth and children. This association will be one more step towards it.”
Tapping into Chacha Chaudhary’s everlasting popularity, even financial services firm Cred used the red-turbaned character to promote investments through their app via an ad film in November 2021.
In 2002, the comic was adapted into a TV series with Raghuveer Yadav playing the role of Chacha Choudhary. The series comprised 415 episodes.
More recently, a cartoon series was also made from the comics in 2019. The comics have also been translated into over ten Indian languages and sold millions of copies.
While Pran passed away in 2014, the legacy of his beloved Chacha lives on through government tie-ups, ad films, tv serials, and people’s memories.