It is a truth universally acknowledged (by comic book aficionados, at least) that no conversation about Indian superheroes is complete without a mention of Parmanu. Clad in a yellow suit, the muscular man with super powers who put criminals behind bars by day and chased away monsters by night was one of Raj Comics’ most-loved creations.
Raj Comics, the brainchild of Rajkumar Gupta and his sons Manoj, Manish and Sanjay, featured several superheroes, including Super Commando Dhruv, Doga, Nagraj and Bhokal. But Parmanu, who, Sanjay tells ThePrint, he conceived of in the late 1980s, became a favourite with young science geeks between the ages of eight and 12.
What made Parmanu relatable was that he wasn’t born a superhero. Inspector Vinay, an officer in Delhi Police, spent his day doing his honest, respectable duty of catching criminals. At night, he transformed into superhero Parmanu, courtesy his special suit of course. The bright yellow outfit gave him a range of powers, including the power to shrink to atomic size (much like Marvel Comics’ Ant-Man), to teleport, to shoot rays at opponents and to fly.
“We wanted to develop a hero who had certain scientific powers for our own superhero universe in the world of Raj Comics,” recalls Sanjay Gupta.
“He was named Parmanu owing to his atomic powers [parmanu means atom]. But he wasn’t just a superhero, he also had the power of the law on his side since he was a policeman,” Gupta explains.
Origin story that made him relatable
It was also the fact that Parmanu knew sorrow, he understood grief. When Vinay was a teenager, he witnessed the cold-blooded murder of his classmate. That incident spurred him to find a higher purpose — namely, exposing criminals and securing justice for people.
That gripping, tragic origin story was meant to humanise Parmanu. “We wanted to highlight how a superhero felt. We tried to give it a personal touch,” Gupta explains.
And it was a ploy that worked. Abhinav Sharma, a business analyst and an avid reader of the comic as a child, reminisces to ThePrint, “Most of the superheroes in Raj Comics were action based. I felt like Super Commando Dhruv was commercial, Doga was too dark, but to me, Parmanu was like Batman, someone who had been wronged in the past and was avenging his friend’s murder.”
A summer vacation pal and an icebreaker
The adventures of Parmanu and his friends, including Pralayanka, Shipra, Sheena, Probot and Professor KK, were summertime staples for many. Sharma says, “I first started reading Parmanu in 1995. It was known for its action-based storyline, but it was a mixture of sci-fi and something that they picked up from Marvel or DC. But, of course we didn’t know about these at the time. During summer vacations, we used to keep stacking these comics. At one point, we had so many that we could revisit them each year,” he added.
Freelance writer and film critic Hemanth Kumar recalls when he first got drawn to these books, during his father’s posting in Agra. “At the time, we could rent these comic books for Re 1. This comic helped me build conversations in school. Since, everyone was reading it anyway, it became a thing to build friendships over.”
With the world producing volumes of new content and entertainment options on a daily basis and children’s interests being dominated by gadgets and video games, the rich legacy of these desi superheroes is in danger of being forgotten. Gupta says that some of these books are still sold, but the production remains low.
The growing market for Marvel and DC comics in India, and their blockbuster movies that have become an event in themselves, have made Parmanu a dusty memory. However, all hope isn’t lost yet. When asked about whether a film version of the yellow-suited atomic hero could be expected, Gupta laughs and says, “Why not? He deserves it!”
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