Introducing : Bahadur!
In 1964 Benett and Coleman launched Indrajal comics in India, which served as a bridge to Indian readers for getting to know Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby, Buz Sawyer and Garth. Originally published mostly in English the comics were later made available in Hindi and other prominent languages exponentially increasing the readership of Comics in our country and with each language creating a parallel mythos because most names were Indianised in translations. Phantom was called Vetaal, his horse was named Toofan and so forth. The change in names and language gave an Indian touch to the heroes but none of them were truly Indian.
In 1967 A different comic book line ‘Amar Chitr Katha’ sought to tackle lack of Indian heroes by publishing epic tales of Ramayan and Mahabharat, but even they did not have a regular series modern day comic book Hero which could be called truly Indian.
Cut to 1976, bang in the middle of the decade of social and political change and splitting the tumultuous Emergency period into two. Aabid Surti (the Bhishm Pitamah of Indian comics) is already a successful novelist, film-writer and cartoonist whose ‘Dabbu ji’ – a common man dealing with uncommon problems published in Dharm Yug was a huge success and favourite of the masses. An artist, a painter and a huge comic book fan, he got introduced to comic books at a very young age when as a kid he was gifted Mickey and Donald comics by WW2 soldiers who were passing through Bombay as a stopover. So when the need of the hour was to create a truly Indian superhero Aabid ji stepped in.
Enter – Bahadur.
India is a country in which the population like a slowly swirling tornado continuously moves from the villages to the major metros where the jobs are. A huge chunk of the population still lives in villages and small towns and in the 70s this proportion was even higher. The problem of lawlessness was abound and a major issue was dacoits. A reflection of this is also in the most popular hindi film of all time. And for the initial period Bahadur’s comics (set in a small town) were focussed on Dacoits.
In fact the genesis of Bahadur lies with dacoits. Bahadur is the son of Daku Bhairav Singh, and was born and brought up in the middle of Dacoits (thus perhaps serving as a spiritual precursor to Doga, whose origin is linked to Dacoits but whose comics never featured dacoits since they disappeared from the scene and out of fashion) and in the very first comic Bhairav Singh is killed by Inspector Vishal. Bahadur swears revenge but Inspector Vishal shows him the error of the ways of his father and his clan and instead asks him to contribute to society by battling this menace.
Bahadur turns over a new leaf and becomes a protector of his town Jaygarh, helping the Police thwart dacoit attacks, and often working on his own. He is an expert marksman (having literally been born in Guns) and is good at fist-to-fist combat as well. His appearance was based on a genric Hindi film hero of that time with long hair, a thin moustache and a lanky frame. While battling dacoits he tried often to help them rehabilitate, and found one of his allies Lakhan through this, Lakhan being a hardened dacoit who turns over to the other side.
He later sets up a Nagarik Suraksha Dal (Citizen Security Force) which consists of youth from the village and also has reformed dacoits who have served their sentences and can now help battle bandits. This is a parallel to Phantom’s reformed Pirates group, a paramilitary force consisting of pirates and their descendants.
Bahadur comics are also equally remembered for the female lead ‘Bela’ (in fact a revival website run by Aabid ji is called bahadurbela.com) who was vastly different from comic book heroines who served mostly as damsels in distress or as arm candy. Bela matched Bahadur kick for kick and was an expert in martial arts who often taught Bahadur a trick or too. This portrayal of a heroine was refreshing in a time when in most hindi films the role of the actress was to get kidnapped in the villain’s lair, tied to a pole with a ticking time bomb at their feet. Bela in this situation would have untied the ropes, kicked away the dynamite and karate-chopped the villain into submission.
In fact later as the comics evolved and Bahadur changed from a stationary hero to one who moved out of town for espionage missions, as the villains changed from bandits and thieves to foreign agents Bela would always accompany him and would think nothing of going ahead alone. Bahadur’s villains also included fake ghosts, witches and magicians and con-men and represented superstitions which needed to be fought against.
Bahadur was an anti-thesis of most popular superheroes of that time, he couldn’t do magic, nor did he travel across space or lived in a hill top mansion named after Kublai Khan’s house. He relied on his friends, his rifle and his fists to deliver justice and lived in a small and simple town solving relatively smaller crimes (at least in the earlier comics). And yet he resonated heavily with the public, perhaps because of the time of his birth (although his birth is also related to the zeitgeist of the mid seventies) when an oppressive government, poverty, corruption and basic problems meant hope was in short supply. And an Indian superhero not just lamenting and commenting but actively kicking ass brought happiness to a lot of people. In a way Bahadur was the comics’ Angry Young Man, and his career mirrored Amitabh Bachchan’s, and spanned from 1976 to 1990 when Bachchan’s star waned and Bennett Coleman in their infinite wisdom decided to shut down Indrajal comics, ending a chapter in the life of three generations.
While Bahadur is not an ongoing series like most of the other characters we have covered in our articles on Indian comics he survives because he is part of the collective consciousness of a generation which read and passed on Phantom, Mandrake, Asterix and Tintin to their children. And this connected memory field fortunately refuses to die down, at least not yet. It is difficult to get hold of a Bahadur comic except in rare book shops, however the kindle edition is readily available on Amazon, containing scanned images of Indrajal comics, and retaining the old advertisements of companies like Nutramul that were ubiquitous in Indrajal and had a charm of their own. The comics along with the revival website still give an easy access to a hero which unfortunately we lost due to a corporate decision.
And although we do not know what we can do to bring Bahadur back, we try, through this article and through our effort on Indian comics to keep the memory of Bahadur afresh and hopefully get a lot of youngsters to know about India’s first son-of-the-soil superhero.
DISCLAIMER: OPINIONS EXPRESSED BY MEN OF COMICS CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN. ALL THE IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF RESPECTIVE PUBLISHING HOUSE.
During the day Vaibhav Srivastav sells Time to a city that doesn’t have any. On full moon nights and mostly half past ten, he turns into a writer. He likes doubling his happiness and drowning his sorrows in a pond of comic books and novels. When neither writing or reading he dedicates his life to Fantastic Pop Cultural References and where to find them. He has recently inflicted his collection of short stories ‘Borrowed From Tomorrow’ upon an unsuspecting world.