Introducing: Bhokal: Mahabali before Bahubali
Raj Comics made a big splash in mid-80s with Nagraj entering the scene with a bang and then Dhruv becoming the eye candy of the masses. There was already the element of mythology with the ongoing comical Bankelal series while pure sage-mythology with Tilismdev. However something was missing. There was no ‘big shot’ in the genre. There was almost a void with Amar Chitra Katha taking a slight back seat in the decade and again Sanjay Gupta’s ‘smart as a whip’ mind had something to offer. Enter Bhokal and 1986 again began a monumental year in Indian comic
For the academically oriented, Bhokal is loosely based on He-Man – well besides the similar back story, similarities in power and arcs – look at their appearances and you get your clue
Both belong to their respective fantasy planets. Both use their magical swords to a large extent against their enemies (not to mention the recital of the magic words to summon their powers) and both are princes. However in terms of power and abilities, Bhokal has a lot of additions over He-Man, most notably he can fly using his shield.
Bhokal, whose real name was Prince Alop, descended to Earth on a mission from his fairyland kingdom after his parents were murdered by the conspirator Fuchang. He takes part in a ‘Khaufnak Khel’ or ‘the dreadful games’ organized by Fuchang on Earth in the kingdom of Vikasnagar. The first introductory arc consisted of seven books starting from ‘Khaufnak Khel’ and ending on ‘Bhokal aur Fuchang’ and during this storyline, he met his three closest friends and future allies who all stay back at Earth and protect Vikasnagar. Alongwith Shootan – the master illusionist and sorcerer, Atikrur – The strongest there is and Tureen – the warrior princess with super powers and an extraordinary cat Kapala and Prahara the destroyer, Bhokal vowed to help Earth against all enemies
Now the stage was set and Bhokal had entered the mainstream comic universe in India, swinging sword and oozing justice, however mythology was a genre that was slowly dying. The biggest example being Tilismdev finally shutting shop and others like Ashwaraj, Gojo and Yoddha going into oblivion. But what made Bhokal arcs immensely popular and relevant was the emotional elements attached to the characters, the depth of the protagonists and antagonists as well as some legendary arcs which culminated in changing the canon forever.
There were personal aspects of the characters which were put into perspective much before it was done for Dhruv or Nagraj. Bhokal married thrice. Initially to his first love Tureen and then after her death to Rupsi(who could communicate with animals) and Saloni(a skilled archer). Although he never loved the other two as much as he loved Tureen. He married both of them due to the pledge that he had taken to protect them. There was almost a whole year when the Bhokal storylines revolved around his personal crisis and events that changed the person he was forever. Then there was a long arc which feature death of Tureen at the hands of Himraj, demise of Shootan in Cheetaghati and Atikrur who went back to his planet after realizing he had to save his home first. The death of Tureen was particularly an earth shaking event in the canon
However the best of Bhokal was yet to come. The series kept moving forwards and each storyline was linked to previous one, a feat very rarely seen in Raj Comics. Eventually Bhokal loses his ability to use his powers, else he would become ‘Ret ka Bhokal’ or ‘Sandman’. Then Bhokal continues his disillusioned journey away from Vikasnagar and what ensues is arguably one of the best arcs in RCU – Maharavan arc. What starts as a basic story of Bhokal being bewitched by an old lady, who turns out to be his well-wisher and someone who was trying to heal Bhokal for an uphill battle that was awaiting him.
Add to this a small matter of ‘Lord Hanuman’ helping him as his advisor. Bhokal becomes Ram and in an unprecedented arc, battles through multiple super villains and in the end Maharavan. The arc was in huge demands during the early 2000s and was a sold out one, a rarity for Bhokal. That series also saw Bhokal getting his powers back, getting aided by Lord Shiva, Narad, Indra and what not! The arc also saw Atikrur returning back, Bhokal killing Himraj and hence avenging Tureen and Hanuman threatning Surya to save Bhokal. It was a joy ride – the period of 8-9 months when the arc ran was a true golden period for comic lovers
Maharavan arc apparently remained the highest peak as far as Bhokal comics are concerned. He never touched the same level of popularity ever again. There were some really good arcs that followed, but none could regenerate the same interest in readers. RCU also came up with the variant for kids called Pari Rakshak Bhokal. This Bhokal is entirely different from the original one but has the same powers. And story also takes place in the present RC universe.
Lately Yugandhar series was praised universally by the fans while a whole new arc called – Dhikkar is delving into the real past of Bhokal and his origins in Parilok. This might put more light on a somehow mysterious origin of Rajkumar Alop and how he became Bhokal and also remove some clouds around his parents
You can buy all Bhokal comics at the Raj Comics website here: http://www.rajcomics.com/index.php/component/content/article?id=2659:list-of-all-published-comics-of-bhokal
Pushpendra has a keen inclination towards cinema, comic books and pop culture. Besides his day job of advising people, he keeps himself engaged with writing, travelling, sports and cooking fiction [sic]. Particularly partial to Indian pop culture, he likes to discuss Hindi comic books, old Bollywood cinema and music.