Introducing : Chacha Chaudhary!
Continuing our series of attempts on introducing Indian comics to a new audience today we are tasked with bringing to you a character who needs literally no introduction – Chacha Chaudhary. And yet we will give it a shot, if for nothing else but to show you Chacha Chaudhary from our lens. In a previous article we have spoken about how Nagraj is synonymous with Indian comics, Chacha Chaudhary in fact IS Indian comics. While it would be easy to find people who know about the existence of Nagraj and have seen the comics at AH Wheeler stalls, it would be easier to find people who have read at least a few Chacha Chaudhary comics.
Chacha Chaudhary has been around since 1971 and first appeared in the comic-magazine Lotpot before branching off to his independent title published by Diamond Comics, he is one of the oldest comic book heroes both in terms of the number of years that he has been around and his actual age in comics. Created by Cartoonist Pran to be an everyman Superhero to deals with the problems that our nation faced by proxy. His genesis/name is reflective of our society. India is a country where we try to quickly develop a sense of familiarity, and shopkeepers, taximen, strangers, everyone is called Uncle. Chacha (Uncle) is thus not the name of our hero but a honorific ‘title’ given to him by those he helps because of his avuncular nature and because of the easy familiarity that comes with calling someone Chacha (somewhere linked to this is the fact that our first Prime Minister is still known fondly as Chacha Nehru).
Chacha Chaudhary is a diminutive man in terms of his size and shape, he isn’t muscled, has a small and slight stature, doesn’t wear a costume, is bald and relies mostly on his brain and his ‘Bhimseni Latth’ (which in later comics was changed to a curved walking stick). In fact Chacha Chaudhary is deemed to be the most intelligent man in the universe, and whenever he applies his brain to solve a crime a simple throw-away line at the bottom of the panel is used to explain how Chacha ji comes up with the solution so easily. This line must be the most pop-culturally significant in Indian comics – ‘Chacha Chaudhary Ka Dimaag Computer Se Bhi Tez Chalta Hai’ (Chacha Chaudhary’s brain works faster than a computer). Since the time of Chacha Chaudhary’s inception computers have become progressively faster, but I am quite sure that Chacha ji would still manage to trump them all. The second most pop-culturally significant line in Indian comics also belongs to Chacha Chaudhary comics, but we will come to that in just a little while.
Initially aided by his side-kick Master Tingu (Tingu is a colloquial word for a short guy) and his dog Rocket, Chacha ji started his crime fighting career by catching small time criminals who used to prey on gullible minds – confidence tricksters, conmen, fake magicians, card sharpers. The trope of the comics remained the same – a man would get duped by a gentleman falling in the above category, and he would come crying to Chacha ji about his loss, Chacha Chaudhary will gather Master Tingu and Rocket and his ‘Latth’ and take part in the same trick which robbed the victim, he would either beat the conmen at their trick or point out how they were cheating people, at this point either the conmen would run away, or try to attack Chacha ji who would beat them with his Latth until they paid the money back.
The tone of the comics and the style of the stories changed after the introduction of Sabu. He might be the first extra-terrestrial comic character in India. His name might be a reference to Indian actor Sabu Dastagir who worked in Hollywood in the 40s and 50s, and his appearance was that of a typical strongman with a well muscled body, a bald pate and Kundals in his ears. Sabu is a resident of the planet Jupiter and the story goes that he had come to Earth on a tour and ran into Chacha Chaudhary, he ate some of Chacha ji’s wife Bini’s cooking and decided that this earth was worth staying back at.
In the earlier comics Sabu was as tall as a ten storied building so that in many frames around normal humans you could only see his boot, and his palms could easily pick up many people in one go. Because of his size he had a rather unique way of travelling on airplanes – sitting astride on the roof of the plane. The introduction of Sabu also gave the required superpower element in the comics. In some ways Sabu was the Obelix to Chacha Chaudhary’s Asterix, but the similarity ends there. And after Sabu came in the picture the nature of Chacha ji’s villains changed, from normal crooks to terrorists, smugglers, dacoits (Gobar Singh – who was an obvious parody of Gabbar Singh, and Dhamaka Singh) dictators and other aliens. Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu would eventually best them in a battle of wits and strength. This brings us to the second most pop culturally significant line in Indian comics – Jab Sabu ko Gussa Aata Hai to Kahin Jwalamukhi Phat-ta hai (When Sabu gets angry, somewhere a volcano erupts). Sabu has an apparent immunity to bullets and fire, and his strength is immense.
In the nineties Sabu’s size was rationalized, and from being a King Kong level giant he became a ten feet man. His strength remained the same, but the reduction in his size made him more normal and his action scenes were now better shown in the comics. From travelling on the roof of the plane he shifts to travelling on the roof of Chacha Chaudhary’s sentient truck ‘Dag Dag’. Over the years Bini and Rocket remained as series regulars while Master Tingu disappeared (due to cultural appropriation perhaps).
Chacha Chaudhary’s comics combined humour and action and were consistent in their content which avoided vulgarity and gore, most of the times people didn’t die at the hands of the villains and even if they did it was off-screen. Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu always stepped in to save the day and ended the comics with a punch line and a laugh. This was true for all the comics except the ‘Raka’ series.
Raka was an aberration in the entire universe of Chacha Chaudhary. Apart from Gobar Singh and Dhamaka Singh he was the only recurring villain, but while the two inept dacoits were used mostly for comic relief Raka was a hardcore villain. A bank robber on the run, he hid at the house of a Vaidya who had found a potion of immortality. While the Vaidya had intended for the potion to be used for the good of mankind Raka drank it, became immortal and started to loot and murder with impunity. These were the few comics in which you could see actual murders. And Raka was dangerous and reckless with a complete disregard for human lives. The comics also spanned for more than the regular 6-7 page episodes that Chacha Chaudhary generally had. Raka turned into a much acclaimed and awaited series in Chacha Chaudhary’s canon. At the end of each comic Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu used to capture Raka and put him in a place from where he cannot escape (since he cannot be killed), these included putting him in the middle of a cyclone, tying him to a rock underwater, dropping him inside an active volcano and even sending him to outer-space. Raka always managed to escape and return in the next comics angrier and more blood thirsty.
The creator of Chacha Chaudhary, Shri Pran (known amongst comic book fans as ‘Cartoonist Pran’, the word Cartoonist had become a permanent prefix with his name) also created Billoo and Pinki who often had cameos in Chacha Chaudhary’s comics. He was also responsible for many other 3 panel strips in magazines (Channi Chachi), but Chacha Chaudhary would remain his (and Indian comics’) most famous character. With the advent of time the nature of crimes in the comics changed, Chacha Chaudhary battled internet fraud and digital impersonations. But the focus of the problems remained the Common Man. And Chacha Chaudhary remained/remains a champion of the Aam Aadmi. In fact Chacha Chaudhary remains the only comic book character to have a long running TV series inspired by the comic book, with Raghubir Yadav playing the eponymous character. The series was good and funny in parts and could have done better with a bigger budget.
Three years ago we lost Pran to cancer, it felt like a personal loss to millions across the country. While his studio continues to syndicate Chacha Chaudhary comics and come up with a few new ones from time to time, you know that you would not get the chance to see another battle between Raka and Sabu.
Chacha Chaudhary has survived and thrived in five decades and will continue to do so, remaining a reference point for many which captured the innocence of their childhood and long summers and train journeys. The good thing is that you can easily buy Chacha Chaudhary comics not just online but across AH Wheeler shops, and if you have somehow missed out on reading the adventures of Chacha ji and Sabu, now is as good as time as any to start.
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.