Introducing : Hawaldar Bahadur! Or The Theater of Absurd
We have previously spoken about Ram Rahim, two stalwart characters of Manoj Comics who dealt with the ordinary and the supernatural in their quest for justice, when it came to popularity Manoj Comics came just after Raj Comics, and within Manoj Comics if they had a flagship character after Ram-Rahim, it was the irreverent member of the Constabulary – Hawaldar Bahadur.
Hawaldar Bahadur, who starred in his eponymous series, was a Constable in the Police Force of the fictitious (but very closely resembling our own country) Roopnagar. And this Police Force could give the Keystone cops a run for their money, being inept, cowardly, and (at a few times) corrupt. Despite their inefficiencies there was one thing that they did not lack in – the pride of being Police Officers and the perks that they got with it. Although when actual trouble came they passed on the buck, and Hawaldar Bahadur being at the lowest rung always got handed out the tough jobs.
Although make no mistake, Hawaldar Bahadur despite being the hero of the series was up there with the worst of them, almost as cowardly as his juniors he reluctantly saw himself pushed into missions that would involve certain death. And despite having nothing more than a sense of self-preservation and presence of mind, coupled with no superpowers he ended up battling and winning in fights with mad scientists, dictators of Banana Republics, Thieves, and Robbers, and at times Supernatural beings and aliens.
But Hawaldar Bahadur was not your regular Hero-Villain comic. There was no straight-faced story about a set villain the beginning who is defeated by the time the third act comes, in fact, it is very had to keep a straight face while reading a Hawaldar Bahadur story. Because if you have been reading the panels posted above you would notice a particular turn of the phrase used by the characters which are downright hilarious. Most dialogues are gibberish, humour but it’s Marx Brothers’ level gibberish, and the story lines of Hawaldar Bahadur find in tonality the most closeness to the humor of Marx Brothers.
It was easy to see that the writer of Hawaldar Bahadur (Ansar Akhtar) and the artist (Bedi ji – who was also the artist for Bankelal, before his untimely death a few years ago) were having fun when they were writing the comics. The panels are perfectly cartoonish, a character who is kicked on his backside behaves exactly like a football, the fight scenes are comical, and the dialogue borders on double entendre.
The nonsense starts with the names, Hawaldar Bahadur’s nephew is called ‘Tund’, one of his seniors is an Inspector called ‘Dharti Pakad’, the villain’s names vary from Potiya Pang, Po Po Patil, Tunda Tu, Chin Chin Potli, Uut Utiya, TunTun Tamplu. It’s hard to take a villain seriously when he is called Tunda Tu, and the comic expects you to do exactly that. Most of the main characters (include Hawaldar Bahadur) have a catchphrase who keep on repeating it even in the most difficult situations, Hawaldar Bahadur has the propensity to say ‘Hawalat mein Sadaa Dunga’ (I will make you rot in a jail cell) not taking into account where he is or who he is speaking to, Dharti Pakad appends ‘Hila Kar Rakh Dunga’ (I will shake things up) at the most inopportune moments, the villains too have catch phrases, which lend entirely different meanings to their dialogues (‘Khada Kar Ke’).
When cases were just about to get closed the Police Force embarked on a game of one-upmanship to take credit, with the Commissioner often leading from the front. This also often involved getting in each other’s way and stopping progress in investigations. The villains too used to be completely non-serious, despite the kinds of threat that they used to throw, they were often insulted or abused by their own henchmen, or their modus operandi was laugh worthy.
In his adventures, Hawaldar Bahadur’s allies were the aforementioned Tund, who was also a constable like him and had considerable physical strength, his wife Champakali who could throw a mean ‘Belan’ at villains, and Professor PP, who was a stereotypical mad scientist who kept on making rather useless inventions, some of which helped Hawaldar Bahadur. He would also often send Hawaldar Bahadur on quests or lead him in wild goose chases if he got kidnapped by ‘Videshi Takat’ (Foreign Powers) for his talents.
The success of Hawaldar Bahadur lay in the delicious garbage spread across the pages, there was no page which wasn’t replete with punchlines, implied humor and comic violence. Like all comics, these two would be aimed at kids but the artists made sure that they were never outright vulgar in their dialogues, and kids wouldn’t have understood most of the lines unless they re-read the comics as adults. This is something Marvel does frequently in their films (hiding adult humor in plain sight – like the ‘hide the zucchini’ joke from Age of Ultron).
Till the time Manoj Comics flourished, Hawaldar Bahadur flourished, at times offering topical commentary on politics and terrorism. Unfortunately, in the mid-2000s Manoj comics floundered with their major characters out of favor from the public mind. Fan websites, collectors, and scan-uploaders keep Hawaldar Bahadur alive. It would really help the cause of comics (and maybe help revive Manoj Comics) even though Bedi ji’s left for his heavenly abode, to see a live action movie encapsulating the madcap comedy of Hawaldar Bahadur (preferably with Irrfan Khan in the title role).
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