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Updated: July 6, 2013 16:41 IST

Going ape, graphically

Anand Venkateswaran
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Sudershan Chimpanzee; Rajesh Devraj and Meren Imchen, Hachette, Rs.550.
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Sudershan Chimpanzee; Rajesh Devraj and Meren Imchen, Hachette, Rs.550.

A Bollywood story where sketches jostle for attention with words.

Clichés. They’re like a shower of marigold in Rajesh Devraj’s panels; slightly wilted under Bollywood’s arc lights, the ‘Maya Nagari’ where our protagonist Sudershan Chimpanzee lived, loved, rose and fell meteorically. 

As with every star vehicle, the protagonist enters the scene quite early. Sudershan is seen hollering for chai in a grimy eatery. He is a regular there, has been for a while now. He begins talking of changing times; sets the mood. And then begins to tell you his story himself.

Devraj spares no cinematic tool. He uses a narrative that flits between first, second and third person, he pulls in back-story. Award-winning illustrator Meren Imchen gives you close-ups, wide shots, rapid frames, vivid expression. Devraj nails every one of the one-liners on the head. For instance, when Sudershan comes into his own, his mentor Najubhai embraces him and says, “Today, child has become father of man.”

The author takes some inspired licenses with Sudershan’s identity. This isn’t a story about a chimpanzee meant to be a caricature of a human being. This is the story about a chimpanzee who has been accepted in man’s world; who can walk their walk, talk their talk, but who will always remain an ape. He plays a chimpanzee in the movies. For instance, when he talks about animals in film, Sudershan is an ape. When he needs to illustrate the travails of a struggling actor, he is more than an animal.

The duo brings Bollywood alive, the sketches often jostling for attention with the words. The mildly racial view of south Indian, quite intentional, works wonderfully well in the narrative, as do sexual references and in-house myths. Case in point the poison women — fed a steady diet of venom, raised as fatal honey traps for the villain’s enemies. 

Imchen’s images are suffused with skritchy lines that help enhance the poignancy in many a frame. From the surrounding chaos of black and grey, he manages to put his character’s core under the spotlight and sometimes even emboss physical attributes. 

Devraj’s humorous cynicism was refreshing and incredibly funny. The situations he threw the ape into were hilarious as they were typical. However, he fell into his own plot and seemed compelled to tell the whole story to its bittersweet end. The point where Sudershan Chimpanzee ceased to be a satire and took on the pretence of trying to tell you a serious story was disillusioning. But the first half was toh mast…

The last few acts were a hodgepodge of everything that ever happened to every star in Bollywood — failed love, a fake swami, life in squalor, dysfunctional marriage and whatnot.

Would it have been so bad if Sudershan had been made not as a saga, but as ‘an out-and-out entertainer’ with a simpler storyline? Wouldn’t there have been time for prequels and sequels later on? 

After all, ‘Ape Bomb’, Sudershan’s first mega-hit, spawned no less than 11 titles.

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Anand VenkateswaranJune 19, 2012

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