Meet Pran Kumar Sharma, the creator of neighbourhood detective Chacha Chaudhary

He is probably India's first comic hero. A tad unconventional — with his red turban, bristling white moustache and short stature — but that's exactly how cartoonist Pran Kumar Sharma wanted Chacha Chaudhary to look like. Says Pran: “Those days, Western superheroes such as Mandrake and Superman were famous, and I wanted to create a character different from them. They were tall with supernatural powers; my Chacha is small built, not really handsome and his weapon is his brain.”

Forty years down the line, this old man and his companion Sabu still manage to capture the attention of numerous readers traversing various age groups. But did you know that, for about five years, Chacha was on his own solving cases of pick-pocketing and robbery using only his grey cells?

Sabu steps in

It was only later that Pran felt the need to come up with a character such as Sabu. “With the passage of time, the situation in the country changed, and there were issues such as kidnapping, hijacking... I had to keep up with time; also, it would have been unnatural for Chacha to tackle such problems on his own. So I introduced Sabu, a huge man from Jupiter, to aid him,” adds the illustrator, who started his career in 1960.

Daabu and Professor Adhikari was my first work. It was a comic strip that appeared in a newspaper. Those days, there was no concept of syndication, and I had to approach different editors on my own,” he recalls.

In 1980, Diamond Comics suggested that he compile his work in to comics. And, that's how Chacha Chaudhary hit the stands. “I had published a title or two and they sold out in a fortnight. Now, there are more than 500 titles,” adds Pran, who still draws cartoons by hand.

Inspired by life

The cartoonist, who also has comics such as Shrimatiji, Pinki, Billoo, Raman and Channie Chachi to his credit, says that his characters and plots are inspired by real-life people and everyday incidents. “It could be anybody. Pinki is like any other five-year-old girl you would find, Shrimatiji is a middle-class house wife, Billu is a cricket fan…”

Ask him about the reading pattern of children these days, and he replies: “There was a lean period when television dominated, but the reading habit is picking up again. This is apparent from the numerous publishing houses coming up.” According to the veteran cartoonist, if television and comics work together, it could be beneficial for both.

Eight years ago, a television channel started airing the Chacha Chaudhury series, and that led to an increase in the readership of the book. Not just the small screen, the venerable Chacha is all set to hit the silver screen too. “We have signed an agreement for an animation and a feature film,” says Pran.

A successful career spanning two scores and still counting, does the storyteller have any regrets? Surprisingly, yes. “We have had stalwart cartoonists such as Kutty and Shankar, but nobody knows where their original works are. Some countries have museums displaying cartoons of artists, over the years. We don't have any such way of treasuring the works of our cartoonists.”

His other grouse is that, these days, there isn't enough space for cartoons in newspapers. “Our papers have turned glamourous with photographs of film stars. Where is the place for cartoons?”

But clearly, he hasn't let this affect him. At 72, Pran still continues to be prolific, all the while thinking of novel plots to entertain readers.

So, the next time Sabu and Chaudhary save the day and you read the line ‘Chacha Chaudury's brain woks faster than a computer', you know it really is dear old Pran's brain that's doing all the thinking.

Keywords: comic books