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Exclusive: Candid conversation with Aabid Surti

30 Dec

Aabid Surti talks to us in this expansive interview. Hold your seat belts folks!
 – By Manks

Aabid Surti Sir
Sir,  first of all thanks for agreeing to this interview.
As an author your output has been prolific spanning more than 80 books which includes 7 plays. You are as famous a painter as an author. It is rare that we see such a talent as yours enter into comic world. But the fact is, you are the creator of one of the first Indian Heroes. Bahadur!!

Mickey Mouse – Walt Disney


1. So let me start by asking, what inspired you to create comics?
What inspired me to create comics? Walt Disney! When I was a kid, around 8 years old (1943) when the Second World War was heading towards its climax, a mini train used to start from the docs of  Mumbai to transport white soldiers who had arrived by ship. These soldiers used to throw chocolates, magazines and other things out of the window. We – a group of underprivileged kids, used to run beside that train to pick up those discarded items. Once they threw a comic and all of us thronged towards it like a pack of wolves. I could however only manage to get one page of the comic book which featured Mickey Mouse. I fell in love with that one page and started practicing drawing. Soon enough I figured out the mathematics of the art such as proportions etc, and here I am today!

2. What was your first gig as a comic writer?

My first job as a comic writer was with a Guajarati (an Indian language spoken in the state of Gujarat) children’s magazine titled Ramakadu (toy) in 1952/53. It consisted of a comic feature of 4 pages in color with three prominent characters – a boy, a girl and a monkey, titled “Rang Lakhudi”.

Phantom – Indrajaal comics

3. How did the stint with Indrajaal happen? 


The stint with Indrajaal happened in a round about way. At that time, the nation had just got independent and people still retained a sense of Patriotism. For a long time in India the only comics that were available were those that featured foreign characters – Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon etc.

One of the Times group editors Mr Dharmvir Bharati was looking for a Indian comic strip for his weekly “Dharmyug”. Quite a few cartoonist were tried but nothing worked. Now interestingly at that time I was doing two page comic Dr. Chinchu ke Chamatkar for Parag- a children magazine, featuring a fat scientist and two kids, a girl and a girl.. Dr. Bharati (Times Group) saw that and gave me a call, asking for some indigenous content.

Now, I was doing a weekly comic script in Guajarati called “Batuk Bhai” for Chetmachander, a periodical. The response to that strip was however lukewarm, in fact a lot of mails came asking for it to be stopped. I said to myself, lets try this somewhere else; I re-titled “Batuk Bhai” to “Dhabbuji” and translated those ideas in Hindi. It became an instant hit in that language. Now why it flopped in Guajarati, but was a phenomenal success in Hindi, I can never figure out till date.

Buoyed by its success, Indrajaal Comics, which was also run by Times group approached me to create an indigenous character for comics, and the rest is history.

4. History indeed. You went on to create the highly popular “Bahadur” who is arguably the first Indian Super Hero. What was the inspiration behind that creation?

Bahadur Comics by Indrajaal

Well as I said, we wanted something indigenous that resonated with the masses. I looked around and realized that the biggest problem at the time was – Bandits. Chambal (an area in North India) was especially notorious for its Bandits. I thought a character based on such a place can work. I then researched on the Bandit phenomenon by reading articles, newspaper reports and books.


Their modus operandi was unbelievable. They used to come to villages as if they were going to a day’s picnic, make their demands and if the demands were not met committed heinous acts of pillaging, murder and rape.

I figured the chief reason for that was lack of communication. Every 100 or so villages would have one police station catering to them at that time, and by the time someone from the village reached the police station informing them about the bandits, bandits would have had already gone! What could the police also do in such a situation?

Then I thought, the only way out was not to solely rely on the government to protect you. I then envisioned a character who would inspire the village folks to assemble a local force from within the village to have a proper defence in case of bandit attacks. That Character was Bahadur (The Brave One).
Bahadur

My character Bahadur was the son of a liquidated bandit, whose mother had brainwashed him into believing that his father was a noble soul who had helped poor girls to marry, gave money in thousands to charity, supported homeless and destitute, built so many temples etc.. Bahadur was brought up for the sole purpose of taking revenge on the police officer Vishal who had killed his father. It so happened, that when they eventually met, the police officer was successful in opening Bahadur’s eyes to the reality of his parentage. The officer then offered him a chance to redeem himself and his parents by helping create local force to defend his village.


4. As per you What was the secret of the massive success of Bahadur?

 I think it was simply because people were hungry for native content. The issue we tackled was topical and resonated with the masses. Soon enough, Bahadur was overselling comics like Phantom and Mandrake.


5. While reading Bahadur, I am surprised to find it very progressive. I understand Bela  and Bahadur were depicted to be in a live in relationship, which is still a taboo in India. Kudos for that. Were you not afraid people would object to such a portrayal?

Believe it or not, not a single person objected on that issue. Sometimes I feel we were more progressive in those days than now.

6. I understand you are working on reviving Bahadur again! And that a movie is also planned? That’s great news. Care to share some details on what’s latest with Bahadur?

 To be honest ShahRukh Khan and Ashutosh Gawarikar are interested in making a movie on Bahadur.Unfortunately there is no legal agreement between Times group and me.When I was with Indrajaal I worked as a contributor from outside and never as a staff member. I had given them rights to print once. Similarly in case of Dhabbuji, when they reprinted some of the strips in their Silver Jubilee issu, they had to pay me again for the same comic strips. Thus the copyrights of the Character Bahadur that i created, are naturally with me, however these fllm companies, they need NOC from Times and the Times flately refuses. On 10th Dec. 2010, i’ve  launched a website http://www.bahadur.in for reintroducing Bahadur’s comics. We are first going to upload a few initial issues of Bahadur to make people aware of his backdrop. We would be getting new readers and we want them to be aware of Bahadur’s origin. However once that is done, we are planning to create new content where Bahadur will face today’s issues like Terrorism and would be working with new gadgets.


8. Just wanted to now shift to Indrajaal comics? What happened with them? why did they shut down. They were doing a tremendous job in bringing comics to india?

I feel this was due to the new generation of management that took over the Times Group. They felt that there was more hassle in producing comics for little reward. To them the economics of comic publishing didn’t work out and since they weren’t coming from nationalist background, the feeling of doing something indigenous wasn’t that prominent. Not only comics, in those times there was only one evening paper in Mumbai, Evening News which was also close down with the best literary Hindi magazine Saarika and children’s magazine Parag.

Dabbuji by Aabid Surti

 

9. Talking about your other famous series Dhabbuji, what was the inspiration behind his creation?

R.K.Lakshman’s – The common man

In India Lakshaman’s “The common man” is very famous. His common man is just an observer and never interferes with the state of affairs. In some sense it is the true representation of a common helpless man. I thought, why not create an “Uncommon” man. My uncommon man would not be content to observe , but would interfere with everything for better or worse, giving rise to hilarious situations. Thus Dhabbuji was born.

Dhabbuji also works on two levels, the first one is on superficial level which most people identify with and laugh on. Then there is another sub-level where each Dhabbuji’s idea is pregnant with a message. Only discerning readers can understand both of these levels.
Osho is known to have used my Dhabbuji ideas to explain the under currents and world affairs. Whenever he realized that his lecture was getting dull he used to say “ Let’s see what Dhabbuji says this week” , which was followed by that week’s idea .
Former Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and famous singers like Asha Bhosle have publically admitted to be ardent fans of the series.

10. Your characters, Dhabbuji and Bahadur are very different from each other. There was a time when u were writing them simultaneously. Was there any specific mind-frame u needed to be in when writing such poles apart series? Just want to give readers a glimpse of creative process while you write..

See Dhabbuji was a weekly feature. I used to do six month’s quota at one go, making sure I am giving special ideas for whatever festivals fell into those six months such as Holi, Diwali etc. They would then be published weekly and would stay current since we would acknowledge all the festivals.
Bahadur was another affair. A Little known fact is that I started my career in Hindi film industry. When I was in 10th class. My father HAD expired and I didn’t have any money to continue my studies so I had to look for a job. A friend helped me get a job as a “Spot Boy” in Shakti Films. In my free time I was often found reading hefty volumes of poetry and Indian literature of the time. People used to be surprised to see a lowly spot boy reading such classics.. Soon I was offered a job in the writing department. My first film was Singapore, the last one was Ek Phool Do Maali as an assistant writer.
Working in films honed my comic writing skills as I was essentially doing things such as story board, understanding camera shots like “close up”, “long shots” etc which is essentially what comic making is all about.
By the time I was asked to create Bahadur, comic making had become a second nature.


11. I understand you have authored several children books as well. Are you planning any Graphic Novel length work for children? Do you think children would be interested in such a work?
As of now I am not sure how much demand is there for such a work. I published a work with NBT called “Buddh kyun muskuraye 2500 saal baad” ( Why did the Buddha smile after 2500 years). It is an excellent children’s story and I wanted to do it as a graphic novel, but the publisher wouldn’t accept it. The story is about a child who after watching discovery channel is inspired to go around the nation. However his body parts refuse. Only his left eye says yes and goes on the trek alone. Along the way she meets various other body parts of people from various religions and they combine to form a  new human who is a true Indian. Now Children Film Society is planning to make a film on that.

I have tied up with NBT (National Book Trust) and if they require it then I would consider it. Otherwise if some publisher comes and can offer me my fees   

12. With Bollywood’s recent inclination towards comedy genre in the last few years and the growing popularity of stand-up comedy, do you feel there’s good chance for more original strips to spawn?
 
Even today I feel, the economy isn’t working out for most publishers. Virgin group started out with some good concepts, but they failed. So I guess something must be wrong somewhere.


13. I understand you are in legal battle with producers of “Atithi tum kab jaoge” ? How did that come about? Can you share what is the current with that dispute?

Atithi tum kab jaoge

The writer-director of Atithi has completely lifted my novel! This is also the view of my 17 readers from differant parts of India who informed me on phone. I have therefore claimed 1.Crore + as compensation in the writers association. The judgement is expected soon.

I am certain it would be in my favour. If the Producers don’t agree post this, I can always go to court with this judgement.

14. The comic industry has again started spreading its wings in India. are you thinking of getting involved, via any of your previous creations or maybe creating a new one for the new generation!?

Nowadays I prefer to work at leisure for myself. My lifelong passion is painting. Writing comics is something I did to help me earn my livelihood. My painting exhibition is almost ready , plus I am focusing on children’s books these days. So I have a lot on my plate.
But never say never I say!

15. What are your future planned releases?
I m planning to make a feature film based on my novel Kaale Gulab and hope to launch it in 2011.

Thanks a tonne for giving us your time sir. We wish you all the best and hope to see many graphic novels and comics from you in the future.



 



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Indian Comics: Exploring the Past

24 Nov
-By Manks
India is a country of diversity. Consider this: India is the seventh largest country by geographical area and second largest by population (approx 1.1 billion people). It is the world’s largest democracy. It is a country where language (22 National Languages and 843 regional dialects) and culture changes drastically every few hundred kilometers so much so that it becomes unrecognizable even to those of us living here.
Talking about “Indian comics” in such a dynamic environment is no mean feat. This article attempts to look at the advent of comic culture in India and how it is faring currently. Along the way we would be pointing out some notable periodicals that made a difference to this growing subculture

The Advent of Modern Comics

Tintin

 As with most of the things, Modern comic arrived in India later than the west. Around four decades ago, there wasn’t much choice for the comic enthusiast. The only comics available were imported titles like Tintin, Asterix the Gaul, Archie and War Commando. Being imported, they were quite expensive and hence available only to children of wealthy. The notion that comics are for kids was prevalent here as well.

Indrajaal Comics: Bahadur
The true change came in mid 60’s when a national newspaper publication house – The Times of India – launched Indrajal Comics. This was the first serious effort to develop comic culture as these were well within the reach of masses and available at newsstands everywhere. Indrajal comics contained stories of King Features characters and were successful in making Phantom (the ghost who walks), Mandrake the Magician and Flash Gordon household names. It also went on to Publish “Bahadur” an Indian comic hero created by indigenous creators. Indrajal comics went regional soon thereafter starting with Bengali translations and by 1980 they were publishing comics in over a dozen Indian dialects.
The Glory days
Amar Chitra Katha
The success of Indrajal comics gave rise to another publication “Amar Chitra Katha” by Anant Pie. These comics focused on tales of historical figures and heroes in religious texts of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikkhism ,Jainism and Christianity. These comics still continue and have proved so popular that it still influences Indian comic thinking till date.
Like Anant Pai, Cartoonist Pran created the next evolution when he went beyond historical and mythological tales. He created regular everyman characters that people could relate to and narrated their tales under the banner of Diamond comics. They were humorous strips and quickly caught people’s fancy. Some of his popular characters are Billo, Pinki , Raman , Channi Chachi , Srimatiji. Most famous amongst them however is undoubtedly the duo Chacha Chaudhary and Saboo known India wide. I can safely compare Pran to Will Eisner in terms of reverence and Walt Disney in terms of creative output.
Pran’s Chacha Chaudhary

After this a few other regional comic magazine started up like the ones by Jaico Publishing house, Chikara collections etc but none as noteworthy as the ones mentioned.

In the beginning of 80’s Amar chitra Katha launched a children Magazine “Tinkle” which focused on contemporary culture , folk tales and science. The magazine introduced numerous recurring heroes like amusing Suppandi, Mooshik the adorable mouse, Kalia the crow and the malicious minister Tantri.
Indian comic culture had truly begun by now. Almost all of these publications went into regional languages and established themselves amongst the masses.

The emergence of the SuperHero

Till about 1980’s comics were either imported, publishing foreign characters, tales of historical and mythical heroes or regular everyday-man strips. Nowhere was the eponymous SuperHero to be found, until the advent of “Raj comics” in the mid 80’s.


Raj Comics Superheroes



Arguably Raj comics introduced the colorful world of superheroes that we all love to India with unique Indigenous SuperHeroes. (One character that comes to mind which preceeded Raj Comics was “Fauladi Singh” by Diamond Comics). The most famous amongst them are Nagraj ( a snakeman) and Super Commando Dhruv (a highly trained circus acrobat with no superpowers – Reminds me of Nightwing!).

Bouyed by their success, many other publications came out with their versions of Superheros, most notable among them were Tulsi comics , Manoj comics , King comics, and Fort Comics. Even Diomond comics ventured deeper into Superhero Territory soon thereafter.

This was the hey dey of Indian comics. There were choices a plenty from companies to genre. They were ubiquitous and present at almost every newsstand. Comics reached millions and millions during this time. Many people I know have grown up with a healthy dose of these comics. If you were a kid in India and you knew how to read, you were reading comics.

There were some truly interesting characters created during this period and definitely deserves an examination seperately

At death’s door

But in 90’s things began to go bust. With emergence of cable television and animations, comics soon started to lose ground against them. It did not help that many started considering comics as “Low Brow”. In metropolitans came the Home Computer and the cultural shift towards a preference for English. This sounded the death knell of many a publications.
The first one to go was Indrajal comics on 16th April 1990 after nearly 27 years of publication. By the beginning of the new century many comics had either reduced their output or had gone out of business.

Resurgance

Despite the bleak scenario some comics did flourish in this decade by adapting themselves.
Amar Chitra Katha survived by offering a unique product. Tales of history and religious mythology in English (other regional languages as well). So they entrenched themselves as the elite and educational amongst comics. Tinkle evolved its format, similar to Japanese tankobans but in color.

Raj comics survived due to its deep penetration (and lone superhero company left standing) while Diamond due to cherished characters. Both have started to grow again.


Offerings by Virgin Comics


In 2006 Virgin comics took India to a global stage. They took a leaf out of Amar Chitra Katha’s book and started publishing Indian Mythological rooted comics but for a foreign crowd.

Gotham comics of Bangalore started publishing adventures of Dc/Marvel Characters in India, bringing the cost down. They however have gone MIA lately, making me wonder what happened to them? Does anyone know?
This completes a retro-look into Indian comics. In the next article we would try and look at what the future of comics entail for India?  Who are the players competing for Indian comic space now? How are people reacting to them and many other things!
See you all then.
– Disclaimer: This is a reproduction of the article published at Bleedingcool.com by me. All attempts were made to be faithful to timelines and publishers. I also realise that I might have missed out on some publications from South India. However If there is some inconsistancy or some periodical that you think should be mentioned, let me know and I would sort it out.