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Documentary homage to comics Gods
SHWETA SHARMA  13th Nov 2011

Vishvamitra, one of late Ram Waeerkar’s last works

ost of us have grown up reading comic books, and Alok Sharma is no different. This self-confessed comic book fan took his interest a step further by quitting a well-paying job to make a documentary about the art form. The documentary, Chitrakatha: Indian comics beyond balloons and panels, explores how Indian comics have developed over the years, and attempts to record the history and evolution of sequential art in India.

"I entered the world of professional comic books art as an illustrator with Gotham Comics, Bangalore, in 2004. The studio's library had a comprehensive collection of comics. Although many of the creators of these comic books enjoyed a cult celebrity status in their own countries, I realised that the creators of Indian comics were unknown, except for a few like Aabid Surti, Uncle Pai and the cartoonist Pran. Besides, there was no authoritative record of Indian comic book art. I wanted to meet my childhood heroes, the creators of my favourite characters, and learn the true story of Indian comics from the proverbial horse's mouth. That's how Chitrakatha begun," says Sharma.

Chitrakatha was the most apt description for comics in India; the word was simple and conveyed the idea behind this documentary.

Battling uncertainty when the recession hit India in 2008, he resigned and travelled across the country with his team to meet the people behind popular characters like Chacha Chaudhary, Nagraj, Doga, Suppandi and Shikari Shambhu. Sharma says, "We wanted to make an authentic yet fun-filled documentary with stories about our beloved imaginary childhood friends. Chitrakatha (where chitra means images and katha means stories) was the most apt description for comics in India; the word was simple and conveyed the idea behind this documentary."

The project is an ode to the unsung heroes of Indian comic books — the creators. It was Sharma's quest to reveal the stories and struggles behind the creation of the colourful comic characters we all grew up with; his gift to the coming generation. "The evolution of Indian comics can be broadly divided into four phases. The early years saw syndicated strips like The Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby being translated and made into comic books. The success of such comic books was followed by a swarm of publishers trying to emulate these titles. The second phase came in the form of Amar Chitra Katha, comics with 100% Indian content. The advent of superhero comics in the early '80s marked the third wave, with creators and publishers hoping to benefit from the success of the superhero genre in the West. Dozens of publishers churned out hundreds of such comic books every month, but this trend nosedived in the late '90s with the advent of cable, Internet and other modes of entertainment. However, publishers like Raj Comics and Diamond Comics along with comics like Amar Chitra Katha have been able to sustain their readership," he explains.

"The last decade has seen a rise in the Indian comic book industry, especially after the Virgin Comics' launch. We've seen some publishers launching comic book titles, now fondly called graphic novels, in an attempt to enter the Indian comic book market. Things look positive now, but they haven't touched the benchmark set by their predecessors," Sharma said.Image 2nd

Despite budgetary issues, the documentary is slated as a 2012 release and features artists like Tarun Kumar Wahi (Raj Comics), Pritish Nandy (Publisher, Indrajal Comics) and Anant Pai (Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle) amongst others. Sharma is planning three versions of the same: a 45-minute international cut for the film festival circuit, a 70-90-minute three-episode TV cut and a 2-hour-long ultimate fanboy cut DVD.

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