The World Encyclopedia of Comics anointed him the Walt Disney of India.
Now, cartoonist Pran Kumar Sharma, the brain behind Chacha Chaudhary, one the most loved Indian comic characters, has been conferred a lifetime achievement award at Delhi’s Comic Con festival.
Despite the accolades, the 75-year-old cartoonist remains absolutely grounded. “I have no words to express my gratitude to readers who have showered so much love on me,” says the septuagenarian who was born in Pakistan in undivided India and did his masters in political science from Panjab University.
After a four-year course in Fine Arts from Mumbai’s Sir JJ School of Arts, Pran began his career as a cartoonist with the comic strip Daabu for the Delhi-based newspaper Milap.
At that time, the only comic book heroes Indians were familiar with were international ones such as Phantom.
In 1971, Pran created Chacha Chaudhary – a middle aged, wise man whose mind worked faster than a computer – for the Hindi magazine Lotpot, little realising the character would become the darling of every Indian who liked comics.
“When I used to see children going crazy over Phantom, I’d wish we had an Indian comic character in the same league. So, Chacha was consciously created as an antithesis of western heroes in looks and deeds. To impart muscle power, I created Sabu, his ally who comes from Jupiter,” he recalls.
Each of the characters that Pran has made famous – Chacha Chaudhary, Billoo, Pinki and Shrimati Ji – were created keeping different demographics in mind. So, while Shrimati Ji, his oldest character, created in 1968, was targeted at housewives, Billoo appealed to the cricket-crazy youngster.
Till today, no one has seen Billoo’s eyes since they are always covered by a mop of hair. Pinki was always up to pranks.
Since today’s audience is hooked to TV cartoons, has the readership for comic books dwindled?
Pran says these platforms work towards enhancing the popularity of comic books. “A few years ago, Sahara TV created a series based on Chacha Chaudhary. Today, an animated feature film is being made on him,” he points out.