Home Indian News India’s reply to MAD journal, which produced a number of the best comedian strips, has been forgotten

India’s reply to MAD journal, which produced a number of the best comedian strips, has been forgotten



In 1956, MAD journal’s editor Al Feldstein commissioned artist Norman Mingo to create the publication’s iconic freckle-faced and gap-toothed mascot, Alfred E Neuman. An essay tracing the historical past of Neuman’s visage studies that Feldstein’s instructions to Mingo had been: “I would like him to be lovable and have an intelligence behind his eyes. However I would like him to have this devil-may-care perspective, somebody who can keep a humorousness whereas the world is collapsing round him.” In 1964, twelve years after MAD debuted in the US, Indian readers had been handled to a desi model of its well-known figurehead grinning at them from newsstands. With a gold hoop in a single ear, two forelocks and a large Cheshire smile, the boyish face promised masti.

Christened Chilli, this Indian cousin of Alfred E Neuman, turned the duvet boy for Diwana journal, the primary full-fledged Hindi humour and parody periodical addressed to adults. Introduced out by the Delhi-based media home Tej, Diwana ran until 1986 as a bilingual weekly in each Hindi and English, with the English version commencing within the early ’70s. That includes a few of India’s best cartoon artists and illustrators from the mid- to late-Twentieth century, the periodical, like its American inspiration, mirrored the zeitgeist of the post-Independence a long time via recurring cartoon characters, visible gags and topical satire. Within the years after Diwana’s inception, different illustrated comedian magazines adopted, equivalent to Lotpot in 1969 and Madhu Muskan in 1972, every of which left its personal mark on Hindi common tradition. However whereas these latter magazines have not less than a Wiki web page devoted to them, the quarter-century legacy of Diwana appears to have been largely forgotten. Tej has not preserved bodily copies of the journal, and the few which were digitised and uploaded onto the web by readers are restricted to a brief interval from the late ’70s to the early ’80s.

The historical past of the Tej group of publications dates to 1922, when freedom fighter and journalist Rati Ram ‘Deshbandhu’ Gupta co-founded the Urdu Day by day Tej/Rozana Tej. It was below the aegis of the Hindi Tej Saptahik/Tej Weekly that Diwana started to be revealed. The making of Diwana was a household affair: Deshbandhu Gupta’s son, the late Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, was the editor; Vishwa Bandhu’s sister Manjul served as assistant editor; and his brothers Satish and Ramesh edited artwork and contributed story concepts. Sitting in Tej’s longstanding Central Delhi workplace, Ramesh Gupta spoke about how the journal got here to be: “We thought Hindustan mein koi bhi journal manoranjan nahin de rahee [in India, no magazine provides entertainment]. There was no actual humour even within the motion pictures. So we checked out magazines that did humour and satire – MAD was one such instance. We studied it for concepts and Indianised it.” It turned common inside a brief time frame, a proven fact that Gupta attributes to its novelty. “At its peak within the Sixties, Diwana’s circulation was two lakh per week,” he mentioned. A number of years after the Hindi journal took off, the Guptas determined to diversify into an English version as effectively. Its editor was the author and theatre director Som Benegal, a school classmate of Vishwa Bandhu Gupta.

Other than its title, Diwana’s most seen homage to MAD is within the type of Chilli, a Neuman-esque character with a mischievous smile, who assumes varied culturally recognisable roles and personas on the journal’s cowl. Generally Chilli is the solo protagonist in a whimsical scene, engaged in an absurd exercise or referencing a state of affairs acquainted to readers, whereas different instances he’s joined in his goofy adventures by the remainder of the journal’s ‘top-billed’ solid of cartoons. But different instances he poses with or masquerades as celebrities from the world of cinema and sports activities. Over the course of his 24-year profession, Chilli handed himself off as shahenshah, Rishi Kapoor, 10-headed Ravan, and the goddess Lakshmi and her devotee (in the identical body), amongst tons of of different avatars.

Diwana’s playfulness prolonged past the duvet to Chilli’s open letters or “Prempatra” addressed to these within the information (Delhi Police, Jayprakash Narayan and Charlie Chaplin had been among the many recipients), parodies of hit Bollywood motion pictures, caricatures of netas, cut-out stickers with humorous quips known as chipkiyaan and columns by well-known Hindi satirists equivalent to Padma Shri awardee Kaka Hathrasi’s Kaka ke Kartoos by which he responded to readers’ queries with witty one-liners. Gupta recollects some advertising and marketing methods via which the editorial staff emphasised the journal’s wacky character: “As soon as, we gave out a bullock cart as a prize. One other time, we pasted an envelope bearing the phrase ‘Letter Bomb’ onto the duvet. For one concern, we rolled up a plastic mouse within the journal – no submit workplace would take it. It was very tough for our brokers to show it. Producing anticipation for one thing new was Diwana’s USP.”

However packaging apart, the traditionally vital facets of Diwana are the graphic strips and artworks inside its pages. For the interval of its run, the journal was house to characters by pioneering Indian cartoonists like Kripa Shankar Bharadwaj, Bharat Negi, Murli Sundaram, Manik Pande, Jagdish Gupta and Anupam Sinha. On the masthead, proper from the journal’s starting, was the creator of the wildly common Motu-Patlu cartoons, Kripa Shankar Bhardwaj. In response to Gupta, Bharadwaj first drew a model of the bodily contrasting double act in Diwana, earlier than becoming a member of Lotpot for a short stint. Anupam Sinha, finest identified for his acclaimed work at Raj Comics, creating Tremendous Commando Dhruva and persevering with the Nagraj collection, remembers seeing Bhardwaj within the Diwana workplace as a teenage contributor from Kanpur. Over e-mail, he writes, “I used to be lower than fourteen after I first visited Delhi and the workplace of Diwana at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in 1975…I keep in mind the workplace being an enormous corridor, principally empty, the place artists used to return provided that they so determined. I keep in mind seeing Kripa Shankar Bhardwaj ji engaged on Motu-Patlu throughout one such go to.” Sinha himself contributed a gag-a-day strip titled Baat Bebaat Ki, however his “innings with Diwana was a short-lived one as I moved onto making full-fledged comics from ’78 onwards…I nonetheless really feel it was a misplaced alternative for me.”

Baat Bebaat Ki, by Anupam Sinha. Courtesy: Anupam Sinha.

One in all Diwana’s memorable mainstays was a comic book strip known as Pilpil Silbil, that includes the adventures and misadventures of two clownish males. Drawn by Bharat Negi, the strip had a droll, metafictional undertone, that includes visitor appearances by Chilli and direct appeals to the reader. Its Hindi speech bubbles had been peppered with phrases from the characters’ native Haryanvi, lending a rooted regional flavour to the tales. Negi himself was an enigmatic artist about whom little appears to be identified exterior geek circles. One such fanatic is graphic novelist, animator and tv producer Alok Sharma, who developed a documentary on Indian comics known as Chitrakatha: Indian Comics past Balloons and Panels. The Fb web page he arrange for the movie has turn out to be a platform for Indian comedian ebook aficionados to share data and commentary. In a single submit from December 23, 2013, Sharma writes of Negi, “Maybe one of the mental artists to work in Indian comics…it was Bharat ji’s command over Indian dialects that made Silbil-Pilpil one of the underrated but good comedian strips ever.” In an e-mail interview, Sharma likened the strip to the work of American masters like Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar: “Silbil-Pilpil was absurdist, cerebral humour. There was no set rule; they’d divert from the primary storyline to crack a joke or make a popular culture reference.” Gupta mentions that Negi additionally drew a strip known as Spy vs Spy for the English Diwana in addition to illustrations accompanying movie parodies. Sharma notes that, other than his work at Diwana, Negi contributed to The Illustrated Weekly of India, Dharmyug, Shankar’s Weekly and Raj Comics.

One other Diwana artist, an Air India worker known as Murli Sundaram, created a strip known as Paropkari, named for the main man whose good Samaritan methods usually land him in hassle and unhealthy books. Sundaram is the topic of a submit this January on the Fb group Chitrakatha by a member known as Hemendra Singh, who speculates that Bharadwaj’s absence at Diwana between 1969 and 1976 created the necessity for an additional flagship collection: “Though Chilli was the mascot of Diwana and was fairly well-known, but it surely was tough to bind him in a script. That was when a brand new artist entered Diwana with the pen title [The] Native! He was cartoonist Murli ji…New cartoon columns like Bund karo Bakwaas and Madhosh additionally began that includes in Diwana, which had been additionally drawn by Native! In a really quick time, Paropkari of [The] Native and Pilpil Silbil of Negi ji, turned the face of Diwana.”

In response to Sharma, Diwana additionally carried a few of “the rarest Chacha Chaudhary tales ever”. Although debuting in Lotpot, Pran’s beloved character had a special look and tenor in Diwana: “…three-colored (no pores and skin tones) and of two pages (versus three web page tales). The format was completely different as a result of Diwana’s web page dimension was bigger than Lotpot and Diamond Comics, one of many largest the explanation why these tales had been by no means reprinted. Even the themes had been pretty sturdy: in a single story an alien creature takes over Chachaji’s thoughts and makes him ponder suicide. Darkish!”

Given its lifespan and wealth of comedian artwork, what place does Diwana occupy within the broader historic panorama of Hindi comedian visuality? Hindustani comics and cartoons return to the colonial interval, with the Urdu Oudh Punch beginning publication in 1877. Hindi periodicals began printing cartoons or vyanga-chitra concerning the social problems with the day from the early 1900s, in keeping with Prabhat Kumar, a historian on the Centre for the Research of Growing Societies. In his 2015 dissertation Satire, Modernity, Transculturality in late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century North India, Kumar characterises Indian cartoons and satirical journals as “transculturally constituted”, that means that these codecs needed to be repurposed and reframed for native consumption to be able to be efficiently acquired. By the usage of framing commentaries, indigenous literary kinds like fables or recognisable visible methods like stereotypical representations of assorted communities, the brand new European format of the cartoon narrative was “domesticated”. Kumar argues: “Modernity and Hindi satire are…constitutive of one another. Satire is likely one of the most vital literary-artistic modes/websites which have hosted the method of negotiation with western modernity.” Whereas throughout the colonial interval, as he discusses, this negotiation was framed by way of nationalist reform and/or leisure (opinions had been divided on which conjunction was preferable), within the postcolonial period, the phrases of mediating between India and the world modified.

The Guptas’ determination to carry out an entertaining or manoranjan dene wali journal was, in 1964, well-timed. Within the interval after Independence, whereas the custom of cartoons in Hindi literary journals continued, there was a spurt in humour magazines and comics publishers like Indrajal, an imprint of The Occasions of India (which Anant Pai give up to determine Amar Chitra Katha in 1967). Although American and European graphic fiction had been syndicated in South Asia for a very long time, it wasn’t till the mid-’60s that they began being revealed in subcontinental languages – Indrajal’s Hindi model of Lee Falk’s Phantom: The Jungle Patrol was syndicated in Diwana, for instance. On the identical time, there was a push for indigeneity, whether or not it was within the flip to Hindu mythology and lore in Amar Chitra Katha or the will for homegrown superheroes like Abid Surti’s Bahadur (Indrajal, 1972) who may compete with the People. That is the context by which the import of MAD to Indian shores and its transcultural “reconstitution” as Diwana may be understood. The Tej group’s Guptas recognized in MAD the potential for an adaptation geared toward an rising constituency of middle-class Hindi journal readers. Consuming materials from all over the world, these readers developed cosmopolitan sensibilities in translation and thru transcreation.

Translations had been certainly a salient characteristic of journal tradition throughout this era, as Francesca Orsini, Professor Emerita of Hindi and South Asian Literature at SOAS, notes in The Submit-Colonial Journal Archive, her essay on Hindi and English literary journals and middlebrow magazines from the ’50s to the ’70s. She describes them as “an considerable archive that…provides an instantaneous sense of the breadth of the readers’ horizon…” A comic book journal like Diwana is just not solely a repository of a style of graphic-textual practices from the Sixties to the Eighties, however equally a web site for mediating the values of the trendy situation, albeit via pictorial humour. For instance, via Pilpil-Silbil’s transgression of lingual norms and the fourth wall of panels, Motu-Patlu’s shenanigans involving Ghaseeta Ram’s political machinations and Dr Jhatka’s doubtful science, send-ups of common cinema and a Hindi-speaking Phantom, satirical publications like Diwana too may be interpreted as what Orsini describes as “home windows into a bigger world and into ‘being trendy’”, when discussing mid-century Indian magazines. The place the early Twentieth century cartoons championed a nationalist modernity reacting to British rule, the humorous graphic narratives from the latter half of the century had been a mode of engagement with worldwide modernity responding to American cultural affect.

As different channels of mass leisure like tv and movie turned accessible, Diwana turned much less related, lastly ceasing manufacturing altogether. Gupta sighed wistfully: “The psyche of Hindustan was altering; maybe different issues had been extra urgent.” The relevance of his phrases is evident in mild of the clampdown on free expression at the moment being skilled by Indian residents. Nonetheless, this isn’t the primary time that somebody from Diwana has expressed such a sentiment. In his 1987 ebook Laughing Issues: Comedian Custom in India, Lee Siegel, Professor Emeritus of Faith on the College of Hawaii at Manoa, provides an account of a visit to the Diwana workplace, throughout the Emergency. He quotes “the editor”, presumably Benegal of the English version (whom he thanks within the acknowledgements): “…the federal government controls the media, and the federal government has no humorousness…You’ll be able to sneak a joke or two previous the censor, however not a complete journal filled with them. There was a bit of humor earlier than the Emergency and a rising curiosity in it. However the Emergency killed it. All of us transfer extra cautiously now.”

Diwana survived the Emergency, however not the Eighties. Nonetheless, the nostalgia is powerful. Gupta is assured that “all North Indians over the age of 60 know Diwana.” Former diwane – what loyal readers appear to have imaginatively named their fandom, primarily based on letters to the editor – depart morose feedback on collectors’ blogs with stray Diwana covers: “Mere bachpan ke saathi Chilli, important tumse bahot pyaar karta hoon.” [My childhood companion Chilli, I love you very much.] Gupta is conscious of what has been misplaced. “We completely can’t think about {a magazine} like this at the moment,” he mentioned. “There was no malice again then. Folks simply laughed.” Seems, Al Feldstein, it’s exhausting to keep up a way of humour whereas the world is collapsing round you.

Kamayani Sharma is an impartial author, researcher and podcaster primarily based in New Delhi. She is a Kalpalata Fellow in Visible Tradition Writing for 2022.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here