‘The Classic Popular Amar Chitra Katha, 1967-2007’ by Nandini Chandra

Nandini Chandra teaches English at Hansraj College, Delhi University. Currently she is a visiting assistant professor at the Asian Languages and Literature Department, University of Minnesota. The book ‘The Classic Popular Amar Chitra Katha, 1967-2007’, according to her, grew out of her M.Phil dissertation and many conversations that sprung around her research of 12 years.

The book, as the title suggests, examines the dynamics of ACK (Amar Chita Katha) management in the constantly changing Indian society after Independence and, the effectiveness of the comic series as an ideological apparatus for its audience. The book is published by Yoda Press and it draws several nostalgic images from the volumes of ACK comics. It tries to dismantle the propagandist aspect of the various ACK titles as it shows that the comic books were having a hidden agenda towards the propagation of Hindu communalism. The author has thrown light on the ancient structure of the Indian society which, was not very conducive to the ‘dalits’ and the women folk and, how the ACK series have inadvertently justified the practices and also nullified their stands at the same time, in their strategy to survive in the market and not to upset any section of their audience. However, according to the author, the whole process of issues being raked, justified and again neutralised has a subliminal impact on the minds of children who are quite impressionable.

The book also throws light on the anti-Muslim, anti-Communist and pro-Brahministic ideologies that were apparently followed by the series along with the anti-dalit and anti-feminist ideologies. The propagation of Vaishnavism as an overarching philosophy which, was capable to absorb all the hostility unto itself and, the portrayal of Shaivism in an antagonistic light is also discussed in an interesting way given Anant Pai’s (the founder of ACK series) inalienable connection with the Vaishnav philosophy.

Various other issues related to the ACK, such as; epidermal politics, anachronistic aspect of its historiography, its South-Western bias, the fact of positivistic history writing by reading science into the past, link with the RSS, the artworks by various artists who drew ACK, its marketing strategies and the support it got from the NRHIs( non-resident Hindu Indians), its feudal capitalist approach, glorification of ‘sati’, acceptance of polygamy and, its attempt to establish a distance between theĀ  barbaric past and progressive present, has been analysed in an elaborate way.

The book is published when the ACK is on the verge of experiencing a new lease of life with its foray into other new media else than print. The comics are evolving as a new cult biz in the modern India where the market for it’s still nascent. ACK for all those who grew on it in the decades of ’70s and ’80s was an important part of life as it replaced the story telling grandparents of the joint family households because, at that time, the rising middle class was speedily moving towards the nuclear family system. This sort of rigorous analysis is only the outcome of the author’s nostalgia that could have got evoked several times when the comics struggled through the tough years and also aroused sentiments amongst those who loved it. The book draws our attention to the potentiality of the ACK, as a way of telling modern history and, also to the way in which a middle class negotiates with the popular culture to suit its ideological moorings.

The book has a lot more to explore as it explains Uncle Pai’s pedagogy, his idea of nationalism and the educative potential of the ACK series. It has entrancing illustrations which depicts the graphic adaptation of Hindi cinematic actions and thrills.

As a whole, the book appears to be a cleverly argued monograph and provocative to a wide range of audience. It’s a must read in order to understand the contemporary culture and politics prevalent in Indian society. It can be recommended to the adolescents and avid readers of Amar Chitra Katha as it can help them to differentiate between propaganda and the truth. The scholarly book is also irresistible for those who have grown up on volumes of ACK series.

Sangya Supatra

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