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LAUGHING IS BIG BUSINESS

Pran Sharma pioneered the comic cartoon in India and , 34 year later, remains the leading syndicated cartoonist With ceaseless entertainment pouring from the skies these days, parents are understandably a worried lot as impressionable young mind are constantly fed an overdose of what is not always conducive to proper upbringing. It is a common refrain that reading habits are the first casualty of this electronic onslaught. But there is still something that remains untouched comics. Pran Kumar Sharma. Who pioneered the genre in the country 34 year ago and remains the leading syndicated cartoonist for comics, affirm that the circulation is actually picking up steadily. So even as the audio-visual addiction continues to be on the upswing, so does the love for comics. "During the ongoing holiday season, the boom period for us, sales are bound to increase as compared to last year." He says Already the figures run into lakhs, and according to a survey conducted by . Diamond Comics, his chief publisher Pran can boast of over a crore readers for his highly popular comic strips. No wonder the 55-year-old cartoonist, who has 225 books and 165,000 drawings to his credit , is listed in the limca book of records as the most prolific comic cartoonist .and recently, two episodes from his Chacha Choudhary series- which is celebrating its silver jubilee this year - were selected for permanent display at the International Museum of Cartoon Art , Florida ,USA. 

That his work has found international appreciation can also be gauged from letters he receives from his admirers abroad .Jim Davis ,the creator of Garfield comic strip for instance ,had this to say ." you have a great touch with your drawing and I enjoy your stories as well . it is clear why you have been so popular these past 25years . For someone who inspires such admiration . Pran is surprisingly modest .says he : "if I had not ventured into comics . someone else would have done it first." Of course when he began in the late 50s,the demand was being met entirely by foreign comic strips . Pran himself enjoyed reading Blondie , Dennis the Menace and Mandrake , but he felt it was high time some Indian cartoonist entered the fray with an Indian comic strip . 

"Barring a few of them , foreign comics are largely incomprehensible to the Indian readers even today because they have their own way of looking at things .their own problems and their own sense of humor ." This led him to create Chacha Chaudhary, Shrimatiji, Channi Chachi , Raman, Billoo. etc and take up very Indian theme such as Diwali , Holi and also social issues like sati, dowry and inflation . "Naturally , Foreign comics cannot deal with these things ." he says and add . "I was readily accepted because my characters , themes ,sensibility and sense of humor are typically Indian ." Pran point out that the Indian cartoonist of that time - Shankar , Ahmed and R.K.Laxman among them -were busy churning out political cartoons because they were all trained specifically for that job and that will all their in newspaper expected them to do. He sees cartooning as an offshoot of journalism itself and says it has three sub divisions: political cartoons and comic strips . While the former two were already in practice ,it was he who started the third when when he joined the Urdu daily Milap. After completing his masters in political science And a course in the arts from jj school of Art, Bombay. Born in Kasur, near Lahore in present Pakistan, he had to escape the rigors of partition . which bought the family to Gwalior where he stayed till his graduation . his eldest brother , artist Kanwar Nath , was inspiration enough for him to take up drawing . initially as a hobby of course . As a syndicate cartoonist now . he contributes to 20 newspaper s. Besides , for the past 15years , Diamond comics have been publishing compilations of his works in English , hindi , Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada and Bengali -the last are a rage in neighboring Bangladesh as well. What remains a matter of regret. However , is that English dailies in the country still prefer foreign strips.

Pran has created several interesting characters , all of which have become household names . it is typical of the man to attribute it to sheer necessity . he explains: "the situation here is much different from abroad , where the creator of a single strip can rake in even up to billions of dollars . Also because syndication was not in vogue when I started. I had to perforce the cater to the different requirements of diverse publications. Just to keep going ." Chacha Chaudhary and Pinki were thus created for LotPot, Billoo for Parag, Raman for Tribune and Shrimatiji for Sarita. 

Sabu was a later addition which Pran feels was essential since the problems being tackled by Chacha Chaudhary were getting more complex and it would not seem credible for an old man to do all the physical work required. Amply aware of the influence his creations can exert over his young readers. Pran believes it is important that comics should not only be entertaining but also carry the proper message. But the role of laughter has to be supreme, he cautions. Pran Features is set to come out with an animation film of his works with his four assistants and his computer engineer son helping him - the latter with the graphics. But as the doyen of Indian comic strip cartooning says: "It calls for hard work as well as large capital. One small action of merely half-a-second , say a hand picking up a cup from the table, needs 24 drawings to show on the screen !" It's a task he is more than equal to.

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