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Amar Chitra Katha and its Critics

October 2009
Amar Chitra Katha and its Critics

Not everybody is an unquestioning fan of Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), which has over the past four decades sold 90 million copies of its more than 400 comic book titles.

What, then, is the bone of contention?

Critics note that ACK puts too much emphasis on godly and kingly heroes, in the “once there was a raja” style, thereby leaving out engaging folktales and stories from India’s rich vernacular traditions. Epics win, while non-epics lose. You won’t find The Santhals, Godavari Tales and The Sundarbans in a typical Indian household, for instance, since Vivelok Comics (not ACK) issued these and other alternative titles.

In a recent article, scholar Karline McLain argues that the ‘Indianness’ presented by ACK may become confining to readers because “its selection of heroes entails the marginalization of Muslims and other non-Hindus from the national past, the recasting of women in ‘traditional’ roles, and the privileging of middle-class, upper-caste Hindu culture.” McLain is the author of India’s Immortal Comic Books: Gods, Kings, and Other Heroes (Indiana University Press, 2009).

New Delhi-based Vivelok, founded by Rukmini Sekhar in 2001, attempts to bridge this gap in the Indian comic book world. Its Godavari Tales picks up the Ramayana story from where the ACK version left off. In this retelling, popular among women in the Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh, ACK’s joyous ending is replaced by “moral ambiguity,” when Rama, in a fit of jealous rage, banishes his wife Sita to the forest. Clearly, they don’t live happily ever after. In The Santhals, to give another example, Vivelok gives us the neglected stories of adivasis (indigenous tribes) in eastern India. Other Vivelok titles include Madh Pradesh and Aithihyamala: The Garland of Legends.

Though adults will continue to engage in such debates, what’s relevant for children is that now there are more stories to absorb, both from ACK and Vivelok. There is room for princes and peasants, the highborn and the lowborn. Or as Sekhar puts it, while ACK retells the stories of the Sky God, Vivelok focuses on the tales of the Earth Mother.

Speaking of ACK, an animated TV version of its stories will appear as 26 half-hour episodes on Turner International’s Cartoon Network and POGO. Two animated movies, titled Tripura: The Three Cities of Maya and Sons of Rama, are also being produced.

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