HYDERABAD: Reading comic books throughout childhood, memorising each and every panel, bringing the favourite characters to life on the big screen and having Amitabh Bachchan produce and voice the lead in your show - sounds like the stuff kid’s dreams are made of? For Mumbai-based animator and comic books artist.
Alok Sharma, it’s all in a day’s work! Alok, a comic buff and VP, Graphic India was in the city recently when CE caught up with him for a chat about his love for Indian comics, his passion projects, and his new show that features a superhero based on Big B himself!
An early beginner with Gotham Comics, Alok is the show-runner for Astra Force, which is creatively produced by Bachchan and features him as an intergalactic superhero. But his creative pursuits go way beyond animation alone.
“The easy access to comics featuring heroes like Bahadur, Nagraj and Chacha Choudhary meant he ended up reading every piece of comic literature. This helped him later as it fuelled his passion to capture people behind these comics.
“While I was working as a comic artist I was astonished that there were books like Understanding Comics, which approached the art as a serious study,” adds Alok.
“Comics, in a subtle way, have addressed the socio-political scenario in India. Every decade, comic book villains have evolved and represented that an era - I won’t say heroes because they are merely reactive. It’s always the villains who show initiative.”
His childhood passion helped him as a repository of knowledge since he was often able to recollect accurately. The documentary, titled Chitra Katha, is touted to be India’s first on indigenous Indian comic art and artists.
“Though shooting is almost over, it has been put on hold for final production work,” he says. He worked with one of India’s best comic artists of today, Saumin Patel, on the project that involved visiting, interviewing and documenting the lives of all the famous yesteryear comic illustrators from Pran, Govind Brahmania, Anant Pai, Aabid Surti and so on.
“I wanted Chitra Katha to be the documentary for everything on Indian comics, available for everyone! In fact I don’t even want to monetise it, because this gold mine of information can be accessed by anyone who wants to do more on Indian comic books,” he adds.
Underscoring the importance of comic book characters worldwide, Alok states that Japan had named two fictitious characters, Doraemon and Godzilla, as official mascots for the nation in recognition of their cultural influence.
“We could have had Chacha Choudhary and Common Man, two huge figures that could serve the same purpose, but people here are not comic-literate! The other problem in India is that comics published today are not targeting kids. Every graphic novel published here is for mature readers, who may have the buying capacity but kids are the main readers.”
Alok was also involved in the currently-shelved movie adaptation of Doga, India’s most popular comic book superhero, which was supposedly directed by Anurag Kashyap.
“I wanted to expand into the south but after some initial research, I realised Tamil pulp fiction and comics are an entire world in itself! So are Bengali cartoons,” he adds, paying homage to Narayan Debnath, creator of Handa Bhonda and Batul the Great. Despite small hiccups in bringing major Indian comic characters to the fore, Alok is ecstatic about his work on Astra Force.
“The superhero called Astra is modelled on Big B, who is an intergalactic voyager. To know the rest, wait and watch!” he winks.