Author: Rajesh Devraj
Illustrator: Meren Imchen
Published: 2012 by Hachette India
No. of Pages: 124
Subthemes: Animal actors in Bollywood, Glamour in the life of an artist
Timeline: 60’s in Bollywood
A tribute to animal artists of the Indian film industry and in a broader sense to Bollywood and its many scandals, Sudershan (Chimpanzee) takes readers through a dark, comical voyage through the life of Sudershan the chimpanzee.
Reminiscing the golden era of 60’s, when glamour was fountaining in Bollywood and it became a cesspool of-scandals, paramour relationships, link-ups, et cetera- the panels work effectively like a “masala entertainer”. Unlike other graphic novels, we see the artwork here does not use much of white, rather most of the panels mimic the dark and humorous tone of the storyline.
To embark readers on a nostalgic journey of the 60’s, the panels in the beginning remind us of the forgotten animal actors and their lost glory. The tone remains conversational for the most part, especially in the beginning. Sudershan’s portrayal too feels like that of someone who has absorbed the very ways of life of Mumbai. The text, however, uses a mix of Hindi and English, where Hindi too is written in the same script as English.
The story, after the first few panels is divided into three major sections- Circus days, zero to hero, and hero to zero-and two small sections-the giggling guru and epilogue. The chronology of the sections takes a linear approach to storytelling.
The first section deals with the origin story of Sudershan, his “royal” ancestry from Africa, particularly talking about his father and how he became successful in Raman circus. Sudershan is shown as a misfit, who is often humiliated by the audiences and his caretakers alike. Essential to his character development in the story, this part introduces his first love interest, Baby, and also the entertainer lurking inside Sudershan.
Next section, Zero to Hero, is a journey through the mystical world of Indian film industry. Camera flash glimmers, arc lights, mischievous directors, hippie culture, mischievous directors and their courting skills; the story is a circuitous route to all that one has heard of the Indian film industry from the 60’s. The artwork effectuates and amplifies the storyline, a clear emphasis on legibility and coherence strengthens the character arc developed in the last section. Also, the storyline here is mostly inspired by real controversies, which coupled with a humorous parody-like approach, give the narration a unique flavor. Sudershan’s first big break which doesn’t really translate, his relationship with Najubhai Shah, and the how he converted that opportunity is what gives the story a strong character here.
The concluding section, that is, Hero to Zero, captures Sudershan’s second and major love interest, Padma, his arrogance, loneliness, and inability to deal with popularity. Breaking away from the dark comical tone, this section is more emotional in appeal, although the comical tone is not done away with.
Second last section, the giggling guru, is more of a satire and fits perfectly with the chronology and overall dark comical tone of the graphic novel. The final section, however, illustrates a mature Sudershan tending to his old friend Najubhai Shah.
There’s no specific symbolism in the graphic novel, the panels and text are in complete congruence here as they cover Sudershan’s story in a biographical manner.