India Insight

Comic books try new ways to keep Indian readers hooked

For 11-year-old Jahanabi Prasad, it’s a busier month than usual. After eight hours at school, she returns home for a quick lunch before attending classes for her annual exams a few weeks away. Still, she always finds time to read her favourite comic book series.

“I like Tinkle … Its characters are funny. And the stories are nice. Unlike regular books, it is colourful too, easy to understand,” said Prasad, a resident of Noida, a suburb east of Delhi.

Some 600 kilometres to the south in the tourist city of Udaipur, 12-year-old Bhaskar Sinha buys comic books every two weeks. His favourite character is Shikari Shambu — a bumbling, faint-hearted jungle explorer who ends up trapping animals on the loose and saving people’s lives by accident.

Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu are also the best,” said Sinha, referring to the old man whose brain is said to run faster than a computer, and his giant-sized companion from the planet Jupiter. Both popular characters were created by cartoonist Pran Kumar Sharma.

Prasad and Sinha are among a new generation of comic book fans that gives some hope to India’s comic book publishers who are trying to keep their readers despite the lure of satellite television and the Internet.

Ashutosh gears up for Chandni Chowk race; talks about ‘biased’ media

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Aam Aadmi Party’s Ashutosh might have been a TV news host, but now he talks like an experienced politician. “I am enjoying” being on the other side of the microphone, the former managing editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 told India Insight during an interview in which he discussed his decision to stand for Parliament.

It probably won’t be easy. He is taking on Kapil Sibal, a Congress party veteran and influential government minister. Sibal, a two-time member of the Lok Sabha from central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, has a knack for landing in controversies. From trying to police social media to trashing a popular upsurge against corrupt politicians in 2011, he often has become a target of public wrath.

Ashutosh, who goes by a single name, said the media is being manipulated by political parties and corporations to make sure that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wins the prime minister’s race in May. Regarding his own former media company Network18, which accepted a large investment from Reliance Industries in 2012 in a complex deal, he had little to say. Nevertheless, he shared his thoughts on how he sees the media now that he is on the other side of the camera. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

In India, grassroots comics rule where media cannot reach

Devender Ojha was a student in high school when he created a comic strip about a headmaster who used to turn up to class drunk. The teenager made copies of his work and displayed them in his village in Uttarakhand. It wasn’t long before it got noticed.

“After that, that headmaster was sacked from the school and new headmaster came there,” said Ojha, who is now 24 and has turned his adolescent doodling into a career as a newspaper cartoonist.

Ojha was trained at a World Comics India workshop and is one of thousands of volunteers working with villagers in India’s heartland. They organise workshops where people learn to draw and depict topical issues — such as genetically modified cotton or radiation exposure — on A4 sheets joined together to make four-panel strips. The organization’s founder, Sharad Sharma, describes them as “grassroots comics“.

Just another rape in India. Are we becoming numb?

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

A grim parlour game sometimes comes to mind when I read the latest story about someone raping a woman or a child in India. Is this the one that’s going to change everything? Is this the one that’s going to keep me up for days contributing to the news media’s coverage? Or is this just another rape?

There is no such thing as “just another rape” for a victim. Beyond the sexual violation, there is the torture. The physiotherapy student who was raped on a bus in New Delhi last December died as the result of injuries sustained by being penetrated with an iron rod. Everybody knows this, and everybody got angry, but anger runs out.

Narendra Modi’s media blitz fraught with risk

(This commentary reflects the thoughts of the author. It does not reflect anyone else’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

During Gujarat’s elections last year, incumbent Chief Minister Narendra Modi used 3D technology to appear at more than one political rally simultaneously. Now re-elected, the man has increased his omnipresence, if such a thing is possible, with help from the media.

On April 8, Modi addressed the women’s wing of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The same evening, he was at Network18’s summit outlining his vision for India. The next day, Modi addressed businessmen in Kolkata, West Bengal. Later in the day, he delivered a fiery speech to his party people. All of these appearances got plenty of TV coverage, website analysis and Twitter attention.

Regulating journalism won’t cure problems that ail the press

Editors say headlines should catch the eye. I’m one of those editors who says things like that. Here is one from CNN-IBN that caught my eye: “Editors call for media regulation after arrest of Zee News journalists.” Why would they ever want that?

We call those “man bites dog” headlines because they’re unusual, and that makes them news. Journalists are supposed to resist government attempts to control the way they do their jobs. If you make the government one of your minders, supervisors or shareholders, the argument goes, you compromise your journalists’ abilities to report on the government. If editors call for more regulation of themselves, no matter the country, this is the risk that they run.

Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman of the Outlook Group, which publishes Outlook magazine, was the editor quoted in the CNN-IBN article who said the press needs regulation. He said this in response to news that police arrested two Zee News editors after Congress Party parliamentarian and industrialist Naveen Jindal said they tried to extort money from him in return for not airing a negative story about his company.

Watch your mouth: indignation at every turn

When you’re in a khap, you can say whatever you want, but it has to be pretty outrageous to annoy people beyond the city limits. One idea that has cleared the bar? Lowering the minimum marriage age to prevent girls from being raped.

“Boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16 years old, so that they do not stray …this will decrease the incidents of rape.”

That’s the kind of thing that you expect a conservative patriarch to mutter through his beard while drinking tea with a friend. Comment done, world moves on.

Assam ferry tragedy not newsy enough?

On Monday, India’s remote northeastern state of Assam saw probably its biggest tragedy in recent memory, when an overloaded ferry carrying about 300 people sank in the Brahmaputra river, killing at least 103 people.

However, the bigger tragedy perhaps was the minimal coverage it got in the national media. Apart from The Hindu, which had the accident as its top story, none of the leading dailies in the country gave it much coverage beyond a mention on the front page.

Considering that the news first surfaced at around 6 p.m. on Monday, newspapers had ample time to give it more space if they so wished before they went to print, again putting the spotlight on the much-discussed question of whether the northeast is ignored by the national media.

U.S. consulate for sale, in India’s daily paper

For sale: a spacious, well-built Mumbai townhouse with beautiful views, well-heeled neighbours and one considerate, well-respected former owner.

Lodged between an advert for hair loss treatment and an article on illicit after-hours drinking in India’s commercial hub, the U.S. government consulate in Mumbai invited bids for its two consulate properties in Tuesday’s Times of India newspaper.

The consulate building, located at a much sought-after address in the exclusive Breach Candy neighbourhood in the south of the city, has long been outgrown by its inhabitants, who already have a new location in Mumbai’s northern business district.

The dog days of India’s bizarre summer of politics

Perhaps the government’s decision to push back the opening of the upcoming monsoon session of parliament was not the best idea. For as the dog days of the sub-continent’s sweltering summer drag on, the parliament-less politicians sweat from the sublime to the ridiculous in the baking heat.

From the haphazard ensemble of senior ministers that flocked to New Delhi’s airport to greet yoga guru turned social activist Swami Ramdev with more fanfare than is reserved for visiting heads of state, to the current conspiracy swirling New Delhi surrounding espionage chewing gum found in the finance minister’s private chambers, it has been a bizarre summer for politics fuelled by the hungry media in the world’s largest democracy.

Kapil Sibal, as Human Resource and Development minister, could have spent his summer break drawing up plans to overhaul an education sector that looks dangerously inadequate to deal with the demographic dividend of millions of young Indians that New Delhi likes to trumpet. Instead, he spent his days holed up in five-star hotels begging Ramdev not to stop eating, and playing it coy in press conferences after quietly ignoring veteran activist Anna Hazare’s demands for a stronger anti-graft bill.

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