Nationalism has always been one of the major themes of the comics published in India throughout all the different phases. One of the major reasons is that the target demographic of the comics was children, usually pre-teens, and so to simplify the motivations of the characters, nationalism became a handy tool. Nationalism could spare the children’s impressionable minds of the intricacies of morality and tell them unambiguously who the good guy and bad guys were. Also, publishing houses in their early days, were self-righteous in a way, and believed it to be their moral responsibility to impart good values and morals to children. Of course, on later readings, usually as adults, this leads to a great many number of plot holes and flimsy characterization but it did qualify wonderfully as the simple story-telling that children are attracted to. This has changed however in recent years and we will return to these points in much greater detail later on and possibly in later posts as well.
Even though nationalism has remained a constant theme (Tiranga being a superhero with the Indian National Flag as his costume and general theme and Modus Operandi), the nuances themselves have changed quite often and significantly over the years. Again, I will be focusing my analysis on the characters from Raj Comics publication simply because they have dealt with the issue most extensively and have the most material for me to draw from. I will touch upon other publications too but the basic tone has remained more or less consistent across publishing houses during any given period of time and so I will not address them exhaustively.
During the golden age, when Nagraj had been a newly created character, he was an international crime-fighter who roamed the world fighting terrorism. This was changed later on in the timeline of the character when he settled down in the fictional city of “Mahanagar” (and later brought back in an alternate universe title called “Aatankharta Nagraj”). In these story-lines, Indian nationalism and Identity formed an important part of Nagraj’s character. He was hailed within the comics not only as an accomplished crime fighter but also as some sort of a brand ambassador of the values traditionally India stood for. Spirituality was treated as an inherently Indian concept and the stories always had undertones of religion and spirituality with Nagraj chanting “Jai Baba Gorakhnath” (Hail Sage Gorakhnath) almost in every issue, usually before undertaking a fool hardy endeavor. There have been many instances in the comics where Nagraj passed off his virtues as being bequeaths to him by his Indian heritage. Therefore, we can safely conclude that the idea of Indian Nationalism and Identity have been around for a long time in Indian comics.
Next came the Silver age, where the face of Indian nationalism changed slightly. These were troubled times in the country and the Kargil war had fallen right in the middle of the Silver age leading to widespread mistrust and dislike for our neighbors in the North West. As a result we see that on many occasions, Pakistan as well as official Pakistani agencies were cast without any attempts of camouflage whatsoever as the antagonist, and were usually cruel, barbaric or in the case of comedic titles, inefficient (Fighter Toads ‘Nayi Dilli’).
It was not till the arrival of the contemporary age of Indian comics that names were changed and the antagonists, instead of being countries, again became terrorists and rogue agencies etc. Some of the comics that showcased this more politically correct form of story writing were “Pakistan Zindabad” (“Long Live Pakistan”) and the Chumba series featuring Super Commando Dhruv with the neighboring country named “Paastan”. The comics went out of their way to insist that no country is inherently bad in itself but it were the bad people in those country that harm all humanity, which was a fitting moral to be given to children.
Many of the other titles had always been reluctant to overtly name names and usually stuck to setting controversial story-lines in fictionalized versions of actual countries after thinly veiling them. As a result, Nepal became “Mapal” in Super Commando Dhruv’s “Ruho ka Shikanja” (Vice-grip of the Souls) among several others. It is noteworthy though that this veiling was done only for the SAARC nations. Countries, usually the powerful ones like China, Russia and USA were often featured by their true names with surprisingly generic names for the characters hailing from them. However, the earlier stories of Nagraj were a clear exception and the countries mentioned therein were not renamed for dramatic or clandestine purposes. Later though, in the second run of the character after his settling down as the protector of Mahanagar, the real names were slowly phased out and were not used until absolutely necessary. This wasn’t so difficult anyway as Nagraj’s storylines began dealing with the Supernatural a lot more often than international terrorism.
Diamond comics, which were aimed at younger audience still, did not engage in aggressive nationalism though. They kept their primary focus on national pride and used the comics as a medium to promote a sense of belonging to the nation instead of painting another nation as the antagonist. The villains in these stories were usually terrorists or independent agents acting without any affiliations to any countries whatsoever.
In conclusion, Indian Nationalism has always been a prominent theme in Indian comics. Starting from promoting Indian pride to sometimes being overtly critical of inimical forces, they have always striven to educate children, which were their primary audience back in the day, of the ideas of nationalism and patriotism and instill these values in them. The form of expression of these ideas have changed over the years but never have they ever gone critical of the idea of India itself. For most parts, India has remained absolutely above reproach and any short comings are a product of the vile elements present in the society. This idea, in recent years, has been extended to all the countries of the world (discounting the nuances of national interests and diplomacy) and led to a more humane world view of the people of the world as being simply good or bad, irrelevant of where they come from, which is, in my view, the perfect lesson to be taught to children.
Written By: Siddhant Shekhar