At 11am on Sunday, March 28, 2010, Cartoon Network India aired the first episode of its new series, Amar Chitra Katha or “Immortal Picture Stories” (henceforth ACK). Twenty-six half-hour episodes and two feature-length films are planned. The cartoon adapts the popular comic book series of the same name for television by developing an aesthetic sensibility responsive to both media. The animated series quotes extensively from the comic book, both in the framing of shots/panels and in the drawings of its characters. Two-dimensional heroes spring to life, with rotating paper-doll joints. This aesthetic, (developed by Mumbai’s award-winning animation studio Animagic) is, it seems fair to say, considerably more sophisticated than that of the source material it so sleekly incorporates.
In this clip, after a title sequence that enumerates major ACK characters, we see segments from the story of Kumbhakarna, part of the Hindu epic the Ramayana. Losing his final battle with Rama, demon-king Ravana decides to enlist the help of his giant brother, Kumbhakarna, by awakening him from an enchanted nap. The clip shows Kumbhakarna receiving a boon from the god Brahma (“I just want to sleep all of the time”) and then cuts to the demons’ Lilliputian efforts to rouse him. I especially enjoy how the pan across Kumbhakarna’s stomach showcases 2D comic book elements. The following stories, all in English, feature the exploits of Arjun (of Mahabharata fame) and the beneficence of the seventeenth century king Shivaji (sometime poster monarch for the Hindu right).
The Cartoon Network ACK, like some other recent media, tries to bring Hindu mythology within the fold of “secular” cultural production. Whether it blurs the line among religion, national culture, and global entertainment, or whether it simply rearticulates the relations among these domains, remains an open question. But it does inevitably reposition the legacy of the ACK. Founded in 1967, the ACK was designed to educate India’s middle class Anglophone children in the postcolonial nation’s cultural heritage. Combining Hindu and nationalist tales, these pedagogic comics proved immensely successful over the following decades.
The animated ACK series, slated along Tom, Jerry, and Samurai Jack, brings this phenomenon into the niche culture of cable television. A joint product of ACK Media (the comic’s recently revamped parent company) and Turner International India Private Ltd, the cartoon not only makes “tradition” available to a new generation. It also allows the multi-national Turner corporation to bill itself as a proud sponsor of Indian national culture—made clear in official press releases (see link at bottom). The ACK thus comes to straddle not only the dual dictates of tradition and modernity, but also of the global and the local.