Everybody’s Got Something to Hide, Except For Me & My Monkey

“There is no such thing as a Bollywood hero or Hollywood hero. All you see on the screen is the lead actor’s interpretation of the role that has been conceived by the writer” 

The realm of bright lights and dreams, Bollywood is not just for the aspiring starlet who ran away from home, or the young boy who once had dreams but is now busy serving tea to the glamourous, but also for superstar Sudershan- the indisputable ruler of hearts in Bollywood of the 60s!

 

Written by Rajesh Devraj and illustrated by Meren Imchen, this graphic novel proves to us in ways more than one that India has indeed come a long, long way in this world of sequential storytelling. A heartwarming tale about a chimpanzee who rises to fame and then spirals downwards and lands in shambles, Sudershan Chimpanzee is a tale of pride and redemption, a tale of animals and a tale of Bollywood glory of the 60s.

 

 

Tracing Devraj’s love for Bollywood to the time he was writing a book on Hindi film posters, the idea of doing a comic based on this particular idea had been one he had been toying for a while. “The inspiration  came from the images I’d seen – posters and booklets for odd, forgotten movies with titles like Ustad Pedro, Tin Tin Tin, Gogala, and Return of Mr Superman. And also from encounters with some of the people behind these movies, their eccentric stories and personal narratives,” says Devraj in an exclusive interview with us. But however, the direct roots for inspiration for this graphic novel can be traced back to his encounter with legendary director Nanabhai Bhatt, whose photo album had a dedication to his favourite star, Pedro the Human Chimpanzee aka the Ape Bomb. “Years after the meeting, an image popped into my head – a blind has-been director talking about his favourite chimp star, and the chimp himself sitting there, smiling sheepishly at the old man’s risque stories. I poked and prodded the image and discovered there was more to it, other characters and settings, an entire imaginary world swinging into view,” Devraj smiles. However, it is strange to realize that Devraj had in no way set out to start out with the intention of exploring the nature of fame and stardom in Mumbai, or even satirizing Bollywood! “Sure, there’s some scratching of the Bollywood underbelly. But to me, this is primarily a parable of sorts, the story of a monkey who discovers the rewards and dangers of trying to be human,” he says.

 

 

With the idea of the comic in place, it was time to look for an artist to collaborate with next, with not too many options to choose from in the industry, it was a friend’s suggestion to work wit Imchen that set things rolling finally. With the trial sketches capturing the true essence of the character, though the story was worked out in two odd months, the graphic novel took almost two years to come to life. With each page quite a challenge, the most memorable part of this journey was when Imchen saw Sudershan stop being just another graphic novel character and exude emotions that most would consider to be essentially human. “As Sudershan stares at himself in the mirror, and we see his image distorting and disintegrating through the panels. I had to capture him in that moment where he was dying inside,” Imchen admits. And indeed, amidst the laughs and gags the book has to offer, some elements of misery and pain also remain an essential part of the story of Sudershan.

 

With scenes of victory, failure, love, jealousy, treachery, anger and redemption defining each page, the story of Sudershan Chimpanzee in ways is a comedy of the darkest nature. With the idea of fame being addictive and actors mere tools in the monkey business known as Bollywood, the fantastical tale of Sudershan Chimpanzee introduces us to a plethora of colourful characters. Rajesh the Shakespeare spewing horse; Moti, the adorable canine sleuth; Raja the elephant; the evil director Shah and the undeniably gorgeous actress Padma, the human object of Sudershan’s affections all seamlessly take the stage and put up performances that make you laugh, frown, cry and spare thought for what remains unsaid amidst all the lights and action.