Digging into Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) comics is more than just about relishing the tales and the fables. The comics make you forget the passage of time and transport you to a mythical and a historical zone through witty words and images, a world that you can't get enough of. This, despite the criticism that ACK has faced in recent times for certain depictions of gender, class and caste.
If you are a fan and would like to experience the comics all over again, but in a real-world setting, you’d be happy to know that the country's first ACK learning centre helps you do just that! The much-awaited 10,000 sq.ft centre, ACK Alive, opened in Hyderabad on March 31, to the delight of literary and art connoisseurs in the city.
A joint venture of actor-producer Rana Daggubati, business honcho Kishore Biyani and Amar Chitra Katha, the creative community turns the spotlight on 64 art forms, true to our roots. For a brand dating back to 1967, this is a transition phase where learning goes beyond books and becomes an experience of sorts.
ACK Alive in its course lineup, caters to four specific spheres of learning - art and design, life skills, performing arts and vedic sciences. From storytelling to painting, music, pottery, tailoring and yoga, the age bracket for the courses is between 3 years and extends to adults-post retirement too.
A handful of retro book-covers and art works unique to ACK capture their 52-year-old legacy on the walls. From the Parijata tree (pottery work) to Chitralekha (folk arts), Amrapali (dance) and Tansen (music) among many, each of the learning rooms catering to different art forms have been named after popular historic figures that one grew up reading in their comics. They serve as an interesting organic extension from the literary world.
There's a space for gardening, a library and an area to share stories exclusively too. The walls adjacent to the stairs even tell a story about how two kids go on to build an aeroplane bit by bit and eventually fly (literally leading us to the terrace). A local artist Seher has also come up with a surreal floral mural in the arts room. There are colourful chandelier-like objects bearing images of popular ACK characters and pop-culture icons that hang from the ceiling, capturing the various dimensions of the brand.
The work on this learning centre had begun in August 2018 and the choice of Hyderabad as ACK's first learning centre in the country was a no-brainer for the team. The reasons being the cultural richness of Hyderabad and even more, because it's a home base for Rana Daggubati, one of the collaborators. The building that hosts the centre had previously housed the visual effects division of the Ramanaidu Studio.
Vidisha Bagree, the director of ACK Alive in a conversation with TNM, shares, “Hyderabad is a city that holds its values close to its heart. I need to admit that opening a space of this size wouldn't have been feasible in a Delhi or a Mumbai. Rana's inclination was of great help to us; he connected us to a network of people and helped us hire tutors who're the best in the business.”
It's important to remember that for brand ACK, the south Indian market contributes about 40-45% of its sales across various divisions, which is also a factor that prompted them to start the learning centre here.
A top priority among other reasons for establishing ACK Alive was to rediscover the joy of learning in a way that’s relevant for crowds today.
“After industrialisation, everything over the last fifty years in the country has evolved but for education. We thought it was a right time for kids to come and learn things focusing on our value system and forget grades. And this is beyond tutored learning, the exchange of knowledge is not only between the tutor and the student. There are untutored work hours to experience the art that you have just learnt and share knowledge with your co-participants. Even with the website, things are as transparent as it can get. There's a tutor profile with a review and a rating system that's relevant for various courses,” Vidisha adds.
For Rana Daggubati, who's been vocal about his love for history, mythology and literature all through his career (also reflecting in his choice of films), the association with ACK was something he latched on to, with both hands.
“I would even go on to say, what I do at the movies is an extension of ACK. It has been the most influential brand in any storyteller's life in India. It is fun that I am giving something back to the very medium that I had learnt everything from. I am looking forward to being a student all over again. I don't think there's anything that taught us about our roots more than ACK's books, unless and until we had grandparents or parents who were as knowledgeable,” Rana says.
If you trace the purpose behind an idea like ACK in the ‘60s, it was to serve as a reminder of our roots when westernisation was the new cool and this reason remains equally significant now.
ACK Alive marks a different phase because of the way it packages our traditions to the younger lot.
“That's the reason we've ideated on this centre as a creative community where you can teach, learn and eventually create. It's a centre where nearly 200 people can learn at once. Whatever I've learnt in life has happened through art, books, films. If you pursue any of the art forms here to the fullest, you'll have a job in the creative space,” Rana says.
The establishment of the centre also means a lot of challenges to ACK.
Anuraag Agarwal, the CEO of Amar Chitra Katha, adds, “We're also about to launch four Youtube channels (whose studio setup is already stationed at the centre) soon. It was born out of the thought - why can't we have something of the calibre of Peppa Pig or My Little Pony for Indian content?”
And in stark contrast to the belief that the physical book-era is dead, ACK's books contribute to 60% of their revenues. “It's just that we've tapped alternative channels to expand our horizons,” adds Anuraag. Team ACK is looking to expand their centre to the other metros within three months.