Tony Davis and Sreeram KV are behind the documentary series ‘Kadha Vara Kadhakal’ on YouTube.

A number of old Malayalam comic books are spread outOld Malayalam comics / Courtesy - Muhammed Thattacheri (Poompatta Facebook Group)
Flix Comics Saturday, November 21, 2020 - 12:57

That day, Sreeram KV and Tony Davis were attending a quiz as part of an event by Chai Pe Quiz, an informal quiz club in Kochi. A question was asked about Kannadi Viswanathan and Tony was quick to answer it. Viswanathan is the creator of one of Tony’s favourite Malayalam comics, CID Moosa. After the quiz, Sreeram and Tony began chatting, about their love for cinema and their love for comics. That little chat would lead them to begin creating a documentary series on the history of Malayalam comics, now being released part by part on Youtube -- Kadha Vara Kadhakal.


Poster of Kadha Vara Kadhakal

“I was a member of the library that Tony had begun with two friends in Kochi, for comic books,” says Sreeram, creative director of the documentary. Tony shot, edited and directed the documentary. He had begun the lending library in 2017 after he was reminded of an old passion for comics in the middle of a second hand book store visit. He was then assisting late filmmaker Rajesh Pillai.

“I used to collect comics as a child but then lost the habit for years until I chanced upon this book store. And then I met Arun Prasad who perhaps has the largest comic collection in all of India. I went to see his collection in Bengaluru and was blown over. Now that was a dedicated collector,” Tony says.

They met more such collectors – Vineeth Abraham, Aroon Kalandy and Narayanan Radhakrishnan. They travelled far and wide to meet artists and editors, Kannadi Viswanathan among them. “But he could not remember doing more than one story of CID Moosa, and that story was about his detective being involved in the Watergate scandal. He said that many readers came to know of the scandal through his comics. But he had influenced a whole generation, and just wasn’t aware of it,” says Sreeram.


The team with Kannadi Viswanathan (sitting, left)

The first episode they released is about CID Moosa, travelling to Palakkad to meet Kannadi Viswanathan. “It was an emotional story. For so many people, who grew up in the '70s and '80s, CID Moosa brings nostalgia,” says Tony.

They began the documentary at the time Regal Comics reprinted The Phantom and Mandrake comics in Malayalam. They had no idea the history of Malayalam comics would turn out to be so vast. In the film, Narayanan Radhakrishnan, a lawyer and comic collector who also became the mentor for the series, talks about the little known comics beyond the popular Bobanum Moliyum by Toms and the Poompatta books. When he first googled CID Moosa on the internet, there were only pages about the 2003 Malayalam film by the same name, Narayanan says.


Tony, Narayanan, Sreeram

Even Viswanathan’s granddaughters had no idea about the comic until in a show about the film, it was pointed out that the title came from Kannadi Viswanathan’s comic. That’s when they learnt their grandfather had also created comics, apart from being a tailor.

Some of Viswanathan’s comics – like Irumbukai Mayavi – were translated from the Tamil comics which he read in those days. But CID Moosa, apparently the first Malayali superhero in comics, appears to be original.

“There were many surprises when we began working on the documentary. Kannadi Viswanathan himself was a revelation, how genuine and unassuming he is. Another surprise was when we came to know about a comic called Inspector Prakash by a police officer called Abdul Hameed. And then in Palakkad, we came across a restaurant called Xanadu, run by Xanadu Chandran who named it so because he was a fan of the comic character Mandrake and that was the name of Mandrake’s mansion. Then there was Arun Prasad who had editions of Amar Chitra Katha that even Amar Chitra Katha does not have anymore!” Sreeram says.

It was from one such comic collector – Rajesh G Nair – that the team gifted a photocopy of CID Moosa to its creator Kannadi Viswanathan. The elderly man had not possessed even one of his original comics.

Watch: First episode of Kadha Vara Kadhakal

The team also met artist Mohandas, the man behind popular comic characters Mayavi and Kapish and Kishku, artist Baby who created Dinkan and Shakthimarunnu, Jacob Thomas, Regal Comics publisher, former editor of Poompatta R Gopalakrishnan, former editor of Poompatta and Balabhoomi Venu Variath, graphic novelists like Joshy Benedict and Appupen.

They have planned eight episodes in all. Three are out so far. The second really interesting episode deals with a series of comics called CID Nazir, that were based on actor Prem Nazir, who also did a film called CID Nazir. Actor Madhu’s fans then created another detective character called CID Madhu. The episode also has an interview with Abdul Hameed who wrote several books on Malayalam comics but had not included his own work Inspector Prakash – modelled after him – in any of them.

The third episode is the original idea they began the series with – The Phantom and Mandrake comics.


Regal Comics

“The fourth is on the Poompatta comics, which began even before Balarama and Balabhoomi (two popular comic books) -- 40 plus year olds would have fond memories of it. The fifth episode is on some of the popular comic books like Bobbanum MollyumPachuvum KovalanumCheriya Lokavum Velya Manushyarum and so on. Sixth will be on the comics of the '90s – Balarama and Balabhoomi, seventh dedicated to comic collectors and eighth on contemporary creators,” Tony says.

Watch: Teaser of Kadha Vara Kadhakal

Also read: ‘Thanks for the memories’: Hyderabad’s Walden bookstore closes

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