The tales contained in the numerous volumes of Amar Chitra Katha have been a constant companion to India’s children for half a century.
The storytelling company has undergone many changes over the last 50 years, but it nonetheless remains close to the hearts of Indians.
Known for the stories of brave heroes, witty courtiers, mythical creatures, and evil asuras, Amar Chitra Katha came under fire in the last decade, with critics noting that the stories were enforcing gender stereotypes, creating heroines who were obedient and dainty, with the same body type.
Also noted were the differences in skin colour, clearly indicating the disparity between upper and lower castes, as well as its tendency to skew towards a religious bias.
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Even then, the nostalgia that these stories carry for India’s youth cannot be denied. According to a report by The Hindu, over 100 million copies have been sold in over 35 languages, till date.
However, times are changing, and Amar Chitra Katha has begun to change as well.
Dark skinned servants and subservient women have been swapped for a more neutral skin tone and women who are active influencers in the story, as seen in the tale of Vaishno Devi, Volume 829 of Amar Chitra Katha.
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In a conversation with The Hindu, Executive Editor Reena Ittyerah Puri comments,”Women are leaders and strong characters and we are writing comics to show that. Today, we don’t allow stereotypes. In mythology, men and women play certain pre-set roles. We cannot change those stories and have to tell them as they are. But we can choose whether to tell them at all or not.”
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Today, villains are now handsome, an army is filled with both light-skinned and dark-skinned characters, and women play heroic roles.
In its newer versions, the beloved comics are conscious of the kind of stories they tell, and the effect it has on the audience.
Amar Chitra Katha has been experiencing growth and plans to expand to cater to an international audience in the future, with the promise of introducing contemporary heroes and their biographies.