There could be something to appreciate if you can manage to turn a blind eye to the average animation of the hugely popular TV serial 'Chhota Bheem'. Tales of courage and valour, loyalty and honour are, after all, good to boost the morale!
“Bheem, Bheem, Bheem! Chhota Bheem! Chhota Bheem!” the chirpy chorus constantly calls, every day, sometimes even twice a day, and hails the onset of another episode of this increasingly popular children’s animated cartoon series.
The first time I watched Chhota Bheem (with my son), I was confused. From anything I have ever read, watched or heard, Bheem has always been one of five brothers, The Pandavas, and is invariably depicted as an adult. Hence, when Chhota Bheem appeared on our TV screen as a young nine-or-ten-year-old boy without any sign of his brothers, you can imagine my perplexity.
What inextricably links the mythological Bheem to Chhota Bheem is the character’s legendary physical strength. Just like Bheema of The Mahabharata, Chhota Bheem can lift enormous boulders, fight giants and save lives. But the similarities end there.
Chhota Bheem is a character who is at once virtuous, highly principled as well as occasionally mischievous (when he steals ladoos). Even though he is only a young boy, he is a favourite of the king and represents him in many a battle with the several evil-doers that consistently visit Dholakpur at regular intervals.
When he is not busy fighting evil, he excels at sports, winning various titles and contests held in and around Dholakpur. His little group of friends accompanies him everywhere and on each adventure. His pet and constant companion is a monkey called Jaggu, who speaks like a human being, if with a somewhat strange voice!
There is Chutki, the brave girl who adores Bheem and is his staunch supporter. Raju is one of the younger members of the group. He looks more like a baby in a diaper with a few hairs sprouting from his head than a boy who fights thieves.
Then, of course, there is the inimitable Kaaliya Pehelwan, a 12-year-old body builder, whose only aim in life seems to be to beat Bheem in everything. Despite repeated losses endured at his opponent’s hands, he continues to think himself the superior and very rarely acknowledges Bheem’s greater strength and intelligence.
Kaaliya has two sycophants, Dholu and Bholu, a cowardly pair who run in fright at the slightest threat of danger. Last, and a rather unlikely member of this altogether motley crowd, is Princess Indumati, the daughter of the king of Dholakpur. A quiet and shy child, she occasionally shows her strength in bursts of courage and valour taking everyone by surprise.
Bheem loves ladoos and derives great strength from them in moments of weakness. The gang invariably carries a lasting supply of these sugary sweetmeats on their adventures in case of emergencies. No super tonic for this rustic young man, just the pure goodness of homemade ladoos straight from the kitchen of Tuntun Aunty, Chutki’s mother.
In an attempt to inculcate strong values andprinciples, the creators of Chhota Bheem are faced with the challenge of making this rustic boy from the times of the rishis relevant to the urban children of today.
As a result, anachronisms abound with abandon. The kingdom of Dholakpur is set in a bygone era, probably in an India around the time of the rishis and the Mahabharata. However, there is the peculiar appearance of electronic remote-controlled devices every now and again, and in another episode, suddenly there is a train.
It appears that the creators, in order to allow young children of today relate to the stories and characters in the series, have let go of all conventionality and have allowed their writers free reign, though occasionally they might borrow ideas from western stories, creations or movies.
For instance, an episode replete with multitudes of frightening “undead” creatures, all slaves of a dark lord, largely resembles ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
In another instance,Chhota Bheem freely introduces witches straight out of western television, complete with pointy hat, moles and a broomstick to fly on!
In terms of execution and production, there is not all that much to commend Chhota Bheem. The animation is very average, and the fluidity of movement of the characters is not smooth.
While the “Indianness” of the theme is to be applauded, it still could have been showcased better. After all not every Indian kid stops and stares for moments on end with the only sound emitted a drawn out “Ehhh?”!
Having watched only the English episodes, I believe that there is much lacking in the translation and grammar of the language. While, like every parent, I encourage my children to be more in tune with Indian culture, I would feel much better about it if the shows that cater to this section were at the very least written better.
I can forgive the poor animation and storylines. But to hear my child say “Ehhh?” and sound like a dimwit after watching too many episodes of Chhota Bheem, is very trying.
Not to mention all the violence that is unleashed, and calling each other names such as “stupid” and “you fool/idiot” that seems to be quite the norm among the young people of Dholakpur.
So whatever Chhota Bheem is, you cannot expect any kind of cultural, mythological, historical, or linguistic accuracy insofar as the stories are concerned.
However, there is still much to appreciate if you can manage to turn a blind eye to the afore-mentioned omissions and commissions.
Tales of courage and valour, loyalty and honour are, after all, good for the morale boosting our children frequently need. And if history has to be re-written, perhaps there is nothing very wrong in Chhota Bheem doing it!