As you walk into the Balarama office at Kottayam, you can see a clay pot arranged over a mini lawn.
On a March night, it drizzled. There were thunderstorms. The lights went off. Suddenly there was a yellow light inside the clay pot. A creature with yellow lights beaming from its eyes came out. This is the intro of ‘Pathalathinte Rahasyam’ story which is a tale from ‘All the Best’ series that saw the union of all the Balarama characters.
It is said that that clay pot is a gateway to all the quirky stories of the animal kingdom in Balarama.
After the release of ‘Pathalathinte Rahasyam’ a young boy visited the Balarama office along with his father. He was there to get the winning Summer Holidays gift. While there, he peered into the clay pot. Was he seeing another world in it?
His father laughed and told him— “That’s all stories, my dear.” But the 40 something father also peered into the pot. What if there was really such a way inside the pot?
How Balarama became Balarama
‘We are extremely glad to present our first book of Balarama to the youth of Kerala.’ This was the editor’s note during the first edition of Balarama, clearly indicating that the target audience was youngsters more than children.
So the first edition of Balarama was more informative than just fun and games. They had given more focus to day-to-day life than fantasy. Eminent writers like Vailoppili, P Bhaskaran, Uroob, Kunji Raman Nair, and Sukumar Azhikode used to write for Balarama then.
Initially, Pala KM Mathew was the editor of Balarama. Then came Kadavanadu Kuttikrishnan. During the early 80s NM Mohanan took over as editor. Since June 2012, AV Harishankar is the editor.
It didn’t take much time for Balarama to reach greater heights and soon children became its majority readers. They had no rivals in the market.
‘..you don’t need glue to paste this name slip, just remove the paper cover and paste it on your notebook.’ This was the instruction when Balaram introduced sticker name slips. That was also typical Balarama style, to introduce everything with a touch of humour.
What started as a monthly soon became weekly with the introduction of Mayavi cartoons. It didn’t take much time for children to fall in love with Mayavi and the readers increased in no time.
An error in Mayavi
Did you know that the first story of Mayavi had an error? One of the first things Kuttoosan and Dakini used to do was to bottle up Mayavi after stealing his magic wand. Without the wand, Mayavi is powerless.
But in the first story, you can actually see Mayavi along with his wand inside the bottle. The first Mayavi story came in August 1984. That was also the same year that the first 3D film, ‘My Dear Kuttichathan’ was released. Both were superhits.
Mayavi was literally the magic wand that enabled in changing the history of Malayalam cartoons.
Soothran, Sheru and friends
Apparently, there is a Soothran story without Soothran and Sheru! The story came in 2007. The story is happening in the sky. All the characters are already dead in the story. Those ghosts who are jumping through clouds are reciting the story of Soothran and Sheru. Despite not having any heroes, the story was a superhit. That was the popularity of Soothran and Sheru.
How did the extremely cunning Soothran and the absolutely stupid Sheru become friends? The answer is simple. You can be called intelligent when your thoughts are different from ordinary people. But then the same rule can be applied to a stupid person’s thought process too.
Though he came sporadically in many stories since 1984, it wasn’t until 2001 July that Soothran became a constant fixture in Balarama. Today you can count 70-year old’s among his readers.
Half a century of entertainment
“Disney Land will never be complete. As long as creativity is left in the world, Disney Land also will keep evolving,” was what Walt Disney famously said.
A century has passed since Disney has been enthralling us with their animation cartoons. But it took a lot more time for our children to enjoy it. By that time our children had already learned to expand their imagination and creativity thanks to Balarama. As Walt Disney celebrates 100 years, Balarama will be celebrating its 50th birthday.
Balarama for a generation of people is nostalgia. They grew up on those stories. For children, Balarama was like a breath of fresh air, a break from their studies. They were introduced into a colourful world of colours, stories, puzzles, imagination, information and fun. Balarama took them closer to the world of animals and birds. They realised that birds, wolves, tigers, rabbits and crocodiles even had a mind of their own. They told us that good will always triumph over evil.
Balarama became the time machine that showed us history, a microscope that explained the science, and took us on a tour through the mighty oceans. Siblings would fight to read Balarama at home. They would wait eagerly for the newspaper boy on that day, slip Balarama inside their textbooks and read stealthily inside classrooms. When they found themselves struggling to solve a math problem, they would quietly make an ‘Omkreem Kuttichatha’ wish. A fight would erupt between friends regarding who should solve the puzzle first. That one silly friend in class would be nicknamed Sheru. Those who accidentally or luckily win something will be called Shikari Shambu. The intelligent ones were called Akku and Ikku. If one was caught lying, they would be called Munjasan. They would ride the cycle and call out, ‘Eeeh eeh.’ Such was the beautiful world of Balarama!
Luttappi who came late
‘Here comes a rival for Mayavi, the evil Luttappi.’ This ad came on Balarama in June 1985. In the next edition, there was a story about Dakini going in search of Luttappi. Someone else who was not featured in that ad also entered the scene--Kuttoosan who was Luttappi’s master.
Luttappi and Kuttoosan came into the picture nearly a year after Mayavi was published. But it didn’t take much time for Luttappi to shrug himself from the image of the little evil guy. On the contrary, Luttappi who would answer back, crack jokes and other silly things and work like a slave soon became popular. People felt sorry for him and it didn’t take much time for Luttappi to overtake Mayavi in the popularity charts.
Shikari Shambu, Kalia, Suppandi
‘Remove his cap, we want to see Shikari Shambu’s eyes’ this was a common request from children in their letters to Balarama. Truth is that there have been a lot of instances when his cap has flown away, but his face isn’t visible.
Balarama readers loved the non-Malayalee Shikari Shambu like their own. It was in 1985 January that Shambu the cowardly hunter and Kalia the clever cow entered Balarama. The sly Thanthri who constantly plotted against the King and the super foolish Suppandi also followed them.
Other Indian heroes like Chotta Bheem, Shakthiman, Inspector Garud, Inspector Azad all appeared at various times in Balarama. Before Mayavi, Kapish the monkey’s tales came regularly in Balarama.
Balarama introduced Disney to its readers as Disney Uncle (Disney Ammavan). That was a trick to bring Disney closer to the children. When Balarama started publishing Disney cartoons in August 1985, it opened a new world of imagination to children. Todd and Copper was the first story. Other tales like Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio and Cinderella came after that.
Marvel-Avengers characters, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Spiderman, Batman, Phantom, Mandrake, Dora, Dennis the Menace, Pappus alias Henry are some of the world-famous characters who have graced the pages of Balarama. Currently, Geronimo Stilton is the star in Balarama.
Shapeless Kaatumuthappan, nameless Ajagajan
Kaatumuthappan is the jungle God for Soothran. Muthappan is known to appear in the exact form one prays for. But one is inclined to believe that when Muthappan appears at first in Soothran’s story, he was not aware of his special skill.
It was in the summer holidays stories of Soothran that Kaatumuthappan first appeared. He had the look of a wild creature in that.
Ajagajan goat who used to talk in rhymes had no name in the first few stories. The same goes for another famous character called Karinakkan bat. Actually, the bat has a different name, but it was his mischief that earned him such a complicated name.
The ones who were supposed to act in the cartoon stories were baffled. A rat had nibbled most of the lines and cartoons in the story. They made a hole in the cartoon to shoo away the rat. But through that hole, many more rats entered the story and they started eating more cartoons.
Such complicated cartoon patterns were first introduced in Malayalam by Balarama; through the Dishku cartoon introduced in 2015. Readers saw how people had come to build the frames in the cartoon as well as the pages falling apart from the frames.
Lives of characters
Balarama’s 50 years of history also witnessed fascinating characters like Akkuvum Ikkuvum, Gundumon, Munjasan, Kaloopi, Mr India, Jambanum Thumbanum, ‘Pulivalile’ Neelan puli, Kuppi bootham, Kayamkulam Kochunni, Raja Thuglan, Mandan Subru, Mr Bore, Sherlock Fox etc.
Showing the path
Kuttoosan and Dakini came to Paris to steal the Eiffel tower. This cartoon came in 2014 May, 3D special Balarama. Balarama also takes the credit for publishing the first 3D Children’s publication. The ones that came after, like Invisible Balarama, Morphing Balarama and Animation Balarama proved that creativity had no boundaries.
Amongst the children’s publications in Malayalam, Balarama has always introduced such path-breaking concepts.
Every time we lamented that children were losing interest in reading, Balarama brought brand new themes and ideas to bring them back. Kalikkudukka, Balarama Digest, Magic pot, Tell me Why were some of them.
Best of Balarama
In Cricket if you were asked to choose an all-time eleven, there will be names like Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Wasim Akram etc. Similarly, Balarama is also coming out with an All-time Book called Balarama@50 Golden Jubilee Supplement this Vishu. Imagine this will be a book that will be awaited by the readers of Balarama since its inception.
One thing is certain, those Balarama readers might surely be aware that there is a secret getaway to a wonderland in that clay pot in front of that Balarama office.