In 2019, the newspaper reports of the Bombay High Court’s order putting the iconic children’s magazine Chandamama up for sale and its current owners in jail for fraud evoked sadness at the passing of an era.
With the fate of the magazine and its archives uncertain, it is hard not to mourn a publication that is as old as independent India itself. Not only this, but it was also the only children’s magazine published in languages as diverse as Santhali and Braille.
For Indians of a certain generation, Chandamama enjoyed something of a cult status. Its name alone brings back memories of lazy summer afternoons, reading stories of Vikram and Vetal, Indian mythology and heroes from a distant past. In those days, kids and even adults made sure they snapped up every copy in a series, which would later be hardbound. Perhaps many kids even honed their ‘negotiating’ skills while exchanging different series with friends!
Chandamama was founded in 1947 by two doyens of the Telugu film industry – B Nagi Reddy and Aluri Chakrapani. Nagi Reddy (1912-2004) was a Telugu movie producer who had set up the Vijaya Vahini Studio in Chennai, one of the biggest movie studios of its time. He also established the Andhra Jyothi newspaper in 1945.
His partner in the venture was Chakrapani (1908-1975), a popular Telugu film writer, producer and director. Together, the duo produced more than 35 films in a number of Indian languages and won many film awards for their work.
As India approached Independence from Brtish rule in 1947, Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani felt there was a need to connect young Indians with their rich history, mythology and folklore. They hit upon the idea of starting a children’s magazine, in Tamil and Telugu. The first issue of Chandamama was published in July 1947, a month before India’s Independence. Around 6,000 copies were published in the first edition, which were instantly sold out. The publication never looked back and at its height in the 1980s, it had a circulation of around 2 lakh.
The magazine’s editor was Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao, considered a colossus of Telugu literature in the 20th century. Under Rao, the magazine developed a reputation for literary excellence, even though its readers were primarily children.
It was Rao who wrote the main stories for the magazine and they covered tales from Indian history, mythology and folklore in serialized form, spread across several issues. They were presented primarily in text format with few illustrations. Kutumba Rao served as the magazine’s editor for 28 years, till his death in 1980.
In those pre-television and pre-Internet times, children across India waited impatiently for their copies. It was their only access to the world of fantasy and history. At its zenith, Chandamama was published in 12 languages, including Assamese, Sindhi and even Sinhala and Sanskrit. In 1981, the magazine launched a Braille edition.
Sadly, changing times caught up with this much-loved magazine. The advent of television and then the Internet saw a fall in circulation. Then, following the demise of the original promoters, the company was put up for sale. In 2006, there was speculation that it would be acquired by the Walt Disney Company, but the talks fell through. In 2007, it was acquired by a technology company, Geodesic Information Systems, for Rs 10 crore, which had planned to digitize its content for a newer audience.
However, in 2014, the magazine passed into the custody of the official liquidator of the Bombay High Court, as Geodesic faced liquidation on allegations of fraud and siphoning of funds. On January 11, 2019, the Bombay High Court passed an order for ‘posession and sale’ of the magazine in favour of the Enforcement Directorate.
The seven-decade-old magazine faces an uncertain future but the fond memories it leaves behind will always be cherished by the generations whose imagination it fired.