Shikari Shambu: The Hunter Who Never Hunts

(Images courtesy Savio Mascarenhas)
Savio Mascarenhas has been drawing Shikari Shambu for 20 years. He explains what went into making this beloved character.

With his sola topi pulled over his eyes, and his moustache curling up or down depending on his level of fright, Shikari Shambu, the famous comic character, can be seen stalking the forest, a bead of perspiration running down his cheek. There’s a tiger out there, somewhere, and he’s been tasked with catching it.

However, unlike the Shikaris of olde, Shambu is not a fearless forager in the jungle. He’s terrified of animals. When the time comes and the beast lies within his sights, he is almost certain to flee in the other direction. The hunter soon becomes the hunted, and the tiger will be hot on his tail. Almost always, Shambu gets lucky. In this case, the tiger stumbles upon another. Both leap to pounce onto the Shikari – who trips. They knock their heads against each other, and Shambu gets the credit for catching both.

Shambu, the legendary hunter

Shikari, Shambu, comic, original
Image: V.B. Halbe

Shikari Shambu is India’s most successful fictional hunter. The catch is that he’s never fired a shot in anger. In the early 1980s, at a comic magazine’s editorial meet, it was decided that a hunter would be made – who wouldn’t shoot a single animal. Its co-founders, writer Luis Fernandez and  artist V.B. Malbe, would go on to create India’s most memorable Shikari.

His role was more akin to a forest ranger – called on by conservationists and locals to help with any and all of their animal troubles. For 30 years, he’s done just that, and his exploits have taken him across India and the world.

Shikari, Shambu, comic, original
Image: Savio Mascarenhas

Madras Courier spoke to artist Savio Mascarenhas, who has been responsible for Shambu since 1997. Savio, a huge fan of Halbe’s work, was left speechless when he was picked to take the series forward after Halbe’s retirement. Halbe left him advice, and an impression. Says Savio:

He was such a down to earth person. Simple, quiet, didn’t speak much. He had a touch of humour which was very subtle. He was not too loud, and had a very humble approach to life.

Shikari, Shambu, comic, original
Image: V.B. Halbe

Shambu’s lack of humility frequently put him on the spot. He was hailed as a great Shikari – a legacy Shambu perpetuated with his cheeky smile followed by every blundering success. It’s his clumsy nature itself that gets him out of tight spots. Shambu is the kind of character that could trip and inadvertently end a war – such is his luck whilst in a state of fall. He spends a lot of his time running away from animals and the bad guys – but along the way, he knocks them out.

“It’s very much like what we face in life. We are put into situations where we don’t want to be…It’s a reflection of what every person has to face in life. We want to run away from problems…but I guess the best thing to do is to jump into it and to face it, and take challenges head on. That’s what it comes to at one point. Victorious would be the one who would jump into a crisis and handle it, rather than running away from the crisis,” says Savio.

Shikari, Shambu, comic, original
Image: Savio Mascarenhas

Halbe’s style of drawing Shambu was difficult to replicate, and it took Savio a while to get used to his new shoes. At first, he wasn’t sure if he could pull it off. But Halbe stopped by the office one final time between 1997-1998 – and assured Savio he would do justice. It was a huge moment for the young artist, and he never saw the old man again – Halbe passed away soon after.

At first, taking on Halbe’s legacy was daunting. His early efforts got him a summon to the editor’s office – where he was shown a letter from a child who didn’t exactly like the new artist’s work. The kid wanted to know – who was this new guy, and how can he do this?

Savio replied back, explaining that sometimes, artists and characters have to move on. He wrote that he was as huge a fan of Mr. Halbe’s work – and that he was trying his best. Many years later, in 2011, he received a friend request on Facebook from the same child. Now older, he understood the difficulties of filling such shoes – and praised Savio for pulling it off.

Shambu, The Environmentalist

Shikari, Shambu, comic, original
Image: Savio Mascarenhas

Part of the changes Savio brought to Shambu was to remove his gun from his person. Shambu was often shown with a hunting rifle – which he never used on his animals. Besides, he wasn’t a hunter – he was more of a forest ranger, explains Savio.

Shambu is usually called in when a wild animal is posing a menace to a community, or is trapped somehow. When he ‘captures’ the animals, they are never sent to zoos or circuses – reflecting Savio’s stance against such places. They are sent to sanctuaries.

Shikari, Shambu, comic, original
Image: V.B. Halbe

What really makes Shambu an environmentalist? Following Shambu’s exploits across the world, kids will learn about animals they have small chance of encountering in real life. As editor Rajani Thindiant explains:

Along with laughter, what it provides kids is something relatable. They know what it feels to try face something which scares them. Shambu, though he’s cowardly, is pushed into situations where he’d rather run away from.

For the lakhs who grew up reading Shambu, the blundering forest ranger will always be the Shikari with a heart, who put a smile on every face.

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