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The immortal adventures of Boban and Molly

Why a satirical comic strip became a cult in Kerala.

Written by Vishnu Varma |
October 20, 2019 5:35:22 am
Boban and Molly, comic strip, Bobanum Moliyum, VT Thomas Wit and wisdom: The characters from VT Thomas’s comic strip live on in Kerala’s pop culture.

Twelve-year-old naughty twins, a middle-class Christian family, a lazy panchayat president, his domineering wife, a dog that appears in every frame. For Malayalis who grew up in Kerala in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, that can only mean one thing: Bobanum Moliyum, a comic strip that reimagined satire, nudged generations of people into reading and became an icon of Kerala’s thriving cartooning culture.

Created by VT Thomas for the weekly Malayala Manorama periodical (and later the magazine), the adventures of the twins were first published in 1962. Thomas, better known by his pen-name Toms, found a home for his characters in the fictional village of Kizhakkamthooku somewhere in central Kerala. The artist also belonged to that landscape, having being born in Kuttanad in Alappuzha district.

In interviews, he had mentioned that the two mischief-makers were based on children in his neighbourhood, who often jumped over the fence and dashed through his kitchen on their way to school. The comic strip also featured several characters like Pothan and Marykutty, the twins’ parents who led a modest middle-class life, the brainless panchayat president Ittunnan chettan, his wife Chettathi, the impish but innocent kid Unnikuttan and, of course, Chungan, the dog. While every strip had a central storyline, Toms was particularly adept at inserting stories about religion or alcoholism or the Malayali’s attraction to the lottery into the escapades.

“It was one of the happiest memories of my childhood. In an age when we didn’t have television or other entertainment options, we would eagerly await Bobanum Moliyum every week. It was something that inspired those of us who had the talent to draw and wanted to become cartoonists,” says Gopikrishnan KR, a cartoonist with the Mathrubhumi daily in Kozhikode.

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Boban and Molly, comic strip, Bobanum Moliyum, VT Thomas Created by VT Thomas for the weekly Malayala Manorama periodical (and later the magazine), the adventures of the twins were first published in 1962.

“Often when I draw cartoons today, if people say they can’t decipher it, I feel I have failed. In that sense, Bobanum Moliyum was a very successful series because the humour was effortless. It appealed to people of all age groups and that’s why it continues to have a long shelf-life,” he says.

For others, the comic stayed relevant because it was rooted in the social and political realities of Kerala. It dealt with the everyday problems an average Malayali faced, the scenes he would encounter on the road and the conversations he would hear at the neighbourhood tea shop, all of which would be served with a generous helping of satire and wit. From drunken husbands who beat up wives to roadside Romeos ogling at girls at bus shelters, the comic spares no one.

To get such quirky nuggets, Thomas would routinely visit the Kottayam railway station to talk to people and generate ideas. “I would sit on the platform and read the newspaper. And, out of the blue, I would say something stupid, which would get the person sitting next to me to react. The idea is to spark a conversation among a group, from which I would get something,” Thomas, who passed away in 2016, said in a television interview once.

If Bobanum Moliyum existed today, says graphic-novelist Appupen, it would not have pulled its gentle punches. “Toms’ understanding of the world sits very well with Malayali humour and social thinking. It’s not overly political, but just the fact that it makes you question things is enough. If it existed today, it would have a lot of cow jokes,” says Appupen, known for his graphic novels set in the mythical world of Halahala. “Most of the mainstream entertainment today does not want you to question anything. It confirms your complacence. I think art should disturb you and humour is a very good way of doing it. If I want to talk about beef, I should tell a joke about it. First, you will laugh and so you are already soft to the idea. Bobanum Moliyum does that very well,” he says.

The comic stood out in Malayali pop culture because its jokes transcended the weekly’s pages and spilled over into movie scripts and mimicry skits. So addictive was it that it was even seen as responsible for the Malayali habit of reading a magazine from back to front. Bobanum Moliyum may have been reserved for the last page of Manorama, but it was always the first in line to be read.

This article appeared in the print edition with the headline ‘The adventures of Boban and Molly’

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