Dear Tinkle, Can Tantri Go Back to Being a Mantri?

Pop Culture

Dear Tinkle, Can Tantri Go Back to Being a Mantri?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Tinkle Comics are to the ’80s and ’90s children what PUBG is to the disappointments of today. For these kids (who aren’t kids anymore), the characters that populated the pages of those comic books are reminders of a simpler time, one defined by the innocence of childhood. From Suppandi, the dim-witted house-help, to the crafty Kalia the Crow, and the forever-bumbling Shikari Shambu, these characters were just as recognisable and as well-loved as any Western cartoon from the pages of Marvel or the shows on Cartoon Network. If our childhood memories had custodians, it would be the lovable denizens of Tinkle’s pages. And the last thing anyone wants is for their childhood memories to be tampered with, which is why the latest character development involving Tantri the Mantri has me so upset.

Tantri, who has been serving King Hooja as his mantri while plotting to take the kingdom’s throne ever since his debut in 1984, finally got what he wished for and became crowned the King. Hooja was lost (and presumed dead) in an explosion while visiting a rebellious corner of the realm, and Tantri was all-too-eager to fill his shoes. The evil minister’s 35-year-long quest has finally come to fruition, but I can’t find it in myself to feel happy for him.

I consider myself closer to Tantri than the average reader. For a period between 2012 and 2013, I wrote stories for Tinkle Comics, and of all their popular characters, I enjoyed Tantri the most. His appeal, to me, lay in how despite possessing an impressive intellect and affinity for cunning stunts, he is always the underdog, even though he is pitted against the simpleton king, Hooja. The way Tantri has to grin and pretend to love being Hooja’s mantri is instantly identifiable to anybody who has ever thought of their boss as incompetent. He is the patron saint of constant struggle, and that’s just the way we like him.

Except, now his struggle has ended, and in a most atypical fashion. The defining characteristic of a Tantri story is the climax, where his most carefully laid plans blow up in his face, usually because of his pride or Hooja’s stupidity, providing the reader much amusement. To see a plan finally work, as Tantri’s paid assassin got rid of Hooja, clearing his path to the throne, is like watching Arnab Goswami engage in responsible journalism – it’s a twist ending, and it alienates your core audience who have come to expect something entirely different. And by making Tantri the king in one fell swoop, this plot development has also done away entirely with the central conflict that drove the character.

For a period between 2012 and 2013, I wrote stories for Tinkle Comics, and of all their popular characters, I enjoyed Tantri the most.

With King Hooja gone, Tantri has lost his dramatic foil. Hooja was the sweet to Tantri’s sour, the dawn to his dusk. Though they were polar opposites, they perfectly balanced each other – until now. Sure, the tribulations of being king would make for an interesting problem for Tantri to tackle, but why would that be interesting for more than a single episode eludes me. Since when did Tinkle become HBO? The moral ambiguity and political pitfalls of a monarchical system of government are better left to George RR Martin and the Game of Thrones crew. Tantri’s strength was always in comedy – in juggling his split personality of plotting murderer and sycophantic adviser to Hooja.

Imagine Tom & Jerry without Jerry. All we would have is the story of a cat that never lands on his feet and has an abnormally high tolerance for pain. Like Tom and Wile E Coyote from the Roadrunner cartoons, Tantri falls into the ranks of fan-favourite villains, who endear themselves to audiences by never actually harming the object of their ill intentions. And whether it’s Jerry, the Roadrunner, or King Hooja, the villains start to seem benevolent because their prey is just so lovable. Now that Hooja has departed from the pages of the comic, Tantri is just an egotistical megalomaniac who has no business occupying the highest seat in the land.

Yes, I had asked Tinkle to leave the GoT-inspired storylines alone, and stick to their strengths. But before the editors there take my suggestion, perhaps they should return to GoT well one last time. Jon Snow was brought back from the dead to be named King in the North, now Hooja should be brought back to be reinstalled as King of Hujli, with Tantri sent back to his natural role as the stand-in for every frustrated underling ever. The King is the Mantri, Long Live the Mantri!