Can Bollywood save Archie Comics?

Can Bollywood save Archie Comics?

The Riverdale gang comes to Mumbai and finds everything "amazing." Locals will find less to cheer about
Archie Comics
At times, the new "Archie" feels mostly like an illustrated Mumbai travel guide.

This year, Archie, Betty, Veronica and friends leave their mythical suburbia of Riverdale -- originally based on the Bronx's upscale Riverdale neighborhood -- to go to India, a country in which the comic book's sunny, 1950s outlook still sells.

For the fictional characters, the change of scenery may represent adventure, of a sort (more on that in a moment). For the comic book's publisher, the move is a canny sales strategy.

From 2007-2009, overall sales of "Archie," the American comic book's flagship title, dropped by 40 percent.

In 2010, the publishers introduced the series' first gay character, Kevin Keller, in an attempt to boost sales by modernizing story themes.

Indian American Raj Patel’s character was introduced four years ago to add interracial drama to the mix. Now, Patel is being used to push the brand to new frontiers.

Crossover clichés

Archie ComicsReminiscent of cringe-worthy crossover flicks such as "American Desi," Archie's desi edition falls flat in terms of authentic local flavor. In double digest number nine, on stands now, Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and a reluctant Reggie, take a very long flight to Mumbai.

Close your eyes. Now think of films "American Desi" or "The Guru." With the new "Archie" storyline, it's as if the dead horse of those decade-old “crossover” films is being flogged again.

Both of those films, and other lesser-known movies, featured white, U.S. citizens awkwardly slip into ab-baring ghaghra choli outfits (bindi included) and kurta-pajamas.

In the "Archie" comic, notorious glutton Jughead replaces his pizzas with samosas and vindaloo; Veronica and Betty drape some saris and alternate these with lehengas; Archie remains fairly confused, but this time in a kurta.

They all absolutely love Bollywood. And find everything about Mumbai "amazing."

The Hindi film industry is, in fact, the reason they arrive in the country.

Their Indian friend Raj Patel loves Bollywood and has been making amateur films. One of these, called "Love Hate Triangle," is uploaded online and becomes a sensation.

After film producer Kunal Desai seeks out Patel to direct a film, Patel asks the Riverdale residents come to India.

The double digest, titled "Love Me Baby, Mumbai," presents the gang's time in Mumbai over two books.

“Raj wants the gang in his film," says Jon Goldwater, co-CEO of Archie Comics. "The comic details the making of this movie and has the friends singing and dancing.” 

Written by Tania Del Rio, the film's plot within the comic is a love triangle -- a theme as natural to "Archie" as it is to Bollywood -- which takes the stakes of the long-running Archie-Betty-Veronica saga up a notch, bringing in a fictional marriage scenario.

If you're an "Archie" fan, you can look forward to titles such as, “Archie Marries Veronica: The Proposal,” “Archie Marries Veronica: The Wedding,” “Archie Marries Veronica: It’s Twins,” “Archie Marries Betty: Will You Marry Me?” and “Archie Marries Betty: The Wedding,” among others.

With Bollywood and weddings as the running theme, naturally, there will be plenty of dance.

Archie, Betty and Veronica practice their 1-2-3s on "Aankhon Ki Gutakhiyan" from the 1999 film "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam," and match their notes singing the classic college number, "Purani Jeans."

In part two of the Mumbai series, the shooting ends and the film is a massive success. Or, as they say here, a "super duper hit."

Archie in Malayalam

Archie ComicsGluttonous Jughead sticks with American favorites. Too bad he didn't take on Mumbai street food.Though for the current edition the characters stay in Mumbai, there are in fact plans to have them travel all over India.

Twelve titles will be published here in 2011 by Variety Book Depot and distributed by EuroBooks, a leading publisher of children’s books in India. The cost will be Rs 30 per book.

Archie Comics plans to launch 36 titles in India by 2012 and is considering Hindi and Malayalam translations. Talks are also on to release the comics digitally in India.

All of this, however, hinges on the success of this first "desi" edition.

“India is a very important market for us," says Goldwater. "This year we’ve already shipped about a million copies to the country.”

And here’s more. Another Indian character will soon walk into Riverdale High. And this time, it’s a girl.

Jhilmil Motihar is a freelance features writer, people-watcher and traveler -- often all three at the same time.

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