I named who I thought was a very famous Mumbai cartoonist. The judge, whom I had been directed to see by the police over my stolen mobile phone, was trying to ascertain my professional credentials, and was not impressed. “There is another Mumbai cartoonist more famous than him,” he said and named another. Today, I think we were both wrong.
The two we named were good cartoonists, no doubt, but perhaps they don’t fall in the category of ‘Mumbai’s cartoonist’. No cartoonist sketched Mumbai, or many other international cities for that matter, better than Mario Joao Carlos do Rosario de Britto a Miranda, better known as Mario Miranda.
In the early 1990s, a college friend, who knew my wish to become a cartoonist, gifted me some paper cuttings. They were all single-column pocket cartoons. My friend’s father was a banker, and he used to subscribe to the business paper which carried those cartoons. Going through them made me smile. The humour was gentle, the drawings attractive, and the space was filled with characters. I tried to find the cartoonist’s name. There it was, at the bottom, tiny, difficult to read — Mario. Later, I realised his drawings were his signature. Readers could tell it was him merely by looking at his distinctive style.
The main reason for the distinctiveness was that Mario attended the Sir JJ School of Art in 1943, only for a day, and decided not to take any formal art training for the rest of his life. Another reason was that he always maintained a diary of his drawings.
He experimented with different styles, kept a visual record of everything, and practised all the time. He also travelled a lot, which helped refine and polish his style. He was invited from almost all corners of the world, and he happily obliged. He was the first internationally acclaimed Indian cartoonist who got published in famous publications, such as Punch and Mad.
Mario was the one and only ‘celebrity’ Indian cartoonist. He endorsed a reputed clothing brand in TV & print commercials in the 1980s. In 1979, Basu Chatterjee, director of the Hindi film Baaton Baaton Mein, based the looks of the hero, a reel-life cartoonist played by Amol Palekar, on Mario. One can see his house in Shyam Benegal’s film Trikaal. Benegal shot the film in and around Mario’s house in Goa, a heritage building known for its Portuguese past and architecture. And no one can forget the iconic visual of a Sardarji sitting inside a bulb with books, which has graced Khushwant Singh’s column in almost every Indian newspaper for many years. That was a Mario creation. In Mumbai, people like me visit Café Mondegar just to see the mural drawn by Mario.
Mario drew cartoons for various publications, illustrated many books, did murals, sketches, paintings, calendars, and held many exhibitions of his works around the world. He created immortal characters, such as Mrs Nimboopani, Ms Fonseca, The Boss, Godbole, Bundaldass & Moonswamy. He was awarded the Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan and numerous other awards.
One can fill the entire edition of this newspaper writing about his life and works, but I would like to narrate one incident, which is very close to my heart and captures his entire personality. A budding cartoonist from IIT Kanpur once showed his work to Mario. Mario glanced at those drawings, and immediately said, “Wow! You draw better than me.” Such generosity from a cartoonist is rare indeed and singles out Mario from his contemporaries as a great cartoonist and a gentleman.