Mario's world

Legend

Mario's world

Mario de Miranda. For a generation dipped in the creative relish of his whacky, graphic, dramatically revealing cartoons, his lines visualize social commentary. People phobia isn’t his forte, and that endearing bond with the world in which Mario lives define the artist in him. But try limiting this master of detail in mundane definitions, and watch Mario jump the frame, trap you in his vivid, exotic society, carved in style!

Today, a Mario cartoon, with its trademark, mesmerizing range of subjects is sure to arrest the glance of a first-timer. Yet those distinctly identifiable twists and turns of his lines had a very earthy beginning. For, Mario Joao Carlos do Rosario de Britta Miranda, drew his first line on the wall of a 330-year-old house in Goa. That feat, recklessly repeated as a child, earned him his most valued gift: A blank book from his mother, his visual “diary” that changed Mario’s life. Forever.

Rooted in Goa, Mario first drew from the village life, a veritable mix of people and nature, a riotously funny concoction of gentle mannerisms and tongue-in-cheek renderings. Life was one big canvas, ready to be inked with his humour-laced syrup. Outside, Bombay beckoned. So did London, Paris, Lisbon, stints in The Illustrated Weekly of India and the Current magazine, The Economic Times…

Formal art training had no role in Mario’s life. But he had that uncanny knack to exploit his natural talent. Freelancing as an illustrator and cartoonist, Mario, the undergraduate student of St Xavier’s College, Bombay, learnt the tricks. After initial rejections, he got the professional’s call from a big media house. The world lay before him, unconquered. He took the plunge.  

Before Mario mastered English, he had made Portuguese his own. He went beyond the language winning the Gulbentuan Scholarship on a trip to Lisbon in 1959. London came next. But for a couple of years, he strived hard, even washed dishes in the English capital to tide over tough times. Then came the big break, a stint in the United States and a chance to work with Charles Shultz, the man behind “Peanuts.”

Satirical magazines, MAD and PUNCH featured Mario’s cartoons. The money financed his European travels, which eventually led him to Sir Ronald Searle. Mario had just met his mentor.

Travels fuelled Mario’s art, stirring up a million images. He loved the buildings, the streets, the parties, the cafes, nightclubs, market places. Not all were cartoons or funny. The artist in Mario transcended conversational limitations. He once told his biographer, Manohar Malgonkar, “Where there is humour, I will do a cartoon. But when I do structures, I don’t do cartoons.”

The journey took decades. It apparently had to. A glance at his micro renderings offers convincing proof of Mario’s extreme devotion to his work. Each drawing apparently took hours of detail. Still, he managed a mindboggling medley of over 10,000 works. And that did include several political cartoons, his subtle yet biting comment on the politicians of yore, now preserved for posterity.

Yet, Mario’s self-confessed reluctance to indulge in political cartoons is legion. “I like people and situations, which I think are far more fascinating than politics. I think there is more character in social life. Humour there has much more to offer and is more permanent. A political cartoon is not so. New ministers come, after that the whole thing changes,” Mario’s explanation says it all.  

The unmistakable stamp of Mario’s range was evident in tell-tale fashion at his first, virtually biographical exhibition of works at Bangalore’s Indian Academy of Cartoons recently. There was just no doubting why the State conferred the Padma Shri on him in 1988, the Padma Bhusan in 2002, the All India Cartoonists’ Association chose him for a lifetime achievement award. With solo shows in the US, Japan, Brazil, Australia, Singapore, France, Yugoslavia, and of course, Portugal, Mario had already shown the world his calibre.  

Mario often punctures the stereotype of editorial cartoons that rely on detailed captions, and the minimalistic style of today’s cartoonists. As his contemporary, Nissim Ezekiel puts it, the detailing in Mario’s work imparts a sense of generosity filling every inch of the paper with ink.

Poet-curator, Ranjit Hoskote agrees. “Mario brings to his art a heightened sense of public life as theatre; he practises a relaxed anthropology that combines piquant observation with humour, gentle exaggeration with a piercing insight into the relationships between genders, races and nationalities.”  

Through his graphic attention to each character in a cartoon, Mario elevates the work to a distinct form of art. Now, a cartoon doesn’t easily qualify to be “art.” But the potential always exists. “A cartoon can indeed be a work of art,” reminds Mario. “The best cartoonists in the world, in Spain and Portugal for instance, transform a cartoon to art. But people don’t appreciate that very much, because they don’t go deep into the culture of humour.”

Mario’s fixation with people hasn’t changed over the years, but the method has. From a classical line approach, Mario’s design today screams out with an identity, all his own. “The style and technique have changed. I have been told that I tend to put too much of people, characters in one cartoon.”

Beyond the art, Mario knows the pitfalls of attempting humour. “What is funny to me may not be funny to you. Humour is tough to define that way. The moment someone asks to explain your joke, you give up,” explains the artist, fully aware of the sense of fun slowly ebbing away from today’s society.

Now settled in his ancestral home in the Goan village of Loutolim, Mario has his wife Habiba Hydari, younger son Rishaad and their pets for company. But beyond this core of comfort, Mario has his heart and art devoted to the “Heritage of Goa.”

For a creative genius yearning for young, well-read cartoonists with an indepth, purposeful sense of humour, this love for Goa’s tradition completes a line that 84-year-old Mario now draws between the young and the old. A line-age that you could call, distinctly Vintage Class!

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