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Mario Miranda lives on in quirky merch

Packed into five galleries spread across Goa, the articles speak volumes about the social cartoonist’s enduring fame
Last Updated : 17 December 2022, 03:51 IST
Last Updated : 17 December 2022, 03:51 IST

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Youngsters are picking up fridge magnets with Mario’s cartoons.
Youngsters are picking up fridge magnets with Mario’s cartoons.
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Teapots with the cartoonist’s works.
Teapots with the cartoonist’s works.

Mario Miranda’s arresting social cartoons have a rare, magical edge, where his lively characters are embellished in a zillion strokes of comic indulgence. What if these came alive in a mind-boggling mix of merchandise?

From ubiquitous T-shirts with his trademark strokes to coasters, trays, sling bags, fridge magnets, lampshades, and more, the merchandise grabs attention easily. Packed into five galleries spread across Goa, the articles speak volumes about the social cartoonist’s enduring fame, 11 summers after his demise.

Quirky, but usable, the illustrated daily-use things have ensured that Mario’s characters never go out of public imagination. This involved grand designing by renowned architect Gerard da Cunha, who curates the galleries.

Unlike a political cartoon, a social, satirical work of art can virtually stay relevant forever. Gerard knew this well when he started the merchandising journey 10 years ago. “I began with postcards, taking out prints of Mario’s illustrations and cartoons. Having edited all the books about him, I had a good knowledge of his works,” says the architect, from his Porvorim office in North Goa.

“Mario had a lot of originals in his house. Most were pocket cartoons, lying under the carpet, bed, and everywhere. When I suggested the merchandising idea, he was skeptical. He would ask, ‘who will buy?’,” Gerard recalls.

In his architect avatar, Gerard’s work on designs and building materials sharpened his innovative eye. He found a clay sculptor with an unusually keen eye for detail. Gerard knew he could employ that skill to venture into the third dimension, giving a neat little twist to Mario’s wondrous characters.

He chased the sculptor, learned the tricks, took figurine moulds, and cast them in fibreglass. “Each of those figurines are painted individually. Goa has plenty of those Ganesha idol artists, who are mostly without work barring two months.”

Outside the Calangute gallery, the fibreglass sculpture of a Goan lady cycling with a basket balanced on her head is a sight to behold. A suited, bow-tied guitarist is seated, smug in his figurine firmness. They merge, strikingly, with the earthen, designer buildings shaped by Gerard near his architect office.

The figurines, imposing in size, raise the Mario buffs’ expectations, as one can find at the gallery dozens of individual avatars, moulded, coloured, and ready to be picked.

Inside a factory next door, the merchandise emerges from scratch. Carved out from raw sheets of wood, cardboard, clay, moulds, and more, the material shapes into usable stuff that pack the shelves.

Popularity quotient

An estimated 150 people drop into the galleries every day. “There are people who take postcards for Rs 30 and those who pick up stuff for over Rs 5,000. Mario
appeals to all kinds of people,” says Gerard.

For those who know Goa is incomplete without Mario, the galleries are a godsend. Gushes a visitor Deepa D’Souza, “I love Mario’s work. Since I found this place, I want to take it all home.”

Youngsters mostly buy prints with mounts and frames, fridge magnets, and key chains, says one of the gallery managers, Shweta Mashelkar. “Those in the 50s and older go for the bigger things, including figurines. We also get event orders for Mario’s art on tiles. They order on the website,” she says.

Post-pandemic, the tourist inflow at the galleries has seen a perceptible increase. “Most people from Mumbai and Delhi have already seen a lot of Mario’s works. They are naturally excited to buy usable things that carry his art. But many from south India are curious, and we often tell them more about the artist,” notes Shweta, whose 12-year stint at the gallery has seen the merchandise multiply in variety.

‘Life from the streets’

Mario’s characters are meshed into everyday scenes sketched out in great detail. They would be packed into a crowd listening to a crooner, or a restaurant filled to the brim with gluttons of a thousand shapes. Gerard had mastered the art of picking the right one from the lot, for a neat, figurine treatment.

In famed writer Manohar Malgonkar’s words, “Mario has always been fond of observing life from the street level, and he goes nosing around, making drawings of whatever catches his eye.” Animated in conversation, dramatic in expression, graceful in poise, every character of his had something called personality.

Politics rarely got that Mario treatment. Eateries, taverns, weddings, bus stops, and post offices were all that he cared about because he found real people there. Documenting their social lives was his fixation. At last count, Gerard had fished out 13,000 of them!

Canvas, fabric, crockery, tiles, wood… Gerard picks and chooses his platform for a Mario work. He reminds us that the cartoonist himself was a versatile one. “He sketched with different mediums. Pen and ink, dots, and watercolours.”

Trial and error — that has remained Gerard’s strategy. “In 2012, I tried keeping these stuff in shops inside five-star hotels. Nothing would sell, because they were badly displayed. Then a shopkeeper gave me a room next door. The sales started then. When it exceeded his business, I started the first store in Panjim,” Gerard recalls.

Today, the galleries are a must-visit on most Goan tourist calendars.

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Published 16 December 2022, 16:47 IST

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