He is a name almost every household in Telangana is familiar with. His trademark signature comes in everyday, unfailingly with a picture that sums up our present social and political lives. This has especially been true in the last 2 years of his stint with Namasthe Telangana. Mrityunjay Chiluveru is the man who elicits that smile from us every morning and makes even the most militant of Telangana activists forget their worries, smile & laugh in those moments. His cartoons are viral on social media where pitched battles are now fought over statehood and the politics around it. Mrityunjay’s cartoons with Telangana’s first ‘native’ newspaper in one way reflect the breadth and depth, the Telangana movement took in it’s latest phase, now culminating eventually in statehood. His work would form the iconography in any study of Telangana statehood that would be done in future. Not surprisingly, he gets messages all the time from readers about how his work contributed richly towards Telangana movement.
This is not to say less about the 38 year old Mrityunjay’s other body of work and his brilliant work over the years, prior to his stint with Namasthe Telangana. There is a multi-faceted artist in him as we discover in this interview. He is the son of late Sri Chiluveru Ramalingam, a skilled artisan who inspired Shyam Benegal’s 1987 Hindi movie ‘Susman’ about handloom weavers starring Om Puri. TELANGANA TALKIES talks to Mrityunjay Chiluveru on his work and his journey so far, from being a son of a skilled and famous artisan to being the ‘chief cartoonist’ of Telangana.
Hello Mrityunjay. Obviously you look inspired by your father in the creative process. What are the impressions you carry about your father and how they took you forward into your career in art and cartoons?
Mrityunjay: Yes. My father late Sri Chiluveru Ramalingam was a big inspiration to me. He was an expert textile artist (Ikkat) in an art form called ‘tie-dye’. He used to weave portraits of national leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Indira Gandhi and deities, beautifully, on fabrics. His most amazing feat every year was weaving a saree on the bullock-cart, when it starts from our home to the temple. By the time he reached the temple, he would have completed the weaving! The exclusive saree is, of course, offered to goddess Mahankali, on the occasion of Bonalu.
Renowned director Shyam Benegal inspired from the feat of my father and came to my home and shot a movie called Susman, based on the life of the weavers. My father brought a new glory to the craft with his incredible creativity. My home was always crowded with international students who came to learn this particular art form of ‘tie-dye’. My house used to be very messy with things like Colors, Papers, Sketch Pens, and Pencils. In that typical environment, if I could do any thing, it would be Drawing. Upon the advise of my father, I used to copy cartoons from various daily news papers. That was how my journey of Cartooning began.
Tell us a little more about your family background.
Mrityunjay: I am born in a family of weavers in Bhoodan Pochampally in Nalgonda district. My mother also is an artisan and so are my younger and elder brothers. I have an elder brother, three younger brothers and three sisters.
I have done PG in Political science.
Tell us about your journey into cartoons and how your career progressed?
Mrityunjay: I never really planned my growth as a cartoonist. As an artist, I always took life as it came. My career as a Cartoonist began in the year 1996 with Bobbili Puli, a political weekly magazine under the editorship of great K.N.Y.Patanjali. And then, I worked for Andhra Bhoomi for ten years. After that, I worked as ‘Head of the Animation’ for news channel TV5. And currently I am working as an editorial cartoonist for Namasthe Telangana.
My cartoons were exhibited in different countries like China, Brazil, Romania, Turkey and Italy. I also won the ‘Excellency Award’ in an international contest held in Greece, the ‘Best Cartoonist’ award in ‘Leng Mu’ contest held in China and the first prize in ‘National AIDS cartoon contest’. Then opposition leader, Dr. Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy was so impressed with my pocket cartoons entitled Hyderaabaadudu that he exhibited them in the state Assembly!
My cartoons on Telangana movement are so popular that they are being used as posters and flexies. They are going viral on social networking sites like Facebook. Many call from the West, especially US, and say they derive inspiration from my cartoons for their contribution towards Telangana movement.
How has working on Namasthe Telangana been different from your earlier jobs at other dailies?
Mrityunjay: It has been wonderful working for Namasthe Telangana. My editor Allam Narayana and my CEO, Katta Sekhar Reddy encourage me a lot. My earlier jobs were just jobs but now it is like being part of Telangana Movement. My job is no longer a 9 to 5 job, but a 24×7 movement for separate state of Telangana. I am indebted to them both for involving me in their journalistic duties for Telangana.
Does the creative process be any different while you work at a newspaper espousing Telangana cause?
Mrityunjay: My sincere opinion is that the creative process is quite unique in its own sense and it will remain the same whether you use it for a particular cause like Telangana movement or not.
Do you do cartoons on daily basis afresh for that particular day or do you also maintain a repository of them by drawing as and when you get fresh ideas?
Mrityunjay: As politics change their course every day, I do cartoons for that particular day, afresh.
What are your most favorite cartoons among those you drew? What are your favorites among what others drew? You seem to be fond of Miranda and Mohan.
Mrityunjay: There are many favorite cartoons and not-so-favorite cartoons as well, among thousands of cartoons I drew. Yes, I like Mario Miranda, Mohan and the others in a long list. I just love every single cartoon drawn by Miranda and Mohan.
How do you describe your relationship with your guru Mohan?
Mrityunjay: Mohan doesn’t like being called Guru but I like being called his Shishya. This is our typical relationship.
I read your blog. What did you mean to say when you say “I don’t read essays of TJS George, the Indian Express columnist. I never read Telugu translations of Dastovisky. But I still draw. As rightly said by KNY Patanjali, ‘What have we got to lose if our ignorance offends no one?”
Mrityunjay: Mohan always chided me for not being well-educated and for not knowing enough English. That I am a Post Graduate in ‘Political Science’ is a different story altogether! May be, he meant lessons that life teaches everyone. He once questioned me angrily “Did you ever read essays of TJS George?”. I replied coolly, “Yes, I am not well-educated but I still can draw good cartoons” and I reminded him a quote by K.N.Y.Patanjali – “As long as my ignorance doesn’t do any harm to others, I really do not care much, being ignorant”
Who are your inspirational figures to draw as cartoons?
Mrityunjay: NTR and KCR! I really love to draw chubby cheeks of NTR and that big nose of KCR!
You must be spending long hours at your drawings. How much of your work is hard work and how much is creativeness? How are you enjoying the work?
Mrityunjay: For me what is creative is not hard work at all and what is hard is not being creative.
I ran a column on stalwarts in the field of cartoon and caricature for sunday bathukamma magazine of Namasthe Telangana. I have introduced almost 50 cartoonists and caricaturists from around the globe. I get messages on how my cartoons did their bit in Telangana movement. That gives me some satisfaction but life is always an interesting journey. In my childhood, I used to draw portraits of political leaders with ash on the part of kitchen wall that became black because of my mother’s wooden stove. Even my latest upgraded Wacom digital drawing board doesn’t give that pleasure of the black kitchen wall! The journey goes on, each day with a unique experience.
You also seem to be into animation and other advanced technologies. Can you explain your interest and work in them
Mrityunjay: Ann Telnaes, a political cartoonist who works for ‘The Washington Post’ does a lot of animation, apart from drawing cartoons. Inspired by her work, I started doing some animation work too. I introduced 3D political cartoons made in ‘Maya’ software, while at TV5 and also did some commercial ads in 2D and 3d. I really enjoyed doing animation.
You also seem to have to done some work for movies. How did you end up with those works? Do you have any future plans for movies?
Mrityunjay: I never worked for movies. Yes, there was a scene in the movie, ‘Gayam 2′ on the lines of my animation work ‘Raajakeeya Bhethaalam’, which I did for TV5. I am planning to make animation films on the history of Hyderabad and Golkonda.
How did it feel with the extraordinary reception you had with Ayn Rand caricature?
Mrityunjay: I was overwhelmed. I was appreciated by the university professors of North Carolina in USA. One of the professors Cat Warren even mailed me saying “You are incredibly talented”. They procured my caricature of Ayn Rand for their magazine’s article ‘Ayn Rand’s Influence on College Curriculum’, for $500 as a one-time copy right!
What are the fundamental differences between cartoons in the west and our country?
Mrityunjay: I posed the same question to American Cartoonist Daryl Cagle when he visited Hyderabad, few months ago. His answer was, “Yeah, there are some restrictions to the freedom of a cartoonist in India. It is not the case in America, ‘A Penny for a laugh’!”. That will be my answer too!
What is difference between drawing caricatures and cartoons? Are they different skills? What interests you more and what is the difference in perspective needed for them?
Mrityunjay: A political cartoon is an illustration which is designed to convey a social or political message. Irony and satire are heavily used in political cartoons and the cartoon cannot be read or understood by only looking at the words or only looking at the picture. Both the words and the pictures must be read together in order to understand the cartoon’s message.
A caricature is described as a portrait that has exaggerated features of a certain person or thing. A caricature can be rendered in two ways; it can either be oversimplified or exaggerated. Some times, caricatures do not require a concept but usually has a one-panel drawing that depicts a certain situation or the main character.
The main difference is that cartoon demands a sense of spontaneity whereas the caricature demands craftsmanship. Both interests me equally.
What do you think the future Telangana Govt. should be doing to encourage young artists from the region?
Mrityunjay: Not only Telangana government, but every state should encourage upcoming artists. ‘Fine Arts’ courses should be encouraged and valued on par with other courses like Medicine, Engineering and IT. I am waiting for that day when people would say, “Wow, this guy is an artist, great!”, rather than say what they are saying now “This guy is an artist, poor fellow!”.
What is your future plan? Do you have a dream project?
Mrityunjay: My past, present and future is ‘Drawing’. My dream project is to continue to draw and draw better than now.
TELANGANA TALKIES wishes you good luck Mrityunjay. Keep the fun coming.
Mrityunjay: Thank you Telangana Talkies for giving me this opportunity.
With that we wished the cartoonist-in-chief of Telangana the very best while he shared with us some of his favorite cartoons and caricatures. These are shared below. You can visit his blog or his Facebook page for more of his work.