The legendary artist Mario Miranda, born on this day in 1926 set out to bring his imagination and world view out for everyone through his notable characters in both human form – the secretary Miss Fonseca, the minister Bundaldass, and Bollywood star Rajani Nimbupani – and animal form – the canines, their families and more. As observant as he was to the life around him, be it his life in then-Bombay, now-Mumbai, or his home in Goa which he epitomised in various ways over the years through stellar work. It is then wrong to merely name him a cartoonist, he was an artist who spoke through his characters and his paintings or simplistic sketches of Bom Jesus Church (The Basilica of Bom Jesus) in Old Goa or a church at night which might remind art-lovers of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (the Parisian cafe view and a Kyoto temple scene are a few other popular ones).
So what made Mario Miranda different from anyone else in his time? Was it the way he saw the world as it passed by in front of his eyes? Or was it the fairly relatable characters he created for posterity to enjoy and probably critique for being ‘too sexualised’? One of his most popular characters, Miss Fonseca, is an animated creation of the woman in office a few years ago. Now I understand this might not entirely be agreeable to all of my readers here, but allow me to explain before we begin a battle of words… Miss Fonseca is a modern woman who is probably ‘looked at’ differently because she’s a woman rubbing shoulders with men in her workplace. For the sake of comparison, even though neither deserves either, Miss Fonseca is an Indianised version of Peggy Olson in Mad Men – and both of them work in the advertising industry amidst creative men. If anything, Miranda’s work is best remembered for his female characters, both Miss Fonseca and Miss Rajani Nimbupaani, whom Amul too had used in their creative on the artist’s demise in 2011. May 2, 2016’s Google Doodle by cartoonist Aaron Renier was a tribute to Mario Miranda’s exemplary work. The doodle depicted a busy town with monochromic people and colourful umbrellas. This year at the Goa Carnival in February (was able to witness and walk along the Mapusa edition in North Goa), I also noticed some his characters making their way to the procession and it was purely nostalgic.
I also spoke with poet and media maven Pritish Nandy about Mario Miranda as the duo shared a deep friendship for a long time. “Mario Miranda was one of my closest friends, he was in my opinion, one of the finest cartoonists that India has ever produced. His drawing skills were incredible and if you see his exhibitions around various cities of the world, particularly in Goa, you will realise what a magical environment he can create through his art. I do not see Mario purely as a cartoonist and he never wanted to be known as one, he always wanted to be known as an artist.”
“His journals with illustrations are in the private collection of Habiba (Mario Miranda’s wife, and an artist herself) and she lent me some to read that I loved. They were written in another language (Portuguese) that I didn’t know and whatever I didn’t understand I checked with him (Mario). I used his work wherever it was possible as he was not just a cartoonist but also one of the greatest artists of our time.” Curious to know if Nandy too had a favourite Mario Miranda character, he said he liked them all.
For me, though, not that there can ever be a comparison, it’s usually the tourist playing the guitar whom I connect with the most – he truly explains Susegad without the usage of any words. Susegad is exactly that. You feel it and the music he is strumming on the guitar while singing a song as he enjoys the slight shade of the palm tree on a breezy Goan afternoon is the reason why one can say how a picture, in this case, a piece of art speaks a thousand words.
His professional life:
Miranda worked as a cartoonist in newspapers such as the now-defunct Current, followed by the Illustrated Weekly of India magazine, Midday and later, Economic Times. The Afternoon Dispatch and Courier have also produced some of his best work on Mumbai where he lived and worked before moving back to Goa.
In the 1990s, Rushi Yazdegardi, owner of South Mumbai’s iconic Cafe Mondegar, had asked Miranda to draw murals on two walls of his eatery – one depicting ‘Life in Mumbai’ and the other dedicated to ‘Atmosphere in the Café’ that portrays characters enjoying their meal at the cafe.
Mario was bestowed with several honours including the Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan and a lifetime achievement award from the All India Cartoonist’s Association. He also received a posthumous Padma Vibhushan in 2012, a few months after his passing in 2011 at the age of 85.
Mr Nandy also threw light on some of his works being auctioned by Saffron Art which fetched some “pretty amazing figures, something Mario wouldn’t have imagined during his lifetime.”
Speaking about Miranda’s life in Goa, that he resumed after having to leave from Bombay which he loved and missed even after shifting, he says, “He had the most beautiful house in Goa, he was Portuguese royalty and had his coat of arms and he had some of the most charming dogs that I’ve seen. When he was in Bombay, he had a pet turtle and a bird. He was an animal-lover and that’s something we have in common. I’d also brought Mario on the board as one of the co-founders when we started People For Animals, which is run by Maneka Gandhi.”
The next Mario Miranda?
With the world staying home in quarantine, the celebrated deceased cartoonist’s sons Raul and Rishaad Miranda and Gerard da Cunha, curator of the Mario Gallery have organised an online art competition to help people make the most of the confinement and tinker with their creative skills in isolation while they search for the next Mario Miranda of Goa. The contest wrapped up on April 30 and the winners are set to be announced on May 2.
The Mario Gallery and Museum published Miranda’s 1949 diaries, which depict his student life as a 22-year-old in Bombay (now Mumbai). Over the years, Miranda published several books of his cartoons which include titles namely Laugh it Off, Goa with Love, and Germany in Wintertime, among others.
His illustrations have also made it to books written by eminent authors like Dom Moraes (A Journey to Goa), Manohar Malgaonkar (Inside Goa), Mario Cabral e Sá’s (Legends of Goa), and Uma Anand (Dul-Dul, The Magic Clay Horse, The Adventures of Pilla the Pup, and Lumbdoom, The Long-tailed Langoor).
His signature style in art:
From satire to tongue-in-cheek humour at the workplace (a not-so-close cousin of Dilbert?), to city life in Mumbai and jostling in the crowd, to the busy streets and villages of Goa, his most popular work came with a signature style, like the Mario Miranda stamp.
At one end were the oft-buxom women with black hair in a blunt cut, wearing dresses or sarees. Then there were the village belles dressed in vibrant floral skirts or polka dots and the traditionally-clad fisherwomen in a Goan marketplace. Suave gentlemen in tuxedos shared canvas with some of these female characters.
Miranda’s work was quite a social commentary of his time and he stressed on that part enough. He wouldn’t consider his work to be a political commentary of any kind. On what would be his 94th birthday, here’s a homage to one of the best-known artists of this country who keeps vintage Bombay and Goa alive in the hearts of several people, wherever they are geographically-placed.