is an expression with a kink, it is an idea visualised
in all its wacky and exaggerated shades to poke fun
at every subject. In the upsurge of the media it has
become an essential ingredient of the recipe that
is information. As an image that addresses everything
from politics to trivialities in our life, it has
the power to peeve a few and amuse, entertain and
even enlighten the rest. The cartoon that works is
the one that cracks a smile in most of our faces.
The newspapers are the biggest connoisseurs of cartoons.
They often dress news and stories in mind-boggling
images, giving it an irresistible flavour. They run
editorial cartoons tackling pressing socio-political
issues with humour, so that they pop out of the front
page to confront the reader point blank. Those who
create all these images remain a mystery to the readers.
SWM tries to unmask a contingent of cartoonists, who
make today's newspapers worth looking at.
the few well known names of this genre of art is Ranabi,
as he is popularly known by his readers, the shortened
version of the name Rafiqun Nabi whose identity as
a leading artist is just as prominent. For the last
forty years, Ranabi's Tokai has gained a cult status;
the poor little street urchin that he created for
Bichitra, the news magazine, back in 1978, has earned
its creator wide acclaim and unprecedented popularity.
Rafiqun Nabi started out as a professional cartoonist
in 1963; his first contribution was to weekly Purbodesh.
Later in the mid 1960s, he became a regular in Shochitro
Shandhani. There he used to illustrate with humorous
cartoons the celebrated column Kaal Penchar Dairy
by Abdul Gani Hazari.
In Purbodesh, which later became a daily, he continued
with socio-political satire till 1965. It was around
this time that alongside other acclaimed cartoonists
of the subcontinent, R. Nabi got a chance to contribute
his works to Shochitro Shandhani. This, he says, “was
an honour for a young artist like me”. These editorial
cartoons were done with much freedom. Later in the
late 1960s the Weekly Express, an English periodical,
sought his expertise. Here too the socio-political
issues were addressed through his cartoons. During
1969, he got involved in another periodical named
Forum, published by Rehman Sobhan and Hamida Hossain.
The bigwigs of the subcontinent belonging to different
principles were the contributors to this publication.
“I never realised that names like Amarta Sen would
later become so famous, it never occurred to me then”
says R. Nabi with amusement.
“It was Forum, the political manifesto of that period,
that was to infuse the idea of independence among
the masses. R. Nabi contends that they were drawn
hastily, but the subject matter was rightly emphasised.
After independence the artist left the country for
Greece in 1973 to study printmaking. Upon his return
found himself out of job and to survive he began to
contribute cartoons to the weekly Bichitra. In 1976,
R. Nabi got an offer of a regular job in Bichitra
and Dainik Bangla. Soon his cartoon started to feature
regularly in both the publications -- the column cartoon
in the daily Dainik Bangla and a separate cartoon
slot in the weekly Bichitra. R. Nabi realised that
his works had already started to enjoy a wide following.
One and a half years later Tokai was born.
Tokai, the cartoon character, was fashioned after
a boy named Mokka. The boy, who was only three or
three and a half, used live in Narinda where R. Nabi
spent his childhood. Mokka was the remnant of the
word motka (fat). “This chubby little boy's quips
had no match,' remembers Nabi.
The first Tokai cartoon appeared in the anniversary
issue of Bichitra in May 1977. The round-faced Tokai
with two or three hairs on his head was shown with
a brick, makeshift secretariat table, the caption
declared: “Lets play secretary secretary”. It was
a pun intended to prick at the administration. With
this particular work the tokai saga, that still continues,
In the same weekly, a story based on a youth Shukhan,
a straitlaced countryman lost in the humdrum of the
city, started to appear.
Alongside teaching and art making, R. Nabi managed
to continue drawing cartoons. “The caricature of persons
in high government post, or overt political message
was never my forte,” says Nabi, who, more often that
not, without hasitation, produced works of this nature
when the time came to respond to a crucial political
situation. His ultimate vehicle however, remained
the Tokai cartoons and the column cartoons.
R. Nabi denies any possibility of conflict between
the painter and the cartoonist. He believes that an
artist can be successful in innumerable fields if
he chooses to. Although he has quit doing Tokai cartoon
at present, (he says he is tired of doing it), his
column cartoons appear on a daily basis in the front
page of Jonokontha. And his socio-political forays
are expressed in separate cartoons in the weekly 2000.
The popularity of a cartoon can sometimes even astonish
its creator himself. Back in the early eighties when
President Cup football was all the rage, Bangladesh
was to play in the final. That day a cartoon appeared
in a major daily that pocked fun at the lavish arrangement
of the game at night under newly set up floodlights.
The city was in the grip of an electricity crisis,
so Nabi thought out a cartoon that showed a man trying
to find a TV that runs on kerosene. On that day, in
the evening when the floodlight went off at the stadium
were the artist was also present, their was a roar,
people started saying, mimicking the cartoon of Nabi
: Bring in Kerosine...
It is this affect on people that keeps R. Nabi going.
“As cartoonists we can only indicate certain truths,
the rest is up to the people in power,” argues Nabi.
With his conversation-based cartoons, Rafiqun Nabi
has captured the imagination of multiple generations.
He is planning a show of Tokai cartoons of his choice
in the future.
a cartoonist, Shishir Bhatta-charjee had set a precedent
in building a career out of portraiture-based caricature.
The precision with which he draws and the serious
intention behind his ideas are the two deciding factors
which make his work tick.
When he was still a student of painting at the Institute
of Fine Art, Dhaka, he tried out satiric depictions
of the socio-political scenario. The artist himself
thinks that this tendency had egged on his adventures
In 1987, after completing his masters degree from
Baroda, Shishir found a country plunged in struggle
against an autocratic government. A number of magazines
printed in cheap paper giving this struggle a voice
came out. Deshbondhu was one such publication, to
which Shishir started to contribute. In fact, the
main attraction of the magazine was the cover and
the inside cartoon by him.
Shishir's execution was markedly different from other
cartoonists, so much so that he inspired awe from
the would-be cartoonists and undulated adoration from
the masses. “I found out how easily I could reach
the people through this media,” recounts Shishir.
In both painting and cartoon he strove to do the same
thing, --- criticism of the existing socio-political
order. The artist realised back then how easily communicable
The culture of political cartoon was given a new lease
of life through Shishir's cartoon. But a ban on Deshbondhu
thwarted his ambition. After this, he started to draw
for the weekly Ekota, the paper of the communist party.
The genre of editorial cartoon that I am accustomed
to do now had developed from working with Ekota.
By then the autocracy had fallen and the artist was
offered to draw political satires for Ajker Kagoj.
Before committing to this paper, Shishir always was
in two minds about whether he would be a regular contributor.
“My mind was made up, from this point on I considered
myself a committed cartoonist,” says the artist reflecting
on the past.
About his influences, Shishir says, “I had to start
from scratch, as their were hardly any references
to be stimulated by.” The work of Lurie and works
by few Indian and English caricaturists inspired him.
He cites the name McPherson, a Canadian, whose tackling
of satire and the way used the brush stimulated him
and provided impetus to an already developed style.
When asked whether his involvement with cartoon ever
got in the way of his paintings, He says, “They always
fed off of each other, as they exress the same subject.”
As a social critic, he had always felt that his involvement
in caricature gave him an insight into the popular
psyche. By way of realising his ideas in two different
methods --- one, a popular mode, the other, a little
esoteric--- Shishir had the chance to find out their
effectiveness. With his political conviction in mind,
he also confirms that he never let the idea of taking
up cartooning as a profession get into his head. “My
commitment was always ideologically inspired,” says
the artist who now works for the daily Prothom Alo.
Regarding the freedom of a cartoonist, Shishir is
convinced that it is the political power structure
that bears on the output of each artist. In the changing
circumstances after the Operation Clean Heat fiasco,
the cartoonist finds his access to the media to have
suffered a sever blow. The compunction on the part
of the newspaper authority had put a restraint, and
the cartoonists themselves are hesitant about their
critical creation. “We talk about press freedom, but
the reality suggests an otherwise bleak scenario,”
laments the artist. Asked about why his works are
irregular nowadays, he attributes to the dwindling
number of cartoons to the present political culture
of censure and retribution. “We can't even bring up
the issue of muktijudho and razakar (the quislings)
nowadays,” reveals Shishir Bhattacharjee. Alongside
political hegemony, big company monopoly also plays
a part in restraining the freedom of the cartoonists.
Shishir contends that his idealogy is firmly grounded
in gender awareness and the spirit of the war of liberation.
“I want to address the socio-political truths as lucidly
as possible,” declares Shishir. He also says that
while creating one of his images he firstly takes
into account the tolerance of the people or the quarter
that a particular cartoon addresses. This too puts
a certain restraint on the freedom of expression of
The artist wants to see a political culture tolerant
of criticism and satire, the absence of which pains
Shishir. He says, “If Sheik Hasina saluting Zainal
Hazari can be published during the previous government,
why cant this government be criticised in the same
Shishir asserts that the popular sentiment is reflected
in the cartoons of each era. And if this freedom is
not given to an artist, how would we find the expression
of the prevailing realities let alone exposing the
hidden truth, which, Shishir Bhattacharjee feels,
is the duty of a cartoonist to dig up and reveal.
There is an album of cartoons by Shishir Bhattacharjee
that came out in 2002, the evidence of his acumen
is apparent in this medium-sized book.
student of journalism, Sharier Khan's involvement
with cartoon was inevitable. He was a problem child;
not that as a child he used to drive the teachers
mad or vandalise the neighbourhood, he was so engrossed
in reading and drawing comics that his mother had
to often rebuke him to send him out to play.
Sharier remembers the occasion when his mother, exasperated
by her child's infatuation with comics, burned a bundle
of cartoons that he had drawn himself. That was when
he was in class seven. His involvement with cartoon
and comics went back to even earlier days. He began
to draw comics when he was only six. “In the mid seventies
comic books were really cheap, I remember buying them
for only ----a piece,” says Sharier.
Before that it was his father and the older brother
who used to buy him the comic books. He remembers
sifting through those publications by Marvel, Harvey,
Archie and even Mad. In the late seventies comic books
were scarce. From that point on he started to contemplate
seriously on drawing his own comic book.
“I must be the person who had read the most comics
book in Dhaka, when I didn't have comic books of my
own, I used to borrow them from a friend who owned
thousands of them,” emphasise the artist who now is
the chief reporter of the Daily Star. About his passion
for cartoon, he says, “I was a boy with a head full
of mischief; cartoons, for me, is way to extricate
those ideas.” His cartoons are proof enough of his
playful mind, he tackles even the most political of
subjects with a quirky sense of humour that is a sure
fire as far as humour is concerned.
There is a lot of emphasis on action of humans in
Sharier's caricatures, this he attributes to the influence
of the western comics. When he was in class five he
drew his first comic book. He kept at envisaging and
drawing his own comic books till he was 14 or so.
In 1988, when he was in class seven, Unmad, a magazine
inspired by American Mad, was published. This had
made Sharier hopeful. He, along with few friends decided
to bring out a comic magazine. Group endeavour entailed
a lot of hassle, so he decided to go solo. Sharier
ended up as the creator of Tiny, a hand-made magazine
of his own, in which he put together all his ideas.
“I drew things that caught my fancy and things that
pleased me,” says Sharier.
Sharier kept on creating one character after another.
At seventeen he drew a protagonist named Babu, which
ended up in Rising Stars, the supplement of the Daily
Star that catered to youngsters.
At nineteen, in 1986, he created a 62 page Tintin
inspired book. Motivated by the western war cartoons,
he also drew, at that time, “Mission D day”, that
came out in Bortoman Deenkal. But Sharier was unhappy
with the kind of behaviour they meted out to him,
they didn't even pay him his due. After 24/25 weeks
he called it quits. Later, in the early nineties,
the second part of the strips was regularly featured
in the Rising Stars.
During his study at the Dhaka University he came up
with “Rabbi the Journalist”. The cartoon strip of
this character was featured in the daily New Nation.
He fashioned this guy after Mr. Inam, the news editor
of the Daily Star.
Sharier is of the opinion that Bangalees don't know
how to laugh. For a young man out to bring about a
change in the humour department, he, when he was a
student of journalism, was greatly amused by the shared
effort of R. Nabi and Jafar Iqbal in creating “Mohaakashe
Mohaatraash”, an refreshingly new cartoon strip.
Sharier fondly remembers how the late S.M. Ali, the
founding editor of Daily Star, appreciated his works.
From December 1991 on, Sharier became a regular contributor
to the Daily Star. His first was a full-page comic
on parliament. It was his first political foray. In
early 1992 he began his front page editorial cartoons,
for which he became widely known. Sharier wears his
success lightly, about his long absence from the front
page, he says, “I got tired of doing it.”
He also confirms that drawing caricature is not the
only passion he has. When asked whether he is going
to start doing caricature soon, he says, “I do it
when I feel the itch to do it.”
popularity is unmatchable, Bipul Shah found out about
it when he went to bail out a nephew of his from a
predicament. His nephew owned a scooter, the driver
of which was caught by the mob after a small accident.
As revenge, they simply took the scooter to their
own mohollah (neighbourhood). When Bipul went their
for rescue, he was faced with a scene where a group
of young men was ready to lay claim to the vehicle.
But as soon as he revealed his identity, the whole
scenario was changed into one of amity. One of the
leaders was declaring out loud that “he was a fan
of his cartoons”.
Back then he was with the daily Bhorer Kakoj. When
Prothom Alo was launched in 1998, he joined, and till
this day, he is churning out one cartoon after another
for this publication. He started out as a column cartoonist,
and at present he continues to draw those dialog-based
cartoons, occasionally producing works in a bigger
format to adorn the special issues or the supplements.
Bipul's entrance in the domain of cartoon was not
an accident. He was deeply involved in politics during
his teen years, as a Chhatro Union cadre, he knew
that cartoon could be a vehicle for political message.
But it was not until he met the creator of Tokai,
R.Nabi that he fully realised that he too could become
an artist and express his politics through his works.
was during the early period of the autocracy of Ershad
that to observe the World Youth Day, the communist
party was organising special programmes in every corner
of Bangladesh. In Netrikona, where Bipul was resident
with his father, a whole contingent of activists and
political leaders arrived. The Ershad government,
in a bid to thwart the political movements, confiscated
the passport of R. Nabi and the delegate who were
to go to Moscow. This gave Bipul, the chance to meet
R. Nabi, who came to Netrokona with others.
The boy met the man whose Tokai always enthralled
him. “Nabi sir drew me a cartoon and said that every
body can become a political activist but not many
can draw cartoons...” recalls Bipul who, inspired
by R. Nabi, later got admission to the Institute of
Fine Art, Dhaka, in 1985.
By late 1980s, Bipul himself was drawing cartoons.
In two consecutive Bangla Academy book fairs, Bipul
with his classmates from the Institute of Fine Art
brought out a cartoon magazine. In one cover, Shishir
Bhattacharjee's celebrated fusion of Ershad and a
Donkey was featured.
For Bipul, as well as for many others, cartoon was
a means to fight against the military regime. “Back
then I never thought of earning anything by drawing
cartoons, the response of the public was the only
reward” remembers the artist.
It was not until 1996 that Bipul was professionally
involved. His first job was in Bhorer Kagoj. Before
that he used to contribute to Shomoi, a periodical
that paid him a meager sum. In Bhorer Kakoj the title
of his column cartoon was Doinondeen and now in Prothom
Alo it is Epith Opith.
Bipul believes that cartoon is, often, more effective
than a serious news item because it combines the news
with an image. He also attributes the cartoon boom
of the eighties to the upsurge against Ershad rgime,
as it was during this time that cartoons became an
effective weapon against autocracy. Yet the artist
is of the opinion that at present there is this need
for nursing of this genre to let newer cartoonists
of the best-known cartoonists of the country M A Kuddus
is perhaps the most prolific among the professional
cartoonists. Only in his late twenties, Kuddus has
already a staggering 3,000 cartoons to his name.
Kuddus' career as a cartoonist started somewhat by
chance. He just began to work on a part-time basis
in the cartoon magazine 'Cartoon' as a designer. One
day as he was working he overheard the conversation
of a few cartoonists of the publications who were
working on a cover story on filmstar Moushumi. It
so happened that they suddenly got stuck at a point
and Kuddus, who had been following the development
of the story attentively, readily came up with a brilliant
idea. Everybody appreciated his idea. “Suddenly I
felt a kind of strength inside me. I began to feel
that I can also do cartoons,” Kuddus recalls. For
the next issue Kuddus came up with an entire cartoon
strip. It was on 'making primary education mandatory'.
It was printed and so were the following three cartoon
strips in the consecutive issues. The appreciation
and applause both by his colleagues and the readers
sparked off a long-dormant desireof which even he
was not very confident of till thento become a cartoonist.
But his excitement over his newly-discovered talent
died down soon. All on a sudden 'Cartoon' was closed.
His ambition to become a cartoonist was threatened
to be nipped in its infancy. The next few months a
jobless Kuddus would be a practising cartoons and
compare theme with those of Shishir's.
“I had 8 to 9 thousand taka in the bank and I thought
I must get a job before that amount is finished,”
Kuddus recalls. It was June 1995. One day, Kuddus
went straight to Ajker Kagoj office with some of his
works and one of them got printed the very next days.
Kuddus began to work for the daily and later joined
the Sangbad, towards the middle of '95. Since then
he has been working for the Sangbad.
Unlike his sharp and biting cartoons he is quite a
simple and open-hearted man. But when it comes to
his work he is uncompromising, sometimes to the extent
of stubbornness. He places greatest emphasis on the
independence of the artist, without which an artist
is never his real self nor at his best. He expresses
his satisfaction over the freedom he enjoys in the
Daily Sangbad, something many cartoonists who are
working for different national dailies, don't enjoy.
“I will quit the job the moment I feel I cannot work
here independently anymore,” he says.
Kuddus has also won an honourary award in the 20th
Yomiuri International Cartoon Contest. Japan '98 and
has a book with his cartoons of 1996. He has a dream.“I
want to go on doing good cartoons,” Kuddus says simply.