Oh Brother: View Hemant Morparia’s New Show Of Cartoons ‘Motabhai Is Watching You’
In the mainstream press, which is by and large leery of criticising the Modi government even though every day brings news of some or the other action against minorities, among the few people to chide the state in a sustained way are cartoonists such as Hemant Morparia. For Morparia, whose single panel comics appear on page two of the Mumbai Mirror every weekday, the government is a tireless mill of fodder for satire. Some of his prolific output is currently on display at Motabhai is Watching You, an ongoing exhibition of over 50 cartoons at Sakshi Salon. Most of them are recent works that were published in Mumbai Mirror, and some are older drawings from the 1990s and early noughties that were printed in the Bombay Times and erstwhile city magazine Time Out Mumbai.
Motabhai (big brother in Gujarati) refers to Narendra Modi; the title is an allusion to his government’s autocratic tendencies. Morparia, a radiologist who began cartooning in the mid-1980s, hasn’t been so inspired by a regime in decades. “I had a lot of fun during (the) Rajiv Gandhi (years),” he said. “Times of transition are always fun as change is fodder for a commentator. You could only do so much with Sonia (Gandhi) and Manmohan (Singh). They were not extremely fertile grounds for satire. They were fairly dull.” In the popular public sphere, aside from cartoonists, stand-up comedians take frequent jabs at the state. How is it that folks in the business of humour have the courage? “Because they’re not taken seriously by the powers,” Morparia said. “Also nobody wants to be accused of lacking a sense of humour. You might hear people say ‘I’m not very bright’. But you’ll never hear ‘I don’t have a sense of humour’”.
The unsavoury part of the job is getting trolled on Twitter by the government’s army of digital footsoldiers. Morparia said he was recently heavily trolled for his cartoon showing a cow tied to a Pakistani tank, a reference to the Kashmiri man who was used by the Indian army as a human shield. “It teaches you to develop a thick skin,” he said. “Initially you do get disturbed. They are openly telling you, we’ll come to your house. Obviously, nobody likes that.”
Aside from the cartoons, Motabhai is Watching You has a set of five sculptures in clay, resin and steel. Four are of people, whose faces Morparia finds interesting: L. K. Advani, Rajinikanth, Barack Obama and the Mohenjo Daro priest. The fifth is a steel sculpture of spoons bent in yoga postures, a dig at sycophants or ‘chamchas’ of the state practicing Modi’s favourite exercise, yoga. “I find it extremely relaxing to work with my hands,” said Morparia. “It doesn’t involve too much thinking.”
Motabhai is Watching You will run until Saturday, September 9 at Sakshi Salon, 6/18, Second Floor, Grants Building, next to Sakshi Gallery, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba. Tel: 022 6610 3424. Open Monday to Saturday, from 11am to 6pm; Sunday, closed. Get directions here.