‘Balasaheb was more a cartoonist than a politician’
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Thackeray began working as a cartoonist for the Free Press Journal in 1950, alongside R K Laxman. Ten years later, he decided to launch Marmik, his own weekly cartoon magazine. Marmik, meaning subtle, was the first Marathi cartoon weekly. Through the magazine, Thackeray not only gave voice to his opinions, but also provided a platform for several artists who went on to become great cartoonists in their own right.
Well-known cartoonists Shivram Dattatreya Phadnis and Mangesh Tendulkar recall their interactions with Thackeray and remember him not as the political giant, but a "sensitive cartoonist".
Tendulkar first met Thackeray in 1968 and had featured in Marmik several times in the early issues. In 1997, his cartoon exhibition was inaugurated by Thackeray.
According to him, Thackeray was more a cartoonist than a politician. "Most politicians I have seen are all hard-boiled. He was a very sensitive man; he would get irritated, disappointed or affected just like a sensitive person. Thackeray was a cartoonist at heart," says Tendulkar. "Over the years, every time we met, he would ask about my family, just like a friend or a relative," he adds.
Shivram Dattatreya Phadnis, who met Thackeray in 1983 in Kolhapur and was felicitated with the Marmik Award for cartoonists in 2000, remembers the late leader as a person kind to the common man, bold in his approach to cartoons and oratory and straightforward and charismatic in his dealings with people. "He was initially an illustrator so his drawings were always very good and his caricatures were very expressive, especially those of contemporary political figures such as Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Morarji Desai," he says.
Tendulkar agrees: "His cartoons had a direct impact. Each stroke felt like lightning, sharp and bold. His cartoons came from the heart and like a tiger, he showed no fear. I have never seen anyone else draw like that."
According to him, Thackeray's cartoons always came with a message and were a statement, sometimes even an assault on the current state of affairs. Comparing Thackeray to R K Laxman, Tendulkar says: "R K Laxman is a gentleman, his cartoons are witty and about everyday life. Thackeray viewed his cartoons as a weapon to attack on what he thought was wrong."