Remember the innocent yet shrewd simpleton cartoon characters Dabbuji and Inspector Azaad? Dabbuji was one of the longest running comic strips in India, appearing without a break for over 30 years. And such was the popularity of Inspector Azaad that filmmaker Raj Kapoor once wanted to make a film based on him.
We absolutely loved how these characters tugged at our heartstrings and spoke the blatant truth about Indian society. The force behind it is a simple man, Aabid Surti who uses his cartoons just a medium to draw attention to burning issues in the country.
We caught up with the National Award winning Indian author, artist, cartoonist, playwright and activist who was recently honoured at the 4th Annual Comic Con India Awards with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the field. Here's an excerpt:
Your contribution to Indian comics has been phenomenal. How has your journey been? Any life changing moments?
My story is like a book in itself. During my teens (in 1965) I just had a break-up after a whirlwind romance. I was an introvert and naturally did not have many friends. I couldn't handle the breakup well so; I started penning down my thoughts. At that time I used to live in a chawl in Mumbai with my family. Every day, a rag-picker used to cross my house and see me writing. One day he walked up to me and asked me about it. He told me that he knew a Gujarati publisher and asked me for the manuscript. After a week he came back with the good news that my story would be published- it's called Tootela Farishta. And since then, I have never stopped writing.
Dabbuji comic strip by Aabid Surti. (Photo: Aabid Surti website)
A lot has been done to bring into focus the novelty of Indian cartoons. What changes have you seen in this field in the last few years?
Today, technology has gone much beyond what it was when I started out. It has superseded everything, even script writing. While most of the young cartoonists have been able to fine-tune the illustrations with the help of technology, scripts have taken a setback. They are not as powerful as they should be. Honestly, budding cartoonists should take up script writing classes and read a lot. It would do them a world of good; it will make their creations more powerful.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring cartoonists?
Please, don't run after money. If your work is good, money will follow suit. These days most cartoonists turn to animation as cartoon strips/illustrations don't pay well. I would say, for the love of the craft, stick to it. Trust me; you will get your reward. Also, please don't do a half-baked job with your characters. Study your subject thoroughly, read a lot, explore your surroundings.
Aabid Surti takes inspiration from real-life incidents. (Photo:
Aabid Surti website)
Tell us something about your upcoming projects.
Remember all those self-help books? One can learn a lot from them and I did. How? For my new book- Tooti Phooti Kismat Ka Mechanic I derived inspiration from these self-help books. It's an out-and-out fiction which talks about Mr Flop and Mr Success. The story revolves around how Mr Success teaches Mr Flop some important lessons in life, despite Mr Flop been this street-smart, double graduate. Other than that, I am also working on my absolute favourite- children's books.
Who as a cartoonist do you love?
Actually, there are quite a few, but if I have to take a name it would be Manjul from DNA. His political satires are very witty and at the same time I love his style of illustration. Now, I like the late RK Laxman too but his ideas were outdated. Then there is Mario Miranda whose technique/style I love but his ideas are weak.
Where do you get inspiration from?
There is no bigger inspiration than society itself. Ideas float around; all you need to do is tap it. Always keep your eyes, ears and your mind open. You never know what you might come across. All my cartoons are a reflection of the society. There was this time when I used to just talk about my vision and Pratap Mori, comic illustrator used to give it shape. He did a fantastic job. Know why? Because he was just like me, he never failed to observe his surroundings.