Cho’s acerbic wit gets a visual dimension through Ramu’s cartoons.
M. Ramu is a familiar figure to beachgoers in Chennai. His features are cast in stone, for he is one of the figures in the Labour statue. He is the one seen gazing upwards, to be precise. Ramu, artist and winner of this year’s Devan award, says, “I was a student at the Government College of Arts and Crafts, when Devi Prasad Roy Choudhury asked me to pose for the statue.” The pose Ramu struck was in a sense symbolic, because Ramu had set his sights high, and even as a student, he would take his illustrations to magazines, in the hope of getting a break. “I met Devan on one such occasion, when I visited the Ananda Vikatan office. Even when I was a student, one of my paintings was used as an illustration for a Bharatiar song, in a Kalki Deepavali special issue.”
Ramu was inspired by the work of Gopulu and Maniam. Maniam once asked him to complete a picture he (Maniam) had been working on for Kalki. It was the proudest moment in Ramu’s life. Ramu’s first cover illustration was for Kalaimagal, although later on he did cover illustrations for many magazines and books, including the novels of Balakumaran, Rajesh Kumar and Devi Bala.
Ramu illustrated M. Karunanidhi’s serials in Pudhaiyal, a supplement that came with Murasoli. He has been doing the cover for Tuglaq for many years now. His acquaintance with Cho began when Tuglaq was housed in a wing of the Ananda Vikatan office. Ramu did the illustrations for Cho’s ‘Enge Brahmanan,’ which was serialised in Tuglaq in 1976. Working with Cho has its inspirational and funny moments, according to Ramu. Sometimes, when Cho wants a cartoon to capture a particular expression, he brings his acting skills into play. He strikes a pose or shows certain expressions on his face. Ramu takes his cue from this, to deliver what Cho wants from the cartoon.
Given the fact that Cho is known for his acerbic wit, have any of Ramu’s illustrations attracted the ire of political parties? “Quite a few,” comes the reply. The first time a case was slapped against him, Ramu was nervous, but he’s now learnt to take such political sabre rattling in his stride. Honesty compels him to admit, though, that occasionally he still feels nervous about the possible fallout of a cartoon. Cho helps him laugh away his fears by saying, “Ok. If you are so scared, I might have to take credit for your picture.”
Ramu recalls with gratitude the encouragement which S.A.P Annamalai gave him, when he (Ramu) was an up-and-coming artist. Annamalai made sure that Ramu had training in cartooning, illustrations for stories, layout, modern art and calligraphy. What were his early days as an artist like? “There were no Xerox machines and I would sometimes be given the gist of a story over the phone, but no details. I would end up drawing a woman in a sari, but the text would be talking of a woman in modern dress. It would be too late to make changes, and the editor would use my illustration. Letters would come pouring in from irate readers about the mismatch between text and picture.”
Tamizhvanan often used to tell Ramu that he wished he (Tamizhvanan) had been a Tamil film hero, for then he could have worn a variety of clothes. Ramu helped Tamizhvanan ‘realise’ his dream. In the illustrations for Tamizhvanan’s ‘Sankarlal,’ Ramu gave the pictorial representation of the main character Tamizhvanan’s face and portrayed the character in different kinds of attire. Thus, Tamizhvanan became a hero in his own story, thanks to Ramu!
What about the economics of his profession? How lucrative is it? “Professor Dhanapal used to tell us, ‘You can choose one of two paths. You can either do mediocre work and then run after people in the hope of making money. Or you can hone your skills, and have people seeking you.’” Judging by Ramu’s success, it is clear which path he took.
M.B. Moorthy, well-known theatre personality, was the other Devan awardee this year. He said he first read ‘Thuppariyum Sambu,’ when he was asked to play a few roles in Kathadi Ramamurthi’s drama version. He dramatised and staged ‘Parvathiyin Sankalpam,’ at the request of the Devan Foundation. He found the story appealing, because the heroine came across as a revolutionary.
Tiruppur Krishnan, who presided over the Devan memorial day function, said that Devan was a trend setter in many ways. He was a great experimental writer with a great sense of humour. The best tribute to Devan would be to bring out all his writings in book form, he said.