“One thing that has sustained cartoon is that it is least prone to manipulation, least censorable and a least influenced form of expression,” said cartoonist Hemant Morparia.
Mr. Morparia of Mumbai Mirror, along with cartoonists Keshav of The Hindu, E.P. Unny of The Indian Express were participating in a session on “Drawing a line between being funny and provocative,” at the first Mario Miranda Cartoon Festival organised by Sunaparanta-Goa Centre for Arts in association with Literature Live on Sunday. Ms. Malvika Sangghvi chaired the session.
The festival began with a keynote address by veteran journalist Vinod Mehta on “Lack of Humour in Indian Public Life” on Saturday evening. The fete ended at the Reis Magos Fort on Sunday evening. Goa Governor Bharat Vir Wanchoo was present as chief guest for the closing ceremony. Chairman of the Sunaparanta Centre and industrialist Dattaraj Salgaocar and Ms. Dipti Salgaocar, chairperson of the Reis Magos Trust, were present.
A lively session on “The Art of Caricature” chaired by Amy Fernandes had V.G. Narendra and Gujjarappa B.G. demonstrating the art of caricature inviting appreciation from the delegates, while Abhay Sardesai, Editor of Literature Live, articulating on the art of caricature.
At another discussion on whether cartooning be elevated to the position of art, coordinated by Festival Director Anil Dharker, Mr. Gujjarappa forcefully said it was indeed an art while Mr. Morparia left it to the choice of the audience.
Earlier, speaking on “Drawing the line between funny and provocative,” Mr. Keshav said there were two ways to look at the issue. “Ninety per cent of the idea determines what you want to say or on what you want to say. If you have been provocative, you are converting anger into humour. Reader sees it with a laugh, what he would have otherwise said with anger.”
Mr. Unny said it was eventually the art of cartooning. “Some are provocative, some are funny. I don’t think you need to draw a line.” Mr. Morparia, on the other hand, felt provocation came from politicians. Cartoon, he said, was democratic and it had to be that way. “It depends on style and spur of the moment,” he said.
Responding to a question from Ms. Sangghvi, he said, the controversial Danish cartoon was meant to be provocative. “They were not spontaneous. They were solicited,” he said, but he felt a cartoon should be spontaneous.
“When you have something to say, you have to say it. It cannot be intended to provoke,” he said, and argued that in the West, for instance, there was a deliberate way of testing things like freedom of expression.
Referring to the arrest of Aseem Trivedi over cartoons some time ago, Mr. Unny said the issue brought the state in the picture for the first time, whereas all the while it was editor-cartoonist-reader issue. And since then it had caught on, and now “we have Chief Ministers of some States who want to arrest cartoonists, some others want to finish cartoonists, etc.”
What was worst, according to him, was the charge of sedition in the Aseem case. “Aseem was only a cartoonist, he was not a terrorist,” he said.
On Shankar’s Nehru-Ambedkar cartoon controversy, Mr. Keshav said it was the case of misunderstanding over “visualness of language.”
Mr. Morparia described the whole controversy and outrage as a cynical enterprise and the whole debate as a “cleverly orchestrated ‘centre-staging’ of politics aimed at exclusion.”
On the limits of freedom of expression, the cartoonists admitted that they had to be careful and sensitive. “Free speech cannot be for the sake of free speech. There has to be a context. Intimidation and deliberate provocation were also not acceptable.”
To a question, Mr. Keshav said cartooning was used to reflect the public mood. “We cannot be under illusion that you can change the society. It is reflecting public mood. You make a point strongly over what you strongly feel about,” he said.
Responding to a question on why freedom of speech be curbed, Mr. Morparia said, “In an ideal state, yes, but we live in a state which is far from being ideal.”