His profile says he is notorious for avoiding phone calls and meetings, but Rohan Chakravarty, whose exhibition ‘Wildlife the Toonie Way’ was the 101st show at The Indian Cartoon Gallery in Bangalore last month, comes across as warm and amiable. “I think I relate better to animals than people,” he says. “If animals could publish my cartoons and pay me, I would possibly just skip meeting people altogether!”
With 72 prints marked by vivid reds, indigos and every other colour in the spectrum, Chakravarty used his signature style of caricature to exaggerate the features and anatomy of his feathered and four-legged friends to bring out their character, and “to make you want to know them better”. A quick walkthrough of the gallery, for instance, introduced visitors to birds that are endemic to the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, with 28 species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world. The male Sarus crane’s elaborate courtship dance was also on display, as were the yellow-throated sparrow (that changed birdman Salim Ali’s interests from shooting birds to spotting them) and India’s greater and lesser cats, among several other quirky illustrations.
“My favourite bird is the white-collared blackbird,” says Chakravarty, “It sports a handsome white band across its beautiful black body, a yellow bill and a bright, spectacle-like yellow ring around its eye. It reminds me of a well-groomed, suave lawyer off to the court. All it lacks is a briefcase! I think it’s one of the handsomest birds I’ve seen.”
Beyond the anthropomorphism, Chakravarty’s works show his ability to collate humour with the very real man-animal conflicts of today. In fact, over a fourth of the birds and animals depicted in his prints at the exhibition are identified as endangered or vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list.
Although ‘Wildlife the Toonie Way’ showcased caricatures alone, Chakravarty is also known for his cartoons, some of which tell complex stories reminiscent of Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal fame. Chakravarty, however, considers Inman more a humour-writer than a cartoonist — a title he’s hesitant to confer easily on anyone. But he does credit Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side comic, and Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts for inspiring his cartoons, and illustrator Brendan Wenzel for his caricatures. Yet, well-known in India’s wildlife fraternity, Chakravarty’s green humour has colour and levity that is all its own.
(For future shows and prints from ‘Wildlife the Toonie Way’, check greenhumour.com)
( Tara Rachel Thomas is a Bangalore-based writer)
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