Sudheer Nath: India's only satire activist

Kerala cartoonist Sudheer Nath is India’s only satire activist who is actively promoting the art through conclaves, seminars, exhibitions and compilations.

Published: 01st September 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st September 2019 10:15 AM   |  A+A-

Sudheer Nath

Sudheer Nath

As a young boy growing up in Thrikkakara, a small village near Kochi, Kerala, all Sudheer Nath wanted to do was draw.

In 1986, an encounter with famous Malayali cartoonist Nadhan at a lecture on satire led him to adopt a career in cartooning that would make him the state’s best known humour activist.

The Kerala Lalithakala Akademi is now holding a solo exhibition of the 48-year-old artist’s work at Kayamkulam, the birthplace of Shankar, the father of Indian political cartooning. 

Nath had taken a copy of Nadhan’s cartoon satirising then Chief Minister K Karunakaran to the lecture and asked the doyen to autograph it. He took it away proudly to show his classmates at school.

They began to guffaw so loudly that the teachers arrived to investigate the commotion. It was “just a cartoon.”

They also concluded Nath had drawn it himself, because of the similarity in the last names. Fortunately or unfortunately for him, the teenager came to be known in school as ‘the cartoonist.’

Subsequently, his obsession to draw increased. He even worked late into the night. When he was 15, his mother took him to the famous cartoonist Yesudasan, who mentored him in the basics of political cartooning. Says artist Mohan Sivanadan, “Never will you find a shade of malice or political bias in his work.”

Sudheer Nath’s first public exposure was during the 1987 Kerala Assembly Elections. Digital printing hadn’t been discovered and printing posters was costly. The hundreds of wall cartoons he drew against the government got him noticed even more.

After working as the Editorial Cartoonist of the Malayalam daily Thejas for 12 years, he began to draw for English publications.

In 1989 he became a member of Kerala Cartoon Academy, just three years into his career. He began learning more about cartoons from Academy members. The interactions he held prompted him to educate the next generation of cartoonists.

Says Nath, “There are any number of talented cartoonists in Kerala with great political awareness, satirical skills and original draftsmanship.” 

Unlike other cartoonists, Nath’s primary mission is to encourage and promote others of his kind. He assumed the role of a satire activist in his late 30s—the only one—to promote cartooning in the country, connect humorous styles in different regions and states by holding conferences, organising exhibitions and lectures.

He pushed to institute awards to honour cartoonists, both famous and forgotten. As Honorary Secretary of the Kerala Cartoon Academy he leveraged the organisation’s clout to promote cartoons and caricatures on an unprecedented scale.

In 2016 and 2017, the week-long “Caritoon” festival he organised in Kochi displayed hundreds of works of cartoonists and caricaturists from all across India.

It was also for the first time that an exhibition mounted the work of digital cartoonists. Nath dons many hats: historian, editor and compiler. His compilations include the two-volume collection of cartoons in English Arena of Laughter, and the Malayalam cartoon collection Indraprastham. Varayum Kuriyum edited by him is the only definitive cartoon reference book available in India. 

Nath’s own cartoons are characterised by their clean lines, short captions, non-malicious wit and intellectual references.

He feels cartoons have the ability to touch minds. “Cartooning is an art form that makes us think through smiles,” he says.

According to him, the real test of an effective cartoonist lies not just in the ability to draw well. Instead, it is the talent to distil an idea, or a joke, into a few short words and images. In Nath’s case, it is no joke. 


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