This uncommon man thought his surname ‘Rao’ was too common. So he made it ‘Raobail’ to make it stand out.
And indeed, Raobail has stood out in every field he has tried his hand at: cartooning, collage, caricature, painting and mimicry.
Born in 1937 in Kasargod (now in Kerala) in a family of artists, Raobail did his BSc from Central College, Bangalore and later acquired a diploma in Applied Arts from the JJ Institute of Applied Art in Mumbai.
He joined the Art Department of the central office of the Life Insurance Corporation of India as an illustrator-designer and worked there for over 31 years. He settled down in Dharwad in 1989.
It was after his retirement that his popularity graph really soared. He contributed cartoons and illustrations to a host of newspapers and magazines, among them prestigious publications like The Indian Express, The Times of India, Reader’s Digest, Eve’s Weekly, The Illustrated Weekly of India, Imprint, Debonair, Blitz, Sun, Inside Outside, The Indian Post, Voyage and Taj Magazine, besides vernacular publications like Prajavani, Sudha and Taranga.
Raobail has designed children’s books for UNICEF and greeting cards for CRY and Concern India. A magazine cover designed by him won the first prize at the Commercial Artists Guild’s exhibition in 1967. His cartoons have also been featured in the Penguin Book of Indian Cartoonists.
Raobail is known for his attention to detail. One of his sketches shows a crowd working for a VIP, and there are almost 10,000 miniature figures in it! Apparently, it took him three weeks to complete the drawing and he refused to sell it though a substantial sum was offered for it.
Apart from India, Raobail has held solo exhibitions in Geneva, Switzerland, and several times in Canada.
For several years, Raobail, with Shankar Rao, Shibadkar and Kishore Padabidri formed a popular entertainment team called ‘Rao Brothers’.
Raobail’s cartoons take a marked dig at the idle rich, whose pampered dogs seem to be as haughty as them! “I have seen that kind of life,” he says, talking of the times when the Rao Brothers toured the country. “I met many such people, with lots of money and nothing to do and I put them down on paper!”
Raobail also has a penchant for making his own stationery, embellished with collages. Says senior journalist Pritish Nandy: “I have received different types of letters from my friends. But Raobail’s are most picturesque. He is one of my favourite artists. His visual dialect is strong and abrupt yet conveys his ideas most eloquently.”
Incidentally, Raobail also creates works of art out of ordinary postage stamps, drawing miniature portraits of birds, animals and flowers and also himself on them, without detracting from the stamp’s design.
However, Raobail has consciously avoided political cartooning.