The veteran cartoonist, S Gopalan, popularly known as Gopulu, who passed away recently at the ripe old age of 91, had a great sense of humour. When a friend came visiting him at a hospital, where he was admitted after a paralytic stroke he suffered in 2002, he joked, “May be it was my obsession with strokes that led to my brush with a stroke”. The stroke left his right hand paralysed. But Gopulu was not the one to give up. He taught himself to draw with his left hand (he was 78 then) and thus became an ambidextrous artist.
Born at the temple town of Tanjore in 1924, he studied at the Kumbakonam School of Art. In 1941 he met the legendary artist Mali in Ananda Vikatan, who commissioned a number of paintings by Gopulu for the magazine`s Deepavali specials and used him as a free lance artist. He formally joined Ananda Vikadan as a cartoonist only in 1948. Gopulu’s creativity encompassed jokes, cartoons and illustrations which were social, historical and mythological in nature. His series of silent jokes (cartoons without captions) appeared regularly in Ananda Vikatan from 1951 to 1968 delighting his readers week after week.
As humarist illustrator Gopulu worked for popular serials in Ananda Vikatan like Thillana Mohanambal and Washingtonil Thirumanam. His teaming up with the legendary editor Devan of Ananda Vikatan, resulted in his creating the famous caricature of Sambu in Thuppariyum Sambu the story of a bumbling detective penned by Devan and serialised in Ananda Vikatan. It was later performed on stage by Stage creations with Kathadi Ramamurthy playing the role of Sambu. It was later telecast as a serial in Doordarshan.
As a humorous critic Gopulu also did political cartoons. But some of his cartoon hurt politicians who started complaining to the editor of Ananda Vikatan, which eventually led to his quitting the magazine job and seek greener pasteurs in the field of advertising.
After a brief stint with the Madras based advertising agencies like Efficient Publicities and F D Stewart, he started his own advertising agency, Adwave Advertising P Ltd., in association with Mrs. Vimala, his erstwhile colleague in F D Stewart. Thus began his long career in advertising in which he was actively involved for more than three decades. He, however continued to do freelance work for magazines. His full page cartoons and paintings were a regular feature in the Diwali specials of some Tamil magazines.
As an advertising man, he is credited with designing logos for Sun TV and Kungumam magazine. And of course the emblem of the little man with a brief case in one hand for the Madras based Shriram Chits was his creation and is being used by the Shriram group even today. His association with Shriram Group continued for over three decades . One of his most memorable campaign was a corporate campaign he did for Laxmi Mills of Coimbatore. The series of advertisements in Newspapers and magazines featured caricatures of heroes from our epics like Mahabharatha, Ramayana etc. illustrated by him. Other notable campaigns he did were for clients like Kali Mark beverages, Narasu`s Coffee, Laxmi Vilas bank, Spic, Madras Cements ( Ramco brand) etc.
Restricted by his talent for specific type and style of drawings, his agency was also restricted to handling work for only Tamil Nadu based advertisers.
It is significant to note that Adwave was the first advertising agency in Chennai to have its own building in the heart of Madras on South Boag road. . Called Adwave House, it still houses the office of the agency now being run by a group of old staff members.
While Gopulu was not averse to the use of technology and devices by youngsters to draw cartoons and illustrations, he himself preferred using his hand to create his drawings till the end
Among the many awards that Gopulu won during his long career was the Kalaimamani Award by the Government of Tamilnadu in 1991 and the lifetime achievement award in 2001 from the Bangalore based Indian Institute of Cartoonists.
But the one Award he cherished most was the Distinguished Service Award that Advertising Club Madras conferred on him during its Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 2006. This I learnt when I met him at a function held last year to honour him. He told me at a private chat, “while I have got several awards for my drawing abilities I was touched by the gesture of Advertising Club Madras to recognise me for my long association with the advertising business”. I was happy to hear this from Gopulu because as the Chairman of the Golden Jubilee celebrations Committee of the Advertising Club, Madras I had a role to play in including his name in the list of Awardees.
At the end of the meeting he asked me to drop in at his house for a chat. My regret is that even before I could fulfil my promise to him, he passed away.
His wife of over 75 years predeceased him in July,2014. He is survived by his only son Rajeshwaran an Engineer who is based in USA.
Gopulu was a very talented cartoonist who in spite of achieving name and fame, continued to be humble, jovial and friendly with everyone. He was humility personified.
The world of artists and advertising will surely miss him. May his soul rest in peace!