On August 30, 2003, renowned cartoonist RK Laxman suffered a paralytic stroke, crippling the left side of the octogenarian's body. For friends, well-wishers, family-members and readers of The Times of India, the paper for which the Ramon Magsaysay Award winning cartoonist unfailingly contributed the one-frame 'You Said It' for close to 50 years, the news of his paralytic stroke on the left side, was, in short, very sad.
Indeed, for a generation of readers of the English daily, the Common Man has come to signify the unspoken voice of the country - average Indians going through the rigmarole of life who never fail to watch in bewilderment the power play of petty politicians, greedy bureaucrats or equally corrupt Government officials. Laxman's wit always brought that wicked smile on a reader's face, reminding one and all that nobody was above his black ink pen. Not even national icons such as Sachin Tendulkar who was subjected to Laxman's characteristic jibe last month when a cartoon appeared with an old man blessing a child holding a cricket bat, saying, "May you become a super-player and may the finance minister exempt all your income from soft drinks, toilet soaps, toothpaste from tax."
The response was instant, with the Delhi High Court issuing notices to the ace cricketer, union sports and finance ministries, citing the caricature. Justice Vikramjit Sen who issued the notices was quoted as saying, "It reminded me of the adage that the greatest truths are spoken in jest."
Given the popularity of the one-frame cartoon strip, what does the Common Man mean to The Times of India? How important is it for the brand identity of the Times? "Both Laxman and the Common Man are synonymous with The Times of India," says Pradeep Guha, president, Times Group. "They are very much part of the family and integral to the paper." Adds Rahul Kansal, brand director, The Times of India, "The common man cartoon strip forms a core part of the TOI brand. TOI, as a brand, always seeks to comment upon society, politics, lifestyles in a particular manner. Just as we want to say things insightfully, the Common Man strip does the same with a certain degree of grace and humour."
Ex-TOI hand and founder of Pune-based Xanadu Consulting Group, Jaisurya Das, articulates the Comman Man's importance in the following manner, "He is generic to the brand," he says. "To me, he is as important as the masthead of the paper. To be able to sift through tonnes of news and arrive at a simple solution, which is presented in that little box, requires a stroke of genius. To me, Laxman is the living Common Man."
However, Sundeep Nagpal, managing director, Stratagem Media, seems to believe that the concept of the Common Man has diluted over the years. "With the barrage of communication ideas and interpretations, the impact of the Common Man is not as strong as it used to be. The editorial stance of the Times has changed as well and I am not too sure whether Laxman's cartoon really fits in now."
According to Nagpal, the Common Man cannot be considered as a brand-building activity. "The Times has a number of properties today and readers approach the paper for different reasons. The Common Man is a satirical take on the political environment, conveying a message at the same time. His relevance no doubt remains, but people, in my opinion, have moved on. These are natural processes and once readers see the need for satire in communication, I think the impact of the Common Man will be as forceful as it used to be." Samar Halarnkar, resident editor of Indian Express, Mumbai, adds, "The Comman Man is part of their brand. However, it is a bit of an anachronism for The Times of India."
In sharp contrast, PG Mathai, resident editor of business daily Business Standard, Mumbai, says, "The Common Man is a valuable brand for the Times. There is no question about it. Generations of readers have grown up watching the Common Man, and he is frankly, difficult to replace."
Given the strong sentiments that the cartoon strip evokes even after close to five decades of existence, one hopes the Common Man, bespectacled, forever clad in dhoti, shirt and chequered coat, continues to look questioningly at unscrupulous politicians, leaders and luminaries as they indulge in their shenanigans. © 2003 agencyfaqs!