Mumbai: A policeman holds a man by his neck, who seems like a regular person, wearing a nondescript blue T-shirt and trousers. But, his face jutting out of a smartphone screen is that of a monster with green scabby and scaly skin, bushy brows, crooked teeth and hairy hands.
The smartphone screen framing his face says, “Bhadotri troll (rented troll)” and the policeman is shown saying, “Yanna shikvu changlach dhada. (We will teach them a good lesson)”. The “troll” and the policeman are surrounded by logos of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
This is the cover page of the latest edition of the all-new Marmik, a weekly started by Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray in 1960 that the party has now revamped with a new editor, new content and a special focus on cartoons and politics.
The weekly publication turned 60 this year, but had to spend most of its diamond jubilee year away from the stands as its publication was suspended due to the lockdown, Covid crisis and the ensuing economic struggles of the press.
However, on 17 November, the caricature-focussed weekly came back to the stands with a special diamond jubilee edition and a new look. Since then, Marmik has published three more editions all along the lines of its longer-term refurbishment plans of making the weekly even more caricature-oriented and more political than before — almost like a deeper shadow of the political line that Shiv Sena’s daily mouthpiece, Saamana, takes.
The new Marmik
Earlier this year, Prabodhan Prakashan, the publishing company that brings out Saamana and Marmik, hired senior journalist Mukesh Machkar as the new executive editor for the Bal Thackeray-founded weekly.
While Marmik, like Saamana, is officially headed by Rashmi Thackeray, Shiv Sena president and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s wife, Machkar is in charge of the Marmik’s day-to-day operations and its content, like Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut is for Saamana.
“The immediate agenda is to make Marmik more cartoon-centric and a platform for cartoonists across Maharashtra to showcase their work,” Machkar told ThePrint.
Each edition of Marmik will have a centre-spread of one of Bal Thackeray’s cartoons that the Marmik team thinks are still politically and socially relevant.
For instance, the 5 December edition of Marmik reproduced a cartoon from the Samyukta Maharashtra movement (in the 1950s) where leaders of different thoughts, ideologies and political streams had united for Maharashtra to be created.
The centre-spread says, “That struggle and Marmik have completed 60 years today and once again anti-Maharashtra forces have started coming together, some are newly seeing old dreams of separating Mumbai from Maharashtra. At such a time, once again leaders of different ideologies have come together in the form of the Maha Vikas Aghadi.”
Machkar said that from next year onwards, Team Marmik is planning to organise workshops and programmes for cartoonists such as ‘Marmik gappa’ and ‘Marmik maifal.’
“We will also want to have a guest cartoonist for our editions and future plans include tying up with journalism institutes to introduce a course on caricature journalism,” he added.
Marmik, which used to rely on sales from the newsstands, also wants to actively move to a subscription-based model with Covid having disrupted the way people consume news. With Mumbai’s suburban railways not operational, many of the newspaper stands that were located around railway stations and used to depend on train commuters for its sales have also taken a hit.
The weekly, which has tripled its price to Rs 15, is advertising a yearly subscription at Rs 600.
Renewed focus on politics
Machkar said, “We want to have something for everyone in Marmik.
“Once the magazine comes home, every member of the family right from the oldest to the youngest should find something interesting in it. But at the same time, we have started taking more political stories in Marmik, which had reduced in the interim. The cover page will be 100 per cent political, a political cartoon that will follow Saamana’s line.”
The cover page of the 5 December edition, which came a week after the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government completed a year, showed CM Thackeray standing, flanked by Deputy CM Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party and Maharashtra Congress president Balasaheb Thorat, also a state cabinet minister.
All three were in full cricket gear and blue jerseys with Maharashtra written across them. The caption said: “365 Not Out.”
Similarly, the following week, the cover page showed a caricature of Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath eagerly walking in a saffron robe with a stack of hay in his hand and a small village on his head saying, “Uttar Pradeshatil prastavit chitranagari.” (The proposed film city of Uttar Pradesh).
The cover page also advertised an article by actor Urmila Matondkar, who joined the Shiv Sena earlier this month, saying it is impossible to break Hindi cinema’s bond with Mumbai.
The cover page was designed to take a dig at the Uttar Pradesh CM’s visit to Mumbai earlier this month and his meetings with investors and Bollywood celebrities to develop a new film city in his home state.
The most recent edition with the troll and the policeman on its cover is meant for critics of the MVA government who are calling out alleged police excesses. In the last one year, the police have filed a string of cases against social media users for putting up allegedly offensive or derogatory posts about the MVA government, CM Thackeray or his son, Aaditya.
Moving with the times, the Shiv Sena has also taken Marmik to the digital platform, with Thackeray scion Aaditya Thackeray, a state cabinet minister, launching its website, on 17 November.
In 1960, Bal Thackeray, then a political cartoonist, launched Marmik with his brother, Shrikant Thackeray.
Bal Thackeray had just resigned from the Free Press Journal and its Marathi daily ‘Navashakti’ over political differences with the paper’s editors and wanted to form his own political weekly.
Marmik with Thackeray’s satirical political cartoons turned out to be the launchpad of his nativist Shiv Sena. Thackeray used ‘Marmik’ to campaign against the rising number of non-Maharashtrians in Mumbai’s business and salaried class, publishing a weekly list of all such persons engaged in senior government and private sector jobs. The list was titled ‘Vacha ani thanda basa (Read and sit quiet)’. The popularity of Marmik among the Maharashtrian middle classes only rose.
It was Thackeray’s father, Keshav Thackeray, popularly known as Prabodhankar, who suggested that his son gives this momentum to the anti-migrant campaign an organisational form, and thus the Shiv Sena was founded in June 1966.
The party’s first meeting at Shivaji Park was advertised in Marmik and saw a resounding response.
The significance of Marmik as a medium of “aadesh” (order) for the Shiv Sainiks and a platform to put forth Shiv Sena’s political ideology and agenda, however, dimmed after the launch of Saamana in 1989.
A source close to the publication of Marmik said, “Saamana was a daily and was more effective in putting out the Shiv Sena’s agenda as the organisation grew. Marmik especially took a backseat after Sanjay Raut took over as the executive editor of Saamana in the early 1990s. He could reproduce Balasaheb’s thoughts in editorials almost as if Balasaheb had himself penned them,” he said.
“In the many years that followed, Marmik, though political, had become more of a family-oriented publication. But, going forward, it will be a more impactful political weekly with its central focus being caricatures, dry and satirical, just as Balasaheb’s,” he added.