The outstanding artist and caricaturist Bailangadi Prabhakar Rao, known popularly by his pen name “Rao Bail“, passed away in Bangalore on Wednesday at age 81, but if you pored through Bangalore’s newspapers today, you would be hard-pressed to find a decent obituary beyond the mandatory two paras with a stamp size pic.
Not very surprising at all, given the state of the media but Rao Bail at his peak was an imposing figure, whose work—cartoons, illustrations, woodcuts, collages—adorned the pages of Shankar’s Weekly, The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Times of India, The Daily, Debonair and Reader’s Digest—besides Sudha and Mayura in Kannada.
Long years ago, the poet, short story writer and lyricist Jayant Kaikini profiled Rao Bail for the Ugadi special issue of Sudha when the artist was living in Dharwad. The pages of the article are in the photo mosaic (above), made available by the author.
“Rao Bail looked like a sufi saint who had lost his way, like an out-of-work Bengali scientist., like a character who had stepped out of his own comic strip.
“He was born in Kasargod, grew up in Udupi-Kundapur, obtained a science degree in Bangalore, and moved to Bombay in the 1960s with dreams of graduating out of the JJ School of Art.
“Eventually it was from JJ School of Applied Arts that Rao Bail obtained a diploma where Amol Palekar was a compatriot.
“For a while it seemed as if painting on footpaths and in local trains was going to be his life, but Rao Bail managed to eke out a living, doing mimicry shows with friends Kishore Padubidri and Shankar Shibadkar.
“In the late 1960s, he held solo shows at Jahangir Art Gallery. Club Creatures, in which he sketched the vacuity of the wealthy, established him as one of the preeminent caricaturists of the time.
“A young assistant cameraman at the time, who would soon become a well known director, would often drop in at Rao Bail’s bachelor pad to shoot pictures. ‘Tum tho famous ho, yaar; nobody knows Govind Nihalani‘.”