by Saswata and Susruta Mukherjee
Saswata and Susruta Mukherjee are illustrators, artists and brothers from Kolkata, India. Together, they have worked on The Auto Risk Show and Just Another Day in the Life of an Addict, a live action short named the Official Selection at the Second Asia Youth Short Film Exhibition in Wenzhou, China in 2016. Apart from these, they have made cover illustrations for Scholastic India and have also created opening credits illustrations for One, a major feature film.
Growing up was not easy for us. Growing up was fast. We grew up the day my father quit his job leaving all financial and other responsibilities of our upbringing to Maa. Maa was (and still is) a teacher at a private school and her salary was not enough for the education of three children. The two of us were ten-years-old and didn’t really understand why she’d cry silently in the wee hours of the night while we pretended to be asleep beside her. She didn’t want the two of us to know what she was going through. So, every time we saw her crying we would run to Dadin, our elder brother, asking him to fix things because he was our superhero – he could make everything alright. So, he would start telling us stories and he would make us forget our reality for a while. He was Maa’s comrade. He was always there to make sure that things didn’t directly affect us.
On Mother’s Day, I thought of putting all my childhood into an artwork. It was just that I didn’t know how to really portray in one frame, a woman’s unimaginable perseverance in bringing up three kids single-handedly. At that very moment, it all came back to me, Dadin alleviating the blows of life as Maa tackled them head on. So, I sketched it out. Maa, not visible in her entirety but holding us all together, being the least visible yet the most powerful being in the frame, and Dadin keeping us as far as he can from the troubled waters. Unlike most, we didn’t only read about superheroes in comics but saw them up close and personal.
This illustration was inspired by an incident that took place during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. While the Native Americans were protesting in front of the armed forces at Standing Rock, hundreds of bison appeared out of nowhere and began running towards the armed police. It was as if Mother Nature had sent her forces to show support for the oppressed fighters. So, in this illustration, the character Harry Potter is reimagined as a Native American boy with a bison as his Patronus.
How would you describe your artistic practice?
We have been working together on our artworks since childhood and have very subtle differences in our styles. When one of us has an idea, we decide on certain things like how we would go ahead with the treatment. Based on this, we decide who will illustrate it. We often divide the illustration process as well, which involves one of us making the line sketch while the other adding the colour and details.
We carry our sketchbooks everywhere we go (of course we have one sketchbook each) and try to sketch almost everything that interests us. We also try to observe and listen to people, study their nuances and later sketch them from memory. This helps us a lot in developing characters.
What artists or illustrators do you admire?
Our mother and elder brother introduced us to the works of Satyajit Ray, Hergé and Naryan Debnath when we were toddlers. The works of these artists among many others, inspired us into sketching our own stick-figured characters in the early years. Growing up, we started following and admiring many other artists (thanks to our mentor Mr. Kaustubh Ray) like Dave McKean, Jan Svankmajer and Alexander Petrov whose experimental arts blew us away.
Do you focus on any particular themes in your artwork?
We prefer not to stick to a particular theme or style. Whatever’s happening around us affects us in some way or the other, and we try to express our reactions through our artworks. We also often take the liberty to exaggerate things to put our message with a touch of humour to it.
What is your process of working together versus individually?
When we aren’t together, we make sure that the first audience of our first draft is the other twin and our elder brother, be it a roughly written/thought of concept for a film or a rough sketch. And then there are some rounds of changes that our works undergo after discussions before being put up on social media.