Monkey Business

August 4, 2011 1:26 pm by

We’re big fans of the pun-ny illustrations on the T-shirts, notebooks, mugs and button badges made by the company Chimp (like for instance the T-shirt of a turbaned disco dancer that says “Who’s Your Papaji?” or of a cape-clad south Indian called “Supermaniam”). If, like us, you’ve wondered about who comes up with them, the answer lies on the products themselves. A line states simply: “Design licensed from Sir Manish”. That would be 34-year-old illustrator Manish Sehrawat, who designs ninety per cent of Chimp’s merchandise.

You might be familiar with his work, even if you’ve never come across a Chimp product. Sehrawat is the former head of promos at Channel [V], where we worked for ten years, starting in 2001 after he graduated from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. He’s the man responsible for some of the most memorable “fillers” on the music television channel. Along with animator Uttam Pal Singh Chawla, Sehrawat created the Santa and Banta Singh clips that imagine Santa Claus as a Sardar. He also worked on the short cartoon spoofs of the Hindi film Sholay, and the promo set in a Hindustani classical music class, where the teacher plays Guns N Roses’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine” on the sitar.

He left the channel in March last year because he “became a manager of other people’s talents”. “I wanted to explore different kinds of mediums—be it children’s books or animation shorts,” said Sehrawat who calls himself Sir Manish after the colloquialism “Sirji” and also because people just can’t seem to get the spelling of his surname right. “I have 18 school certificates, and it’s misspelled on 15 of them,” said Sehrawat who was born and raised in Delhi. As a child, Sehrawat said he liked drawing, and would often “drool over the illustrations” in Russian children’s magazine Misha and his neighbour’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! books. It was after seeing the animated film The Lion King that Sehrawat considered making his hobby a profession.

A variety of influences—from Austrian painter Egon Schiele to filmmaker Tim Burton—is reflected in the diversity seen in his designs for Chimp, which include the classic water colour caricature style of the qawwali singing rodent Nus-Rat (an homage to singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), the macabre look of the “Eye Lifter” T-shirt (literally a face lifting its eye-balls) and the flat, minimal feel of his series of King Kong tees.

Pop culture references from around the world are a dominant feature of Chimp T-shirts. One T-shirt has a mash-up of Spider-man and Bruce Lee where the bodies of the two characters appear fused into each other. “These are people and things we grew up with,” said Sehrawat. “People tend to over-Indianise India. How many times will you sell elephants, the Taj Mahal or the Gateway of India? Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson aren’t Indian but they were in our houses.” One of his favourite drawings however is of a very Indian icon, a Gandhi wearing 3D glasses. “It’s not meant to be funny,” says Sehrawat. ”He’s been made so sacred by politicians [that] it’s an exercise in pulling him back into a friendlier space.”

Chimp founder Anckur Patodia was initially apprehensive about releasing the design, but said he has come to trust Sehrawat completely over the 13 years they have been working together, first as part of Patodia’s T-shirt company Moral Fibre (which folded in 2005) and for Chimp, which he started in 2008. “I’m his number one fan,” said Patodia. Their partnership works, he said, because “in terms of both design and humour, we get each other”.

The duo usually launch a new T-shirt every week. Though they miss a week now and then, Sehrawat says that they make up for it by releasing two tees after a fortnight. “Every now and then, I try and take a full month to do only do T-shirts,” said Sehrawat who also regularly works with Star TV on design projects on a freelance basis. Next up is a T-shirt that Patodia and he are probably hoping will work with women: one of a female kickboxer smashing a heart into two called, naturally, “Heart Breaker”. It should be in stores on Friday, August 12.

Chimp T-shirts and notebooks are available at stores and Café Coffee Day outlets across the city. Their new line of city-themed mugs will be released next week. See here for addresses.