Sanjay Madnani is a Communication Strategist and Designer by profession, an Animation Film Designer, an illustrator, a cartoonist, a satirist, and a storyteller by passion.
From a cartoonist in Hindi newspapers, to a design student, to a commercial sector professional, to an educator, to a Development Communication professional, his journey has had dramatic turns. None, however, felt alien to him.
Being a development sector insider for twenty odd years, Sanjay weighs heavily on the fact that development and governance still has a enormous void to be filled by design, design thinking and design process. Focused on Communication for Development (C4D), Social and Behavioral Change Communication (SBCC), Indigenous media and new media, he has multiple crosscutting projects across the globe to his credit.
Sanjay resides in Nepal, calls India his home, then again, he travels around a lot for work.
Barely an 8-year-old Sanjay panicked when he remembered at eight pm one evening that he had to draw ‘lifting a load’ for the science class for the next day. No one at home offered to help. Trembling with fear Sanjay somehow pushed himself to draw whatever he could manage. There was a lot of praise in the class next day.
From here on Sanjay drew, painted, and made toys as his favorite activities, primarily to escape being between people.
Dad was a government employee. They were four brothers. Anything extra was hard to come by. Toys, magazines, comics, junk food, cold drinks, restaurants almost never occurred. It didn’t stop Sanjay from playing. Having made toys for himself – cricket bats from wooden planks, balls out of cloths, Toy buses out of toothpaste boxes, periscope out of left over wood.
This interaction with material will later come in handy when Sanjay studied and practiced design.
This proves life offers you more drama than fiction can. Without much input in the arts, Sanjay was barely eighteen when he met a newspaper owner who offered Sanjay the role of cartoonist for the newspaper that was to launch a week later. Sanjay quickly developed a drawing style, the column Tazurba was set, and satire and humor began to be delivered to people daily.
Bursting with sarcasm, humor and ideas, Sanjay also started his handwritten weekly satirical editorial Gutargun. He had a successful three years of ‘Tazurba’ and ‘Gutargun’. However, life was to take yet another turn.
Concurrently studying his bachelor’s in commerce, in 1992, Sanjay brought two gold medals, a first in their history, to the Jiwaji University, Gwalior in Poster Design and Cartoons at Inter-University National competitions in Poster Design held at Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai.
Gaining self-confidence from the above occurrences, Sanjay applied to the National Institute of Design (NID) for the second time after completing his Bachelor of Commerce.
Two years of daily pocket cartoon column in the newspaper, Sanjay approached the then Railways Minister of Govt. of India, Shri Madhavrao Scindia to request him to inaugurate a cartoon exhibition which he gladly accepted.
At the last minute, having forgotten to arrange for scissors, Sanjay had to fetch a large pair of Gardening Scissors, which triggered a burst of laughter from the assembled crowd. The exhibition ran for four days at Kala Vithika, Gwalior.
At his second attempt, Sanjay succeeded in getting through to the Master at NID, and the journey became his transition phase from a cartoonist to a design student, and a designer later.
Coming from a middle-class family in a small town in India, Sanjay’s canvas for learning new skill suddenly widened.
He worked diligently to finish the course in two years and two months.
While still a student and still low on funds for his basic needs, Sanjay took up his first client project. Branding for a Women’s NGO/group from Gujarat. The event prepared Sanjay for future dealing with the professional world.
Starting from learning to switch on a computer, to making dos-based graphics and animations, Sanjay was a quick learner. For his industrial training course, he moved to Delhi to work on a computer-based learning program.
A paradigm shift happened here. He understood that things do not need to take as much time as they usually do if assisted by proper planning and technology. This becomes one of his USPs from here on.
Having finished his program before time, excited to take the world on, Sanjay rushed to Delhi to take up his first employment. This was an era when startups in computer delivered knowledge and entertainment were emerging everywhere.
As a head of the team, Sanjay took up the task of animating all the stories from Panchatantra and knitted these into an interactive CD-ROM.
By now, Sanjay not only mastered the art of computer generated 2D animation, but also all the aspects of digital interactivity and programming. Brimming with confidence, Sanjay moved to Ahmedabad to help an Ad agency to start a computer delivered knowledge and entertainment company. Training a team of 36 people over the next three years, Sanjay created two interactive CD-ROMs and about 30 short animated 2D films.
The instinct of learning anew and to give back to his alma-mater and the demand from his former Guru’s to teach at NID took Sanjay back to NID to take up a few courses. Sanjay initiated the computer generated 2D animation course at NID and delivered it for a month every year, until in 2002 he joined NID as a full-time faculty. Sanjay went on to help NID in restructuring the decades old animation courses.
Sanjay’s career took another major shift when he was chosen amongst 300 candidates across the globe for a Ford Foundation project. The project focused on researching indigenous methods of communication used by mountain communities in Greater Himalayan region (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh) and to use these methods in disseminating knowledge about income generation, livelihood, and agriculture best practices. Sanjay was suddenly in the middle of a storm of immense knowledge.
Seeing his work, several development organizations, businesses and educational institutions asked for help from Sanjay while he was busy with the Ford Foundation project. Sanjay also felt that he would be able to do far more if he focused only on communication design rather than regular office work. Post the project, he decided to go independent.
Sanjay took up projects of varied kind – Teaching design at a British Design School, writing and directing a tourism related TV series, branding for a 5-star hotel to developing training modules for small holders in tourism sector and working with the Ministry of Health, Nepal to develop digital training modules for health workers.
Word of mouth took Sanjay across the seas -training modules for Taxi Drivers in Cambodia; Tourism workers in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos; Oil Palm and Rubber farmers in Indonesia and Democratic Republic of Congo; Cooperative Development in Indonesia; WASH program in South Americas, to mention a few.