Scrapbook of Memories

A pre-Independence scrapbook inspires an exhibition on forgotten traditions of Bollywood

Written by Dipanita Nath | Published:December 20, 2013 12:19 am

When collector’s luck hit Rahaab Allana,he barely realised it. The Delhi-based art curator was rummaging through a kabad in Colaba,Mumbai,last year,looking for film memorabilia when he came across an old scrapbook. Scribbled by hand on the cover was the “title” Filmi Jagat. “The scrapbook was A5 sized and full of clippings from film magazines,song booklets and advertisements. I felt it presented a history of collage and montage and offered a cultural understanding of our past,” he says.

Allana sent the scrapbook to cinema scholar Debashree Mukherjee and Kaushik Bhowmick,Professor of Cinema Studies,JNU,for appraisal. “After going through it carefully,they managed to date the scrapbook to pre-Independence years,probably between the 1930s and ’40s. This means that most of the films,whether they have been cut from magazines,posters or newspapers of the time,don’t exist anymore. These have been destroyed over time,” he says. The scrapbook carries only one hint about the owner — a stamp with the name Mangaldas V Lohana.

The scrapbook and the world it celebrated is the subject of an exhibition — to open at Shridharnini gallery on December 23 — and a book,which will be launched in March. Both are titled Filmi Jagat: Shared Universe of Hindi Cinema and mark the centenary of Indian Cinema. A second exhibition on Bollywood,featuring contemporary artwork by MF Husain,Arpana Caur and Bharti Verma will be held at Art Heritage from December 23 to January 21.

Allana asked Mukherjee and Bhowmick to write essays for the book,to be published by Niyogi Books,and they “culled out various thematics associated with the scrapbook such as nationalism,role of women and the male gaze”. “What I found interesting was that you don’t need chronology to understand that history,you need tropes,” says Allana. Taking off from the scrapbook,the exhibition comprises more than 100 artefacts such as song books and lobby cards as well as film stills arranged in tropes such as Action,Affection,Portraiture and Villainy in Hindi cinema from the 1950s to the ’80s.

The songbooks — among them Sunil Dutt’s 1958 starrer Post Box No 999 — were created for audiences to sing along,while lobby cards of films such as Khul Ja Sim Sim (1956) and Ghar Ghar Mein Diwali (1955) would be pinned in theaters for the audience to take away. “To me,they represent a global culture developed around images for advertisements. These lobby cards would have moments of action or important sequences that served as publicity material either for the current film or a future one,” says Allana. More than 50 lobby cards will be on show,with handpainted ones such as of Rungoli (1962),starring Vyjayantimala Bali and Durga Khote.

Film stills present a variety of emotional engagements,from Raj Kumar gently embracing co-star Nishi in the 1963 Pyaar ka Bandhan to Sher Dil,a 1990s film in which Dharmendra aggressively pulls Kimi Katkar towards him. The exhibition will also feature photographs from studios such as Himalaya Talkies and Studio Natraj. “I’ve tried to find these studios but they no longer exist. What happened to the photographers who shot for some of these films?” asks Allana. “One of the purposes of the exhibition is that people may volunteer information about these photographers and studios.”

The book,with a foreword by Shyam Benegal,is a “Copyleft” publication,according to Allana. “This means that I,as owner,do not want rights to be constricted. People were cut pasting things for the scrapbook so,to continue that tradition,if visitors want to scan pages and use it for personal purposes,they can,” he says. The scrapbook will be under a glass case but a film showing pages turned,flaps opened and images highlighted will be screened during the show.

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