Poster art finds chroniclers and innovators as the market for nostalgia grows
Its an image that would have made even the big daddy of pop art,Andy Warhol,proud. A young man looms over an abstract industrial landscape glowing in red,his silhouette cut out of the classifieds section of a newspaper. One word stands out in the starkness,Naukrithe name of Bimal Roys 1954 film. It was a poster that the filmmaker conceptualised himself. The aesthetic is much more muted than the high-octane colours of a traditional Hindi film poster though it conveys the disillusionment creeping into Nehruvian India effortlessly. Each Bimal Roy film poster tells a story,and whats more he innovated with the technique too, says Siddhartha Tagore,a Delhi-based collector of Hindi film posters and editor of an art magazine.
The stories were on display last fortnight at an exhibition of Bimal Roy film posters in Kolkata,another of many examples of how this popular iconography is being reclaimed by the art world. Unlike comic books and stamps,Indian film posters were never meant to be collected. They were hand-painted and printed in limited numbers,to be distributed among the theatres screening the films.
But for Lahore-based Syed Jehangeer Ali,a research intern with Gallup Pakistan,his bachelors pad is incomplete without the doleful eyes of Suchitra Sen staring out of a framed poster of Devdas. Nor would Google India employee Arunlekha Senguptas Hyderabad residence be the hip hangout zone for friends without the psychedelic poster of the 1979 film,Don. Pakistani pop art thrives on Hindi film memorabilia. I have many artist friends who collect and embellish them, says Jehangeer,who bought his poster from a market in Lahore.
Balakrishna,the owner of a little studio in Mumbai,can vouch for the abiding allure of the kitschy images. The artist painted the 1975 posters of the blockbuster film Sholay and is among numerous artists whose careers were airbrushed out of the Bollywood story with the advent of technology. But his art still survives,through ingenuity and a demand fuelled mainly by admirers outside the country. Balakrishna now customises posters for clients as far away as Switzerland. I had all but given up,but then I was approached by collectors who wanted to buy my old posters. Slowly,I developed a client base, he says. Today,posters of Sanjay Leela Bhansalis Devdas painted by him find place in Londons Victoria & Albert Museum. I have managed a decent living. But more importantly,our work is being recognised. We are getting the respect we deserve, he says.
From crumbling walls to white-cube galleries,the poster has come a long way. Private collectors are now emerging in all parts of the country, says Neville Tuli,founder-chairman,Osians Connoisseurs of Art,which has been focusing on Indian film memorabilia since 2002. At last years Osians ABC Series Auction,held during the Osians-Cinefan film festival in July,as much as 96 per cent of the auctioned film memorabilia was sold. And that is quite an amazing figure. Usually,such auctions dont see this kind of sale, says Tuli. The average price of an auctioned vintage film poster was Rs58,282 as compared to less than Rs 10,000 in July 2005. This means that people are finally waking up to this art. Over the next two to three years you will witness a fundamental leap in collections, says Tuli.
The Kolkata exhibition celebrated the better of the two worlds of art and nostalgia. Roys son,Joy,who organised the exhibition,says film posters were much more than faces on walls for those associated with the films. My father took great pains in composing a poster. He saw them as the audiences first interaction with the film. He wanted them to recreate the films sensibilities. Take the poster of Parakh (1960). It was a minimalist one with the title of the film written vertically. It symbolised the post-modernistic theme of the film, says Roy.
Posters of Satyajit Rays films too bore the stamp of the filmmakers genius. My father was a graphic artist for an advertising firm before he took to filmmaking,and that comes across in each of the posters he made, says Rays son,Sandip Ray. Which is probably why,the posters of the films made by these two greats fetch the largest sums in art auctions.
Author Jerry Pinto says the market for film posters in India is far from evolved. Last year,Pinto,with photographer Sheena Sippy,put together a book on the posters of Bollywood,titled Bollywood Posters. Its an unorganised sector. Someone can buy a vintage poster of a 1940 film from Chor Bazaar in Mumbai for Rs 50 and sell it for Rs 50,000 in an auction, Tagore says.
Most of the original hand-painted posters were printed on crude paper which makes them difficult to preserve. And the fact that there are no clear markers to buy the right posters confuses customers. A good film doesnt necessarily have a good poster. Sholay may have been the blockbuster of all time,but it had the most uninspiring posters. On the other hand,a disaster like Kabhi Aar Kabhi Paar,had some beautiful posters, says Pinto. So go ahead,browse your local flea market. Who knows what treasure you might find?