Planning to watch a movie in the near future? As you near your preferred cinema theatre, you’d better pull out your sunglasses. (A pair of earplugs might be a good idea too.) Because what you are about to see is not only garish, but LOUD. Handpainted movie posters of the kind that vanished in a blaze of technology in the ’90s, but now, way into the second decade of the 2000s, seem to have made a comeback.
In one corner of the poster, a rapacious villain is manhandling the heroine. In another corner, the hero is jumping out of flames, rage written all over his face. In the middle, the hero and heroine are gazing soulfully into each other’s eyes. And below the movie’s title, there’s a cheesy line. It’s meant to sum up the whole film.
For those of us born before the ’90s, this is a familiar (if long-forgotten) sight. Digital posters only crept into the industry in the mid ’90s, after which handpainted posters quietly faded away to become an object of nostalgia immortalised on kitschy home products. But for those of us born in the ’90s and after, it’s a revelation. Suddenly, Bollywood looks the way Bollywood should look. Fully entertaining. Worth every paisa for popcorn.
And that is why handpainted posters are back.
Old is new
All right. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration. While we can’t exactly say that handpainted posters are back, it’s true that in the last few months, three films have abandoned the digital prints and got artists to pull out the paintbrushes again. Rockstar, The Dirty Picture and Rowdy Rathore are (or were) all intent putting the Bolly back into the wood.
“We just wanted to make sure that in the crowd of action films, Rowdy Rathore stands out,” says Shikha Kapur, senior VP, marketing, UTV Motion Pictures, co-producers along with Sanjay Leela Bhansali of the Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha starrer. “Since the film marks Akshay Kumar’s comeback as an action hero, we thought we’d exploit the ’80s ‘angry young man avatar’ for him. We incorporated almost every vintage element in the posters to do them justice.”
The posters of Rowdy Rathore have created quite a buzz with kitschy taglines such as ‘Faulad Ki Aulad’, ‘Ilaaka Tera, Dhamaka Mera’ and ‘Maa Ka Doodh’. Since the moment that Akshay Kumar uploaded the first poster on Facebook, the response has been phenomenal. At the time of going to press, the ‘Faulad Ki Aulad’ poster had generated 8,631 likes, 2,815 comments and 1,079 shares and the ‘Ilaaka Tera, Dhamaka Mera’ poster had received 7,939 likes, 2,110 comments and 984 shares.
“Youngsters are loving it because they’ve never seen anything like this before,” says Shobha Sant of Mantra SDS, which executed the campaign for Rowdy Rathore. Adds Kapur of UTV: “We realised a week after launching the first poster that people felt an instant connection with the taglines. Going earthy and rustic is big these days.”
So does that mean that we’ll see more handpainted posters in the future? It’s unlikely, says Rajeev Chudasama of the movie marketing company Marching Ants, which designed the campaign for The Dirty Picture.
“It really depends on the nature of the film,” he says. Going retro worked for The Dirty Picture which was set in the Bollywood of the ’80s. It may not work for, say, a slick urban film such as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
Kapur hopes, however, that the handpainted posters will stay. “They bring out the true essence of Bollywood,” she says. “Youngsters have not sampled the madness of the old times and this could work.”
Blend the two
It may work, it may not. That’s for the future to say. But this doesn’t make the former poster painters of Bollywood happy. There’s still not enough work for them.
“I enjoyed painting actors in bright colours but when digital posters came in, our industry sank,” says Delhi-based street painter Satish. “Just three films can’t change everything again.”
Most poster painters work with TV channels these days, or with design studios or run their own small businesses, trying to make a living. In Mumbai’s
Grant Road, 68-year-old Javed Bhai paints portraits film poster style for people who are interested. Though he’s mildly interested in the ‘resurrection’ of the handpainted film poster, he doesn’t think it will change anything. “It’s not like they’re giving us any work,” shrugs Javed. “They go to fancier artists to get their posters done.”
And that’s the way it should be, says Prithvi Soni, one of Bollywood’s most celebrated poster painters. “No artist can achieve the kind of finishing that digital printing gives posters,” he says. “But it would be great if we could blend the two.”