A kitschy poster reads Dildaar in garish red letters, referring to the 1977 Hindi film starring Jeetendra and Rekha. Except, on this poster, the lead pair is a blonde-haired Delphine and a bespectacled Vladimir, both resplendent in traditional gaon ka garb.
The French couple have been immortalised thus in their Bollywood avatar by a studio far removed from Mumbai’s Film City — the Limona Studio, a Paris-based company that commissions three of Mumbai’s poster painters to create customised Bollywood posters.
The studio was founded in 2004 by two French women, Sarah Loosdregt (38) and Sophie Legoubin (38), both Bollywood fans who have translated their passion into colourful commerce. Legoubin has been visiting India since she was four years old, and Loosdregt gushes, in an email to HT, “We really like the country, the people, the culture and the Bollywood movies like Mother India, Sholay, Lagaan, and Kabi Kushie Kabi Kam (sic).”
It all started when Loosdregt and Legoubin got their families painted on a Bollywood poster during a holiday in Mumbai. The posters were such a hit with their friends in France, that in August 2004, the duo landed in Mumbai in search of traditional poster artists. They found old-timers Suresh Sandal, Deepak Naresh and Sheikh Rehman, who, after the advent of digital printing, were reduced to painting politicians’ faces instead of movie stars. Now, they happily paint European and American faces on Hindi film posters.
West meets East
how does it work? Clients from all over the world send in their photographs to Limona Studio. After helping them choose a Bollywood movie poster off the Internet, Legoubin and Loosdregt make a trip to Mumbai every now and then to help the painters customise each poster.
“Clients usually like posters of the 1970s and 1980s,” says Loosdregt, elaborating, “They like it very Bollywood style, with saris, maharajas and big guy with moustache and gun!” Shahrukh Khan’s Devdas and Om Shanti Om and Aishwarya Rai’s Umrao Jaan are also popular choices according to Sandal, who works from his Shivaji Park studio. “Hindi is a must in the poster,” adds Sandal. Besides their own pictures, customers also send in photographs of their houses, cars, and even pets. It isn’t unusual for Sandal to paint a European or American couple along with their pet dog on a Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai poster.
While Sandal says, “France wants only romance posters”, he has also replaced Shahrukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Isha Koppikar in a Don poster with an entire gun-toting European family. “We only change the faces; the actors’ figures remain intact,” says Sandal — which explains the gun-toting bit.
Loosdregt says that the posters are often wedding or anniversary gifts. “One client even used a poster with the title ‘Vivaah Prastaav — will you marry me?’ to propose to his girlfriend,” she says.
And an art survives
Legoubin and Loosdregt are serious about promoting the dying art of hand-painted posters. Thanks to their efforts, the three Mumbai painters have been artists-in-residence in France where their work was showcased at the Bombaysers festival at Lille in 2006. They have conducted workshops to demonstrate their skills to French high school students and were even sent to London to paint a 50x40-foot Bollywood canvas for a popular dance festival.
Remarks Legoubin, “We are pleased to work with them because this art will disappear after them.” Fifty-six-year-old Sandal, who has been in this business since 1969, and whose clients once included biggies such as Subhash Ghai, Sooraj Barjatya, BR Chopra and Sanjay Khan, says he had to shut his business in 2000 due to a dearth of orders. “Producers found digital printing inexpensive and less time consuming,” he explains.
Now, Limona Studio has opened up a new world of opportunities. Sandal, who has painted a 120-foot movie poster for the Yash Raj studios in Andheri, takes four to 10 days to paint a poster and charges Rs 3,000-4,000 per square foot for posters that come in 3x2-foot, 4x3 and 6x4 sizes.
And Limona’s customers, who are predominantly from France, Switzerland, England and the US, willingly shell out 200 to 600 euros (approximately Rs 13,000 to Rs 34,000) for these personalised pieces of art.
As Loosdregt says, “They all have a special relation with India.”