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Brushed under the carpet

This is what it eventually comes to. When Om Shanti Om was released, some of the posters looked like they had been painted in the old style, writes Jerry Pinto.

india Updated: Oct 11, 2008 23:51 IST
Jerry Pinto

This is what it eventually comes to. When

Om Shanti Om

was released, some of the posters looked like they had been painted in the old style. But the producers were taking no chances with the likenesses of Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone. The posters were generated by a computer programme. This meant that the stars looked like stars but the poster was made to look like they had been painted by hand.

When we went looking for the men who had painted cinema hoardings and posters, the watchman at one of the housing societies was slightly puzzled.

“You want to meet poster painters?” he asked.

Yes, we did.

“Well,” said Sachin Radia, “I was one. But there was no work so I took up this line.”

Which films did he work on?

He had no recollection of any names. There were many, he said.

This dogged the entire enterprise. Many of the painters we met suggested that they had worked on posters. We tried taking thumbnails along. They could not recognise any. Many claimed that they had worked only on big films. No one ever said that they had done the poster for Andheri Raat Mein, Diya Tere Haath Mein or Dhoti, Lota aur Chowpatty.

Balkrishna L Vaidya however still paints posters from his shop in Dadar. There isn’t much demand now but the 74-year-old remembers the glory days when there were nearly 30 studios working in Mumbai.

“Up to 1993, the hoardings on the roads were the most important way to advertise films,” he says. “Today, everything comes out of a machine somewhere.”

But Vaidya has found an international niche for himself.

“Hans, a young man from Switzerland, saw one of my posters at Opera House and loved the work. He tracked me down and although he spoke no Hindi or Marathi, he insisted on coming to learn the art of painting with me. He studied for three days and at the end of it, I gave him a poster to take back with him.

“I did not expect anything more from him but then he wrote me a letter asking me if I would come to Switzerland and give a demonstration of my work there. I went, not because I wanted the stipend, but only because I wanted to travel and I felt this would be a great way to see the world. I must have done something right because they enjoyed my presentation and every two years, I get to go abroad to Italy, to Austria, to Germany, to London, to show them how we used to do our hoardings,” he says.

A reflective pause and then, “We don’t seem to care as much about our culture as they do. There’s not much demand for our work in India but abroad, it’s different. They hang my posters in offices, in museums. My work is in the Victoria & Albert Museum, in a museum in Germany. But as for the streets of Mumbai? We live now on our memories.”