All prints of Alam Ara, the first Indian film talkie, are lost and its original posters are nearly impossible to find. So film historian S.M.M Ausaja considers himself lucky to own not just a 1930’s newspaper ad of the film he found in a junkyard, but also a song booklet and two original still photographs of scenes from the film.
“Indians have hardly been interested in preserving films and film culture for posterity. For most old films, it is too late now,” said Ausaja (40), a TV software producer who began his journey 25 years ago as a fan of Amitabh Bachchan collecting film posters of the actor.
Today, he can boast of having one of the largest private archives of cinema memorabilia. He managed to get Bachchan to write the foreword of his first book, Bollywood in Posters, which will be released on Friday.
A celebration of the long-neglected art of hand-painted posters, Ausaja’s coffee table book compiles images of rare posters of classic films from the ‘30s. For each film, he has archived their credits, famous songs and a treasury of interesting anecdotes.
“The artists who painted the posters never got their due. They were popular only among the producers, who would visit their homes to discuss layouts,” said Ausaja, who wants to pay a tribute to artists such as S.M Pandit, Ramkumar Sharma, M.R. Achrekar and Divakar Karkare through his book.
From the ‘30s to the early ‘80s, attractive hand-painted posters were the most effective way to market a film, but the lithographs and offset prints of posters were usually printed on poor-quality paper. “Today those posters are priceless,” said Ausaja.
Though his book archives posters of contemporary films as well, Ausaja believes digital art is nothing but “junk food”, since it is available online for anyone to reprint.
“People rely too much on Google searches, but information available online is hardly authentic,” he said, citing the example of a search that led a popular daily in the city to print an obituary of actress Manorama with the picture of a south Indian actress by the same name.
But the problem, he said, lies in the absence of film libraries or official Bollywood archives. “If corporate houses offer some support, I would love to start a museum of my own,” he said.
(S.M.M Ausaja’s book Bollywood in Posters will be released by actor Amitabh Bachchan at Crossword Juhu, at 5 pm on Friday)