Saturday, August 13th, 2022 20:06:46

Bollywood Affair With Hand-Painted Posters

Updated: June 22, 2013 5:09 pm

It was exactly 100 years ago when the first hand-painted film poster took birth. Though the poster of the Dhundiraj Govind Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, was technically far off from being the typical Bollywood film poster, it carried the handwritten name of the film, director, producer, writer and the star cast.

History traces the first Bollywood hand-painted poster, as we know it, to 1924 when Baburao Painter’s Kalyan Khajina was released. Written by Sujit R Verma, the quasi-historical movie was based on the exploits of the 17th century Maratha emperor Shivaji.

Since then the Bollywood film posters have traveled a long way, before they got lost into oblivion owing to the digitalised posters as we see today. The hand-painted posters apart from serving as a media for the publicity and advertising of the film also highlighted the glimpses of the movie. The initial film posters entertained the audiences with their often tacky and bohemian appearances that were the result of the visible broad brush strokes along with a riot of colours and bold fonts.

Slowly and steadily the film’s publicity poster became a platform for the creativity to the extent that artists used to beautifully draw out the highlight of the film thus drawing a large number of the audiences to the cinema halls. It is noteworthy to mention here that unlike the present day where one can hardly find a decent poster painter, the gone era witnessed some of the finest painters who were involved in the jobs of bringing out the movie alive on a poster. A special community of artists laid the foundation for hand-painted Indian film poster culture when none existed.

The posters were created using a wide array of locally available colours that were mixed with linseed oil to attain the desired consistency. The posters often carried the larger than life images of the artist. Once painted, these posters were then printed using the basic printing technique available at that time—lithographic printing. Subsequently the posters were literally pasted all over the place in every nook and cranny of the city.

The hard work of the artists paid off as some of them enjoyed the cult status of being highly paid by the producers. Often more than the film it were the posters that catapulted the star cast, particularly the new ones to instant fame, much before the film went to the cinema halls. Apart from giving them recognition, the hand-painted posters were largely responsible for creating a particular image of the actor. For example the angry man look of the superstar Amitabh Bachchan was replicated via unique art styles such as painting with a knife instead of brushes and hues of red colour.

The use of eye catching colours and brilliantly added highlights was the trademark of vintage Bollywood film posters that captivated the onlookers’ attention. Along with capturing the crux of the plot, the artists represented the shades of the different characters with varied colours such as pink was the colour of love used liberally on the leading couple, whereas blue was used to portray villain. In fact some over-imaginative poster artists used to draw appealing scenes that were not part of the film merely to attract audience. The Bollywood film posters that were initially created for merely marketing and advertising purpose of the films soon became the base of artistic creativity.

Initially being printed via lithographic printing, the hand-painted posters moved over to offset printing in 1980s. The Bollywood posters, once printed, were handed over to Bollywood film publicity agencies as well as distributors and cinema theatres, which in turn plastered these poster prints on every available inch of wall space. The trend continued unabated until the late 1970s when restrictions on outdoor advertising on walls started to gradually fall into place. Areas (walls) on which Bollywood film posters were traditionally plastered on for years, were now declared no-bill zones, and the act made a punishable offence to deter advertisers. As such, the utilisation of Bollywood film posters for film publicity began to decrease marginally in urban areas.


Just like the stars of yesteryears, the hand-painted posters too have made a comeback of sorts. Films such as Rockstar, Rowdy Rathore, The Dirty Picture and Ishaqzaade included some hand painted posters as part of their publicity. The posters revoked brought back the long lost memories and needless to say that they went onto become the top grosser at the box office.


Further, instead of having just one publicity poster, the local distributors as well as cinema houses designed their own re-release posters to suit the tastes of local audiences. In fact the re-release prints of posters announced the success of a film including the awards and the number of weeks they have been running for in cinema halls, and even highlight certain popular characters of the film that the audience related to.

The Bollywood continued its affair with the fully hand-painted film posters till 1970s after which the cut-paste techniques made its way. The new technique was much faster and required little creativity. Under the cut paste technique, images of the actors were cut from the still photographs and then pasted on to a collage on a canvas board with a hand-painted background, which would then be replicated in print. These cut paste designed Bollywood film posters followed an interesting arrangement of the figures, taking up every inch of available poster design space. As a result most Bollywood film posters quickly began to break away from their hand-painted stereotype and began to get photographic through the cut paste technique.

With the passage of time and advent of new technology, hand-drawn posters are a thing of past now. The new-age film posters are designed digitally using computer graphics software and printed on vinyl thus lacking not only the creativity but also missing out on the high impact colour schemes that were once the trademark of the typical Bollywood film poster.

The hand-painted Bollywood film poster prints have had an interesting journey over the years and given the fact that the original posters printed on cheap paper are available till now. In fact they have covered a long journey from being pasted on the walls to the museums and art galleries.

 By Parwinder Sandhu



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