Technology killing India's movie poster art

PANAJI, India (Reuters Life!) - Long before graphic design changed the movie industry, the heaving bosoms and rippling muscles of Bollywood’s heroes and heroines drew viewers to the boxoffice from hand-painted, larger-than-life posters.

File photo of a painter working on a poster for the film "Kama Sutra" in Mumbai. The film which was initially banned by the Indian censor board as being unsuitable for Indian audiences has now been cleared for screening today, minus its more sexually explicit scenes. REUTERS/Savita Kirloskar/Files

But these colourful, and often exaggerated displays, are fast becoming a dying art, as technology slowly rubs out India’s poster painting stars.

“We do whatever work we can get,” said poster artist Narendra Shankar Dewoodalker. “There are about 60 to 70 painters. We do not have any arrangements for the work. We pick up any odd jobs to make ends meet. We do what we can.”

Poster painting is as old as the film industry itself, and Bollywood is paying tribute to this once-flourishing art through an exhibition and workshop on the sidelines of the 38th International Film Festival of India in Panaji, Goa.

Titled “Poster Boys” the workshop is being conducted by artists from Mumbai, India’s entertainment capital.

Bollywood is the world’s most prolific film industry and the majority of movie advertisers prefer slick digital technology and plastic-coated posters to put on billboards across the country.

The speed and convenience of these high-tech posters adds to their appeal: painting a billboard poster is a laborious and collective job, with the master drawing the outline and his apprentices filling in the details.

And as with everything handmade, the devil is in these details, with artists often rendering their own interpretation of an actor’s facial or bodily features.

Nafisa Ali, a social activist and former Miss India who attended the exhibit, stressed the need for the Indian film industry to lend support to the struggling artists.

“The movie fraternity should definitely do something for the greats of cinema posters because this art, which is a dying art, sustained the film industry when digitalisation and all these big posters were not available through computerisation,” Ali said.

Indeed, some of India’s best artists such as Maqbool Fida Husain started out as poster painters. Posters from Indian films of the 1950s and before sell as curios for hundreds of dollars.

Speaking at the exhibit, film director Pardiep Chhabrra suggested that technology could actually turn out to be the artists’ saviour, if they embraced it like some of their colleagues.

“Some artists are learning the latest technology and they are surviving and they are progressing and prospering with that as well,” he said. “So, technology and art can work together.”

Bollywood, the world’s largest film industry by ticket sales, is worth about $2.1 billion and this figure is forecast to more than double by 2011.