Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand Beat the Khans in Poster Land

The charismatic trinity of the 1950s – Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand – are still the kings. In the gossamer world of film posters, they outsell the current Khan triumvirate of Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir, by leaps and bounds, disproving the notion that it’s only the present-day heroes who entice Bollywood fans to shell out big bucks from their wallets.

The spiralling market – up by 50 per cent in the last decade according to archivists– are topped by the posters of Mughal-e-Azam, Awara and Guide. The demand’s on for ‘original’ posters printed by the production companies at the time of the classics’ release. Those willing to settle for less go for ‘copies’ of the posters, which cost in thousands instead of the lakhs paid for the real thing.

The six-sheeter original Mother India poster which was sold for Rs 3 lakhs. (Poster courtesy: SMM Ausuja)

In poster land, the abiding mystique of Madhubala far outweighs the popularity of Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Alia Bhatt. The rapid-sellers of Indian cinema’s imperishable beauty include posters of Mahal, Howrah Bridge and Chalti ka Naam Gaadi.

Nargis, Meena Kumari, and Waheeda Rehman in the films of Guru Dutt, adorn the walls of upscale homes. A six-sheeter original of Mother India was lately snapped up by a Delhi business for a price close to Rs 3 lakhs.

The 1970s film designs for the most admired hits of Amitabh Bachchan fly off the shelves, especially Deewaar. The original poster of Do aur Do Paanch (later re-released as Do Ikkey inexplicably) are part of the memorabilia boom. With time Bachchan’s film posters are expected to go through the roof.

(Posters courtesy: SMM Ausuja)

Film posters of the Khans do command a market. Salman’s Maine Pyaar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, Shah Rukh Khan’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Aamir Khan’s Lagaan have a substantial clientele but not quite in the league of the vintage screen legends.

According to SMM Ausuja, archivist and author of the best-selling coffee table book Bollywood in Posters, films of the ‘50s justly described as ‘the golden era’ of Hindi cinema, have retained their appeal, across the senior generation to the millenials. Posters are bought largely by film aficionados, collectors who consider the ‘original’ versions as cushy investments, besides NRI settlers in the US and Europe for whom Bollywood is a nostalgia-oozing connect with their homeland.

Among the Bollywood set, Shah Rukh Khan and Riteish Deshmukh are enthusiastic poster collectors. The Bimal Roy family has taken care to preserve several of the originals of the auteur’s masterpieces.

A man walks past posters of Om Shanti Om and Saawariya. (Photo: Reuters)

“The market for pin-ups of today’s stars and sex symbols has gone extinct,” says Ausuja, explaning. “Because these can be downloaded for free on the internet.”

In Mumbai besides Ausuja, Zafar Abid possesses an enviable collection of vintage black-and-white stills. Sharad Joshi specialises in film booklets, a prime source for synopses and the cast and crew credits of long-forgotten movies.

The late journalist, Firoz Rangoonwalla, had amassed a treasure house of film memorabilia and a small but rare trove of posters from the late 1930s and ‘40s, including those of Sohrab Modi’s Pukar and and Sikandar and Wadia Movietone’s Raj Nartaki. Rangoonwalla’s collection has been sold to eager buyers over the years by his son, a priest.

The poster chase leads the avowed collector to the central government’s National Film Archive of India, Pune, but these are not for sale obviously. Meanwhile, Film Institute graduate, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, has been beavering away at gathering collectibles as an integral part of the The Film Heritage Foundation set up at his office in the business section of Tardeo in central Mumbai.

An outlet in Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar selling Bollywood posters. (Photo: Khalid Mohamed)

As for the former hub of film artefacts – tiny shops at Grant Road and Lamington Road – these have gone with the wind with the entry of spiffy auction houses. Only two outlets at Chor Bazaar offer posters and stills, keeping up the family tradition of trade in Bollywood art.

Incidentally, prime poster artists are barely known. Archivists on being quizzed, agree that the unfeted artists were quite unarguably SM Pandit (his creations included the imagery for Barsaat and Awara), Pandit Ram Kumar Sharma (Champakali, Naagin, Razia Sultan), DR Bhosle (Loafer, Parwana), Diwakar Kochare (Deewaar, Trishul, Kabhi Kabhie, Silsila) and Shrikant Dhongade (Saudagar, Jaanbaaz, Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!)

It was in the early ‘90s that hand-painted posters were replaced by vinyl, computer-generated designs. Yash Chopra’s Darr and Nana Patekar’s Prahaar are believed to be the last of the hand-painted posters.

What you might ask, is the price range of the original classics anyway?

Answer: sums ranging from from Rs 5 lakhs to Rs 25 lakhs apiece. As time flies, the prices are expected to zoom, in sync with inflation.

The 10 Highest Selling Bollywood Posters

• K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam

• Raj Kapoor’s Awara

• Navketan’s Guide

• Ramesh Sippy's Sholay

• Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal

• Mehboob Khan’s Mother India

* Bombay Talkies' Kismat (featuring Ashok Kumar)

• Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz ke Phool

• Yash Chopra’s Deewar

• Shakti Samanta’s An Evening in Paris

Most Wanted Rarities

• Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, Jalsaghar, Mahanagar, Charulata

• Ritwick Ghatak’s Meghe Dhaka Tara, Subarnarekha

• Bombay Talkies’ Milan (featuring Dilip Kumar)

• Kidar Sharma’s Jogan (featuring Dilip Kumar-Nargis)

• Dev Anand's Baazi (directed by Guru Dutt)

• Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb

• Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa

Moral of the story: Filmmakers should become aware that the pile of original posters which are mostly stored in godowns and left to perish, could become priceless with the flow of age and time.

(The writer is a film critic, filmmaker, theatre director and a weekend painter)

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