These superstars might not have been flattered by their yesteryear posters but what was once considered cheap publicity for films in India is now coveted art in cities like Paris, Toronto, London and Berlin.
In romantic Paris, ambassador cars emblazoned with colourful posters of Bollywood flicks whizz past attracting curious onlookers, while London, Tokyo and Berlin all have stores which sell such posters.
"Most hand-painted posters we get here are done by artists in Mumbai. Since the market for such posters in India is limited, we are trying to promote the art in France," says Sophie Legoubin, whose Limona Studio sells customised painted posters in Paris.
Legoubin who visits India frequently along with her friend Sarah Loosdregt picks up the posters from artists in Mumbai and sells them in Paris for an average of 500 euros each.
"The accomplishment of these painters is amazing. Recently, in Lille (in France), a few film poster painters from India worked with French graffiti artists and the outcome was mind-boggling. It's too bad that this art is shaky in India," says Loosdregt.
She points out that markets for poster art is stronger in countries like France, Spain, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia than in India where the handpainted posters, hugely popular in the 50s and 60s have given way to those printed using digital technologies.
"The major problem was that we painters weren't united. We had no unions. When digital technology threatened our livelihood we accepted our lot without a fight. Many of us were forced to switch our profession overnight," says Vijay Singh, a Delhi-based artist who gave up painting posters a decade ago.
His brother Ranjeet, however, chose to brave the rough tide. "This is my life. I won't give up that easily. Although my work today is limited to painting hoardings during election campaigns, painting is my passion. I still have a lot of tourists who come to me to get their portraits done with the typical film backdrop," says Ranjeet.
Meanwhile art historians and collectors have been drawn to such poster paintings associated with old and critically acclaimed films.
"For years we've been building a database for hand - painted posters. We hope to bring the uniqueness of such posters into the public eye," says Aditi Mittal, archivist at Osian, an auction house which claims to have the largest collection of such posters in the world.
"Compared to Mumbai and Delhi art is more accessible to the public in cities like Paris and Toronto. In India only a small clique goes to a gallery and attends exhibitions, even fewer who buy these paintings," she says.
Exhibitions of hand-painted posters have been well received overseas. "I had two exhibitions of my work in Paris and Toronto and both were well appreciated. People there find the art novel, unusual and different from what they are accustomed to," Delhi-based artist Baba Anand, who frequently visits Paris told PTI.
Anand says the posters are popular among Indians residing abroad. "A lot of Indians in foreign countries buy them as they get nostalgic when they see posters of Dilip Kumar or Waheeda Rehman-characters they associate with India."
However, all does not seem lost for the art in India as of late the market has seen a surge in merchandise which combines Bollywood poster art and function.
Indian Hippie- One such venture launched by Mumbai entrepreneur Hinesh Jetwani, offers a range of exclusive hand painted products like wallets, T-Shirts, diary folders and match boxes.
"We are trying to bring hand-painted posters back in vogue," says Jetwani who claims that in addition to these products he has also been receiving requests to paint walls, garage shutters and wedding backdrops which he sees as an "encouragement" for the art.
Fashion designer Nida Mahmood, like Jetwani, is a part of the genX team that is trying to revive the art. Her line at the Wills Lifestyle Fashion Week 2009 was inspired by the age-old painted Bollywood posters. "The response was overwhelming!" gushes Nida. However, she too feels that the art has a more lucrative market in other countries.
"People abroad find the paintings original and they capture the essence of the film. Problem here is that the art is very expensive and not everyone invests in art, as a result a beautiful art is dying," says Nida. The designer has set up a company dedicated to maintaining the artists' livelihood.
"A hand-painted poster of the film Mother India can easily be sold for up to 100 dollars today in a studio or a store in Paris or London," says archivist Aditi Mittal.
"Bollywood art is virtually dead but its legacy will survive, if not in India then in some store in Paris, London, Tokyo or Berlin," she says.