The Bollywood story through film posters, lobby cards

The Bollywood story through film posters, lobby cards

Bollywood's unseen and lesser known stills capturing action, affection, portraiture and villainy through decades-old film memorabilia like cinema lobby and show cards is now put on show.

Curated by photographer Rahaab Allana as a tribute to 100 years of cinema, these curios are showing at an exhibition he has titled "Filmy Jagat: Shared Universe of Indian Cinema" at the Art Heritage Gallery here.

"The visual culture in India is vast. It was the end of the centenary and I felt in the end, we should talk about sub cultures rather than the mainstream activities going on all the time," Allana told PTI in an interview at the the opening of the exhibition.

The exhibition, says the photographer is an attempt by his team to bring to fore the sub culture of photography that existed in Hindi movies for four decades from 1940 to 1980s but still unknown to the masses.

"For instance, the lobby cards and show cards that would have originally been pinned up in cinema theatres, are some of the most acknowledged forms of photography. We have made them part of the exhibition," he says.

The focal point of the exhibition is a scrap book titled "Filmy Jagat" scribbled in hand on the cover.

Acquired by Allana a year ago, the pre-independence book paved the way for the exhibition. "Working around the streets of Mumbai and picking up material, I came upon this scrap book and I realize that a scrap book is an important sub-culture of photography. I realized that I would like to research it and found out that there was no publication or history around scrapbook so I thought to do one," he says.

Divided into different tropes and styles, the show highlights such film stills dating from a later period in Indian cinema, namely the 1960s-80s, an era that gave way to a global audience for Hindi films. Action, Affection, Portraiture and Villainy are therefore some of the recurring moments that were captured throughout film photography. 

The curator of Alkazi Foundation for the Arts. Allana says he had no plans of putting up a show when he acquired the archives. "I had no thought while going for the archives. I acquired them I because liked them," he says.

Allana admits it was a challenging task to acquire all the archives. "It was challenging. Easy as everyone was dedicated to it but difficult for obvious reasons," the curator says.

He hopes that people visit the exhibition and they start "responding to it in their own capacity." Another reason which Allana had for putting up this exhibition was to show his support for offbeat cinema. "If we want to make that kind of cinema supporting this type of exhibition is good," he said.

The exhibition preempts a publication specific to the scrapbook, titled Filmi Jagat Scrapbook: Shared Universe of Indian Cinema, by Niyogi Books with a introduction by Shyam Benegal which will be released early next year. "Yes, we hope to release it in the first quarter of the year," says Allana.

Along with this a parallel exhibition titled Contemporary Artworks, where artists have responded to the "dynamic presence of Bollywood".

M F Husain's "Culture of the Streets", a portfolio of 20 signed photographs printed on Kodak C-Print with foil on photo paper shot in the 1980s, makes it clear that for Husain, the streets of Chennai with their enormous hoardings of South Indian movie stars were a part of the contemporary urban landscape and a part of the artist's visual vocabulary.

Younger artists like Bharti Verma's otherwise vacant streets and homes of New Delhi are dominated by a historic legacy of film posters that are suspended like a giant, silent backdrop in the distance. Sharmistha Dutta creates collages of 1970's film posters pasted on ruined, blood-splattered city walls, against which she arranges interesting and vivid portraits of the common man.

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