Indian Posters Lose Local Touch ; the Art of Bollywood Posters, Hand-Painted by Local Artists, Is Fading

Article excerpt

Standing shirtless on a scaffold with a paintbrush tightly in hand, artist Sheikh Rehman leans forward to add another layer of gloss and pout to the super-sized mouth of a Bollywood actress.

"In the old days movies were sensible,'' Rehman says of the tacky movie banner he's completing. "The whole family could go. They were relevant, they had a story. These days, it's all action.''

Rehman sees himself as perhaps the last master of a dying art, the famed Bollywood movie poster. To others, artists like Rehman are simple tradesman painting at the edge of obsolescence.

India's growing economy has caught up with the movie business. Formula films are suffering record losses. Multiplexes are outpacing single-screen movie halls. And distributors have left behind the familiar hand-painted posters that once papered walls from Kashmir to Kerala for slick digitally designed ones.

The posters are far from their former glory. India's movie industry used to produce thousands of hand-painted posters and billboard-sized banners a year. Some theaters even had in-house artists to keep up with the torrent of releases.

Now, all but a few dusty holdouts are opting for the infinite palette and increased efficiency of mechanically reproduced posters and banners.

Rehman's studio for the past 20 years (it was his father's before that) is located in a cavernous space behind the screen at the Alfred Talkies in Bombay's red-light district.

Where once he painted giants of Indian film like Raj Kapoor and the actress Madhubala, now Rehman and his close-knit crew deliver broad-brush images of sultry sirens and hunky heroes of third-run action flicks.

"It's true, even I'm facing poverty,'' Rehman says. He can name only three other cinema painters still working in all of Bombay. "The rest are painting election posters - it's more money.''

"The artist, the painter himself, was a hero,'' Rehman says. …