Even if you are not a fan of old Bollywood movies, it is hard not to find the stories surrounding them charming. And, part of that charm is the hand-painted posters that were made to advertise films by a tightly-knit community of artists. These posters, which could be up to 50 feet tall, were once an integral part of Mumbai’s landscape, and creating them was considered an art form. Now, Hinesh Jethwani, a former journalist and content writer, is attempting to preserve the art form through two websites: Indian Hippy, which sells custom-made hand-painted Bollywood posters; and Bollywood Movie Posters, which sells prints of vintage posters and other Bollywood memorabilia.
Jethwani, a 34-year-old Mumbai resident, also auctions original hand-painted posters and says the rare ones can fetch up to Rs 25,000. There are several movie enthusiasts and collectors who see historical value in them. There are also those who buy the posters purely for the quality of the art. Several foreigners, who don’t know anything about Bollywood and cannot even pronounce the name of the movie, buy its poster because they appreciate the skill involved in painting it, says Jethwani. His Bollywood Movie Posters website also sells more recent photographed posters and film stills, but it is the hand-painted posters that are most popular and command the highest price. A print of the poster made for Guru Dutt’s Chaudvin Ka Chand (1960), for example, will cost you Rs 15,000. With his Indian Hippy project, Jethwani has brought together the few surviving movie poster artists and sells commissioned hand-made paintings by them. You can ask them to paint your faces into a popular movie poster. He also gets requests from restaurants, hotels and boutiques to have their walls painted by Indian Hippy’s artists.
After working as a journalist and then at a software company, Jethwani started a technology content writing firm, but was forced to shut it down when the financial slowdown began, in 2008. He had always been interested in the art of poster painting and used his newfound free time to look for exponents of it. Most of them had been out of work since the 1990s, and it was a hard task finding them. “On several occasions, I wondered if this was worth pursuing because I was just roaming around aimlessly, asking people for leads,” says Jethwani. “I found them in unexpected places.” One summer afternoon in 2008, he was in Mahim, as he was told there used to be prominent art studios there, and he chanced upon a small house. “The door was slightly ajar, and I could see a huge painting of Sai Baba from outside. It must have been a seven-foot-tall painting, so I knew instinctively it was done by a poster artist. I went in, introduced myself and inquired about the artist. The gentleman who came out got his business card and gave it to me.”
Jethwani, who is a massive Amitabh Bachchan fan and says he has watched Sharaabi over 50 times, had a dozen poster artists working for him by 2009. But, that number has now dwindled to four, and Jethwani does not expect there to be a new generation of poster artists. “This is the curtain call for Bollywood poster art. After the last remaining poster artists pass away, there will be no one in the world who can paint an authentic Bollywood poster by hand.” He says he knew this even before he began his projects and was looking simply to revive interest in the art form rather than save it. “I’m content that I have made people aware of the art of hand-painted Bollywood posters. Thirty years down the line, if somebody talks about poster art in India, they will definitely remember me because of my work and the research I’ve put in.”