Posters from India’s golden age of cinema up for auction

That MF Husain painted cinema signs before becoming one of India’s most important modern artists is part of the folklore of Indian art. However, not much is known of other painters of motion picture or movie posters or creators of a variety of motion picture publicity material in the pre-digital years, which were also the “golden age” of Indian cinema.

In this context, events such as the upcoming auction, India’s Film Poster Heritage, held in line on April 8 and 9 by deRivaz and Ives, are gaining prominence.

With 111 lots on offer, including original film posters and rare photographs, the auction is a nostalgic trip to a time when films continue to charm audiences born much later.

Highlights include posters whose designs had the female protagonist as their main theme, sections on Dilip Kumar and Ashok Kumar, and posters created by renowned genre artists such as SM Pandit and MR Acharekar (both successful as as artists beyond films as well), and more .

The most expensive lot on offer is a poster of the iconic 1960 film, Mughal-E-Azam, designed by G. Kamble. It is estimated between Rs 3.75,000 and Rs 6,00,000 ($5,000-$8,000).

According to the auction notes on this lot, Shah Rukh Khan purchased a copy of this poster from Osian’s in 2014 to have it autographed by the film’s male protagonist, Dilip Kumar.

Other top bundles include another poster of Mughal-E-Azamestimated at Rs 2,25,000 – Rs 3,60,000 ($3,000 – $4,800), a well-known poster of another landmark movie, mother india (1957) with the same estimate, 1951 movie posters, Tarana and Awaraeach estimated at Rs 1,20,000 – Rs 1,80,000 ($1,600 – $2,400), and a poster of the 1975 film Sholayestimated at Rs 90,000 – Rs 1.35,000 ($1,200 – $1,800).

[Left]Awara 1951 and Mughal-e-Azam [right]. Credit: deRivaz and Ives

“Silent Era posters are naturally very rare, but during this time, once or twice a year, a little nugget of design pops up,” said Neville Tuli, chief mentor of deRivaz & Ives and OsianamaWorld.org. He organized a landmark auction of film posters 20 years ago.

“Films from the first trinity – Dilip Kumar-Raj Kapoor-Dev Anand – are enduringly popular. Iconic films from iconic directors will always succeed if the rare original releases appear. The problem is that the distributors’ reissue poster A critical breakthrough in the publication of Rivaz & Ives Indian Film Poster Heritage is the mention of the first version and the original design of later reissues.

Given the price ranges, this market is still nascent in India.

“The best way to understand the potential is to compare with international markets for cinematic memorabilia, particularly Hollywood and European cinema,” Tuli said.

“Imagine the most beautiful three-sheet poster of the first version of Mughal-e-Azamthe culmination of Indian movies publicity material and greatness, which sold for about four lakhs (about US$6,500) in 2012, while the rare Metropolis (1927) Brigette’s vertical sold for $1.2 million in 2012. Since then, hundreds of posters have exceeded the $100,000-200,000 price range, while no Indian poster has exceeded $2,000 to $3,000 in public sales. [You can] harness the potential if we begin to respect and value what helps create our cultural identity, our artistic heritage.”

The lowest price at which posters and photographs are available at this auction is Rs 15,000 to Rs 22,500 ($200 to $300), allowing moviegoers to build their collection.

(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist, editor and arts consultant)

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