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High potential for nascent film posters' market

Posters of classic Hindi films achieve record prices at a recent auction

High potential for nascent film posters market

It's a well-worn cliché that the three most important things common to all Indians—otherwise riven with differences—are a deep, abiding interest in politics, cricket and cinema. The statement may be up for debate, but these three entities definitely have a supernatural hold on Indians. Zooming in on cinema, the continuous, phenomenal growth of India's multiple film industries is enough to sum up the medium's enduring popularity. No wonder, then, whenever there is an opportunity to grab a piece of celluloid fantasy, the response is wholesome.

The recently concluded auction, India's Film Poster Heritage, conducted by deRivaz and Ives online on 8-9 April, was a success with some iconic lots passing 50 bids, according to a statement by the auction house.

Priceless Nostalgia

The top lot sold at the auction was an original poster of the iconic 1957 Hindi film, Mother India. Featuring the lead actress Nargis as a young mother cradling a baby, the first release original design and image poster was being offered for the first time in an international public auction and was estimated at Rs 2.25 lakh – Rs 3.60 lakh ($3,000 – $4,800). It was sold for Rs 4.25 lakh ($5.675).

Niranjan Desai, chief spokesperson of deRivaz & Ives. said: "We are pleased with our inaugural auction on India's film poster heritage. It is always good to establish new world records even in a relatively nascent and small market. Naturally, the market is rapidly showing interest from England, Singapore, Dubai, USA, and naturally, India. However, the participation of the film fraternity will need to improve if the preservation efforts are to take a significant leap forward."

According to a release by the auction house, lesser-known films of Dev Anand such as Aandhiyan (1952), House No. 44 (1955), and Manzil (1960) achieved higher figures than their pre-auction estimates, and so did posters of relatively lesser-known films such as Tarana (1951), Khamoshi (1969), Aavishkar and Majboor (1974), Mili (1975), and Laila Majnu (1976).

Other top lots sold at the auction were: three-sheeter first release poster of Mughal-e-Azam (1960) for Rs 3.8 lakh ($5,075); a set of four photographic prints of Amitabh Bachchan mounted on re-release lobby card of the film Deewar (1975) for Rs 3.58 lakh ($4,780); two-sheeter first release poster of Mughal-e-Azam (1960) for Rs 2.91 lakh ($3,885); and one-sheeter original release poster of Awara (1951) and Khel Khel Mein (1973) for Rs 1.79 lakh ($2,390) each.

The Market Potential

Given the popularity of films in India — the Hindi film industry and all the regional industries together — one would expect a robust market for film memorabilia too. It exists but the market hasn't been developed adequately, feels Neville Tuli, chief mentor of deRivaz & Ives and, who conducted the first auction of Indian film posters by Osian's in 2002.

In an interview with Bizz Buzz before the auction, Tuli had said, "Osian's and myself started building this market from its infancy in 2002. We transformed the public sensibility and knowledge base so as to at least respect and not throw away the poster or memorabilia as raddi (junk). A poster, which would privately not fetch even Rs 500, started selling for Rs 10,000. After the development of that little ecosystem, the benefit that we have today is that the younger generation may be a bit more interested, if only as an asset. But the reality is that unless the core fraternity begins to respect these artworks along with a few collectors of other cultural artefacts, this market will hover within the Rs 50,000 – Rs 100,000 per poster range. Some will say this is not bad for 20 years but that is incorrect. You judge the potential [of a market] by what it should have realised and not by the reality of inadequate existing achievements."

Posters as Works of Art

Tuli's restlessness for the market to become more receptive towards this commodity is completely understandable as most of the posters of the early years of Indian cinema were works of art, created as they were by trained artists. In fact, one of the best-known examples is the poster of Bimal Roy 1953 classic, Do Bigha Zameen, a woodcut created by one of India's most important artists, Chittaprosad.

The auction by deRivaz & Ives did justice to the posters as works of art by giving due credit to their creators. Each lot carried the name of the designer, quite a few of whom were trained at art colleges and were established independent artists in their own right, such as M. R. Acharekar, S. M Pandit, G. Kamble, among others. According to Tuli, rare design nuggets from the Silent Era of Hindi films remain popular as do the posters of films of the trinity of stars — Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. "Then, posters of iconic films by iconic directors will always succeed if the original rare versions appear. The problem is that 10 Rupee re-release posters from later distributors flooded the market, and coupled with ignorance and bargains, people end up buying relatively rubbish, which cannot be resold," said Tuli. He added that the mention of first release and original design from later re-releases was a critical advancement in the deRivaz & Ives Indian Film Poster Heritage publication.

All film memorabilia auctions in India are dominated by the Hindi film keepsakes. When asked about regional industries, Tuli said: "They all are struggling; Bengali design is probably the most artistic; ironically south Indian designs are very conservative and focus on the iconicity of the stars. The so-called C-Grade Horror and minor sex films have interesting designs and capture a small cult audience attention, but then again, too small and too poor to affect the market. Gujarati and Marathi designs have still not captured attention, though the earlier song-synopsis booklets are more tradable and sought after."

The way the society looks at posters, is also, perhaps, the reason why publicity material of Hollywood films commands far more than Indian material does. By way of comparison, Tuli said before the auction: "Imagine, the finest first release three-sheeter poster of Mughal-e-Azam (1960), the highlight of Indian film publicity material and its grandeur, sold for about Rs 4 lakh (approx. $6500) in 2012, while the rare Metropolis (1927) Brigette vertical sold for $1.2 million the same year. Since then, hundreds of posters have passed $100,000 – $200,000 price range, while not one Indian poster has passed $2,000 – $3,000 in public sales. Work out the potential if we begin respecting and valuing what helps create our cultural identity, our artistic heritage." It must be heartening for Tuli to know that the top lot at the recent auction, the Mother India poster, exceeded that benchmark and was sold for Rs 4.25 lakh ($5.675).

(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist, editor and arts consultant. She blogs at

Archana Khare-Ghose
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