That thrill of film posters on walls

The wall poster publicity was the most popular and effective way of reaching out to people. Movie buffs made it a point to stop and stare at the posters, discuss threadbare and decide if the film was worth watching or not

The era of wall posters of films and street banners is extinct and might as well, for the creativity that came with hand-drawn poster designs and film banners was an art. The whole process was very interesting and achieved what it was supposed to do - attract eyeballs.

What was good about the system of hand-designed film publicity was that it involved a chain of people. It started with an on-the-spot still photographer - on the spot, as in at the shooting schedules. His job was to click pictures as shooting progressed. This served two main purposes. One was that these stills helped in continuity and the other was for selection of pictures for designing film publicity.

Maintaining continuity was very important in those days since shooting schedules were spread over long stretches in chunks of few days over a year and a half to even three years! There were studios that specialised in film still photography - a tedious task as the studio photographer followed the shooting stints wherever they were held, without the same facility as

the others in the unit enjoyed. The most prominent among all such studios was Kamat Foto Flash, located at Famous Studios in Mahalaxmi, Mumbai, from where many film production offices were also operated.

Film posters were printed in three varieties, the standard full sheet which was 30"x40"; 20"x30", which was normally used at smaller centres; and the six-sheeter, which was made up of six 30"x40" sheets pasted together. If you could call a full sheet as a teaser in today's parlance, six-sheeter was a full-length trailer. It covered more details and pictures of the all main artistes on display.

The wall poster publicity was the most popular and effective way of reaching out to people. As if by magic, they appeared overnight. When you travelled home in the evening, you saw the same old posters on the wall, almost torn, having succumbed to the vagaries of weather. These new posters sprang up on the walls overnight in major cities and was a cause to pause, however the urgency to reach the workplace.

Movie buffs made it a point to stop and stare at the posters, taking it all in. There was no social media but the local train commuting and office coffee breaks served the purpose. The new film posters were discussed threadbare and decisions made if the film was worth watching or not!

The campaign started with full-sheet posters, soon to be followed by six-sheeters, which were more elaborate. A teaser followed by a trailer kind of promotion. This attracted more eyeballs.

If these wall posters appeared overnight, there were two people behind it. One person ran with a ladder hung around his shoulder, while the other carried a roll of posters in one hand and a can of paste and brush in the other. It was a well-coordinated equation between the two as one laid a poster front down on the floor, applied paste and handed it over to the other who was halfway up the ladder. Pasted properly on the wall, the sprint started again to the next wall.

These poster-pasting men set a target for themselves. One such man had a policy that howsoever thirsty he might be, he won't even pause to drink water till he completed his quota of pasting. His reason was that this speeded up his work!

The film posters also adorned the kiosks on lamp posts, which was a costlier affair and the small filmmakers could not afford. Besides the rental for these kiosks, there was also a local municipal tax. The system was well worked out as after the posters were pasted as required, a representative of the client travelled across the city for a count. There was no shortchanging the film's distributor. If at all any hanky-panky happened, it was with the municipal taxes and did not involve the client.

These posters had an all-India reach as they were put up across all mainline railway stations, too.

That era of streets plastered with film posters is extinct. Delhi was the first metro to put a ban on such posters on the walls. Mumbai followed, though small films are still publicised this way. Now, this kind of pasting happens only at small centres where the penetration of TV and print media is limited.

The Men Behind Those Wall Posters

The current trend of publicity for a film is mainly through print and television promos, besides standees and other such props put up at cinema halls. For the older generation it is nostalgia, but the present generation may find it strange that the entire long process involving many stages was done manually. Especially, to those whose creativity depends heavily on computer.

The designers of yore needed both imagination and talent. On a computer, very little of both is required. Most of the inspiration or creativity, if you like to call it that, comes from foreign film designs or colourful books on designing. A computer hands you the designing tool at a click of a mouse.

If you look at the social media and memes posted there, you would think there is a designer in every person! The computers have made things that easy!

To cite a living example, the film publicity designing studio that has been ruling the roost for the last 20 years or so could do it only because of computers. Before computer designing arrived, this studio had probably nobody capable of drawing a straight line on the paper. In fact, this very studio outsourced designing to the very popular designing studio, Studio Link, where work was done manually! With the arrival of computer designing, they became wizards, dominating the field.

In the film industry, the watchword is "bhed chaal". If one well-known producer opts for somebody, others follow. Studio Link, the most sought-after designing studio was soon forgotten. As it were, in those days, the word computer spelt magic for not so well-versed film folk.

Every producer had his favourite designer and, since there was stiff competition among this breed, each tried to keep ahead of the other, which showed the ultimate outcome. There were big-name studios run by C Mohan, Diwakar, Pamart, Boskey Prabhu, AAA Studios, SM Pandit, Artview, Studio Chandrakant, Ajanta Arts, SC Shrivastava, Ram Kumar, Samarth Art, when also came along JP Singhal, followed by C Mohan's two former pupils, Atmanand and Vivek, who started Studio Link.

When JP Singhal and Studio Link started off, designing was still manual, but when computer graphics came on the scene, both soon adapted themselves to the new way. That was along with a lot of others who would never have become publicity designers were it not for computers!

Earlier, the first step in publicity designing started with the filmmaker showing his yet-to-release film to the designer. He would then select the shooting stills from the album that had the record of the entire shooting of the film. Having seen the film, the designer knew the film's selling point, the USP. Miniature layouts were designed and given for approval to the filmmaker as well as the director, not to forget the star of the film who had the final say! A lot of money as well as careers were at stake besides the ego of the star, who always sought to be prominent in the display.

The designer's job was not limited to designing posters. He also had to prepare designs for the various poster dimensions, but also to prepare layouts for banners that not only adorned the street hoardings, which were a major medium of publicity, but also hundreds of cinema halls across the circuit where the film would be screened. For the distributors other than Bombay Circuit, miniature layouts were dispatched so that the distributor could get them painted according to the needs of the cinema halls.

The banners were hand painted on cloth in this well-coordinated system and the publicity looked uniform all over the country. Hand painting these cloth banners needed a lot of time and huge studio spaces that, in today's time, would cost crores. A designer, even if he owned such a studio space now, would have liquidated it and opted for a life of comfort. The payments in film business were never assured and getting dues was more laborious than designing and painting. To add to that, if a film flopped, like everybody else associated with it, the lot of designers also suffered, though he got no bonus if the film was a hit! Things have changed now. The designing studios are not shown the film at all before its publicity material is prepared. Stakes are too high to do that. Earlier, a system was followed where just about everybody connected to a certain film was shown the film even when it was incomplete and that included the film's distributors from other circuits.

Gone are the wall posters and also gone are those hand painted cloth banners, and with it the fun of gazing at them.

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