History of world cinema in posters

The cinema archives of Osian’s, which comprises more than 1,75,000 original artworks, among others, is unique in more ways than one. It is perhaps the world’s largest such collection, it is privately owned and the collection is promoted via Osianama for education purposes. Neville Tuli, founder and chairman of Osian narrates his poster collection story to Krishna Naidu of PrintWeek India, Business

20 Apr 2016 | By Krishna Naidu

In a world where nostalgia is a multi-million dollar business, and in a country where movies are part of the living culture, the vintage memorabilia of Asian and world cinema that Mumbai’s Osian’s has built up from the scratch is nothing short of brilliance.
A film directed by Alvaro, with Fatma Begum in the leading role
To begin with, the cinema archive comprises of more than 1,75,000 original artworks, including posters, lobby cards, song – synopsis booklets, show cards, photographic stills mounted on lobby cards, handbills, scripts, and 35,000 rare books and journals.
Some of these are available for public viewing at Mumbai’s Liberty Cinema, the new headquarters of Osianama.
This is but a part of Osian’s depository of items including modern and contemporary fine and popular arts, Indian antiquities, miniatures, Tibetan and Nepali thangkas, ancient and medieval sculptures and other cultural artefacts. This is shared with the public through the online knowledge based osianama.com.
A silent masterpiece directed by Prafulla Ghosh

Labour of Love
The entire project is a labour of love of Neville Tuli, who established Osian’s Connoisseurs of Art, the country’s pioneering arts institution and auction house in 2000. It was Tuli’s vision to create a merit-oriented and financially independent cultural infrastructure, while also nurturing a greater private sector responsibility for the contemporary arts and our heritage and its educational framework.

It all started when Tuli, the founder-chairman of Osian’s, wanted to build a University of Oxford-like archive for the Indian civilisation, as he argues, the heart of a university is first and foremost rooted in the archive and library collection.
Basu Bhattacharya's love triangle about marital discord
Tuli says most of the posters are Hollywood collections and has been purchased from international auctions.
The purchase of the finest lobby card private collection – The Leonard Schrader Collection – alone covered the first 50 years of Hollywood with over 16,000 rare lobby cards.
The Indian collection is a compilation and has been purchased from many different collections, from scholars such as BD Garga, Chidananda Dasgupta, and Aruna Vasudev, among others, and hundreds of individual collectors, distributors, members of the film fraternity, from the famous Hussain Bhai Bookletwala to the Minerva cinema collection.
A film directed by Moli Gidwani
“The posters are now vintage items, which is part of our cinematic heritage,” says Tuli, adding that Osian’s has never sold any items from its cinema archive collection. “Some duplicates are exchanged with other museums or collections, as it improves the archive collections at
Osian’s,” he says.
At present, Osian’s covers over 85% of all film posters produced in Hindi cinema since the beginning of cinema, including some original piece of film memorabilia.
A classic produced by Gemini Studios
“India is a leader in film, media, cultural and art studies, especially in Asia and the Arab worlds. Even when Osian’s Group went through major financial challenges, it did not compromise the film archive collection,” Tuli concurs.
A 1961 dacoit drama directed by Nitin Bose
Testimony of the past
There is no denying that the collection has immense value, especially today when how the films are marketed and promoted and have changed drastically. There was a time when film posters were a ubiquitous part of a city’s landscape. A new poster at important city junctions would signal the arrival of a new film.
These days, space for billboard movie posters have been taken over by FMCG companies, whereas movie promotions have shrunk mostly to newspapers and the online media. The same goes with the lobby cards, which as the name suggests were available in the lobby of the movie theatre, which was, of course, mostly in single-screens.
Tuli Tales, founder and chairman of Osian Group
Born on 24 April 1964, Neville Tuli completed his education as an economist and developmental theorist at LSE St Catherine College, Oxford in UK. Tuli returned to India in 1993 after 25 years and has travelled throughout India and to many countries, to explore the world of Indian fine arts, cinema and architectural heritage.
In 1996, he published The Flamed Mosaic: Indian Contemporary Painting, on the aesthetics and history of Indian modern and contemporary painting. In 2013, Tuli and Osianama Learning Experience (a subsidiary of Osian’s) launched osianama.com, an online knowledge base with a vision to be a leading learning and educational platform for the Indian arts, cinema and cultural heritage.
Favourite film poster
My favourite film poster is Chittaprosad’s poster from Do Bigha Zameen. It comes to my mind most of the time, as it brings together so many ideas of personal stoicism, aesthetic integrity, service to functionality, the fusion of Indian and international responsibilities and in the process becoming a truly universal image. The inspiration of the best period of Polish poster design during the 1950’s and the heightened passion of serving the people through the art created a very dignified image of a farmer which was so different from the more helpless feel the Indian versions designed by Bimal Roy and later by the distributors. A great artist applying their talent to poster design can have a genuine impact.
Favourite scene
I love the picturisation of the song Kahin Door Jab Din Dal Jaye, from the film Anand, especially the scene when he finds a dry rose in the book.
Favourite books
My favourite books continue to be what I read during my childhood, most importantly, those books which I could read in two days: Julius Caesar, The Gambler, A Man for All Seasons, Waiting for Godot, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and Candide.
Favourite actors
I always had a soft spot for Walter Matthau, Dilip Kumar and Harpo Marx.
Favourite film
One of my favourite film is Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand, “The film is connected to Indian cinema in a meaningful manner. During my childhood, at a time when I was still in England, I recognised the deep connection, especially with its music and sentimentality.
A lobby card is an 11x14 or 8x10 inch landscape orientated poster printed on heavy stock featuring a scene from the film advertised.
Now, with multiplexes mostly taking over the single-screen theatres, these lobby cards have become a thing of the past.
Tuli says the lobby cards are still very much made and still a big appeal for a film. They have not vanished at all. “The artistic element is completely changed, however, given the digital age we are in. The prints are all digitally printed compared to the earlier hand-painted window cards and show-cards or the photographic stills mounted on a printed backboard,” says Tuli. “The nature of marketing has changed along with technological changes, and so the nature of the artistic aspects of the publicity material has dramatically changed. This has diluted the romance of the publicity object over the past three decades or so.”
A few films still try, and recently, the hand painted poster is trying to make a comeback of sorts, if only as a novelty. Tuli cites the example of the Hindi film Rowdy Rathore, directed by Prabhu Deva.
“There have been changes in the process of printing posters over the years, from letterpress to offset to digital, and the nature of the artistic process has radically changed as the craftsmanship of the hand has been replaced by the glib design of computer software and related technique,” says Tuli, adding, “It is crass, vulgar, fast and irrelevant as an art form, but for most, it does not matter as the nature of the mainstream cinema has never been so suffocated by economic success. However, there are many films across the world where the artistic merit still is respected. Let us hope that India decides to be brave and bold soon in matters of aesthetics and their cinema.”
A movable feast
The archive collection has been exhibited regularly in Mumbai, New Delhi, France and the United Kingdom. A significant part of the collection has been digitised and continues to be published at the Osian’s website osianama.com. “It is available for the world at large to view and enjoy at free of cost,” Tuli says, adding that Osian’s has been a running and functioning without any financial support from the government or any donations from the charity.
Currently, Osianama is running its film and art programs and exhibitions at the Liberty Cinema in Mumbai. This also features the screening of films from the world cinema from Osian’s collections.
“The exhibition is a part of Osianama’s 2016-17 calendar and is thematic and curated in sync with the programming at Osianama at Liberty, says Tuli. “This way, we are able to share with the public the varied facets of the collection. The museum for Hollywood, Indian and world cinema and the popular cultures will begin later in the year after the library opens at our Nariman Point headquarters.”
Liberty, one of the oldest cinema halls in the heart of Mumbai and it is known for its heritage art deco structure. The theatre, including the balcony and the dress circle, has a seating capacity of 1,115 people. It is now the new headquarters for Osianama’s cultural and cinematic vision.