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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Bollywood posters tell a story
Kagaz ke Phool (Paper Flowers), Song Booklet 1959 (V&A)
The Indian film industry's first feature was in 1913

The Indian film industry is often in the news these days, with the launch of the latest West End musical Bombay Dreams complimenting the growing Western audience for Indian films.

Now the V&A has launched a new exhibition entitled Cinema India: The Art of Bollywood, looking at the film posters of the Indian film industry and the contemporary works of art they have inspired.

Deewaar (The Wall) 1975, poster by Diwalker Karekare (V&A)
The industry was transformed in the 1970s
It turns out to be a fascinating insight into the history of Indian cinema, where the first moving images reached the sub-Continent only six months after they were first shown by the Lumiere brothers in Paris in 1896.

The Indian film industry's first feature film production was in 1913, and now the industry is the world's largest.

But the V&A collection really comes into its own during the period after Independence in 1948, when the film industry sought to define India's identity through historical blockbusters and classic films like Mother India.

The poster collection shows the evolution of the film industry in the l970s, when more contemporary and violent thrillers replaced the romantic fare of an earlier age.

Shaheed (Martyr) 1948, poster by Artview (V&A)
Traditional costumes signalled virtue in women
And it parallels the shift in attitude toward women, from a time when traditional costumes signalled virtue, and Western dress vice, to a more modern conception catering for the Indian middle classes and their attraction to Western fashion.

Juxtaposed to the posters are contemporary works of art, including a powerful series of film-poster style photo-montages examining women's exploitation in society, including Acid Attack, a critique of the increasing disfigurement of women by men whom they have rejected.

The artist of these works, Annu Matthew, told BBC News Online that she had struggled to find an ironic and expressive style to convey her social concerns, and that posters were the ideal medium to communicate not just in the West, but also in India itself.

The show also includes the dramatic photographs of Catherine Yass, a Turner Prize-nominated artist whose colour-saturated studies of Bombay cinemas capture the essence of the old picture palaces.

Ram Balram (1980) poster by Diwalker Karekare (V&A)
The exhibition is held in the new Contemporary Space
Just as surprising is the presence of hoarding artists from Bombay, who demonstrate their art of painting large-scale poster reproductions on a wall in the exhibition.

The show's curator, Divia Patel, said that these hand painted wall murals were now a dying tradition, as Indian cinema went global and began to embrace computer generated images taken directly from film stills.

She said it was her aim to preserve and recognise the art and the graphic artists of these posters, before they disappeared from history.

The show is the second to be held in the V&A's new Contemporary Space exhibition gallery, and it is already proving a vital and dynamic addition to the museum.

Cinema India: The Art of Bollywood is at the V&A in London until 6 October

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Cinema India
Front Row examines the Art of Bollywood
See also:

21 Jun 02 | Reviews
15 Jun 02 | South Asia
11 Jun 02 | Showbiz
10 Jun 02 | Film
21 Feb 02 | Film
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