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Movie memorabilia: Synthesizing love for vintage cinema

Movie memorabilia holds immense value due to its intrinsic link with cinema, a form of entertainment that has won the hearts of millions since its inception, and includes posters, lobby cards, costumes, props, etc. As cinema soared in popularity, these items were increasingly made to sustain and stretch the interest of movie enthusiasts, who had earlier contented themselves with autographs and photographs. Today, movie memorabilia are widely sold and displayed at auctions and exhibitions, and are extensively collected by film aficionados to remember movies from a period that has gone by. Bollywood memorabilia enjoys similar demand, not just in India but all across the globe, by collectors who have grown up watching actors like Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Nargis, and dancing to retro tunes made for their movies. In the 1950s and 60s, diplomacy between India and the Soviet Union was guided by Bollywood, with Russians and Eastern Europeans getting easy access to Indian films, and even today, these movies garner a lot of interest among the people of these regions. In Afghanistan, under the Taliban regime, the locals only got access to Bollywood films, and this built in them an inherent love for Indian cinema that lasts even today; a similar interest in Bollywood is evident in African countries like Tunisia and Libya, where Indian films were widely circulated in the 1950s.

Posters and lobby cards

The most widely sought after movie memorabilia are movie posters, which were created for promotional purposes, and acquired a particular essence of the movie, especially the litho press posters, which were manually crafted and then printed for circulation. Before the onset of digital printing, these litho posters were painted by hand, emphasizing detail, colour and design, and featured the movie actors in various settings and iconic poses, based on photograph shots or scenes from the film, and today, they fetch high bids at auctions across the globe; some of the posters were painted by artists like M F Hussain, who later rose to international fame with his paintings. While movie posters were abundantly printed, lobby cards were available in much smaller numbers, and are demanded by collectors for their rarity and symbolic value. Lobby cards are smaller versions of posters that depict the content of the movie, and they were printed in sets of eight, with each slide portraying a particular scene from the movie, to be displayed in the lobbies of movie theatres. Over time, as theatres started showing several movies at a time, lobby cards became unviable as an advertising strategy, and are now visible only as collectibles and display items.

A booming market

Bollywood memorabilia has a flourishing market that transcends Indian borders, and caters to collectors and movie cognoscentes all over the globe through auctions and exhibitions. Demand has been surging over the years, and prices of film collectibles have remained high because of growing sales, especially with the development of the internet, which has provided new outlets for collectors to find memorabilia. The first Bollywood movie memorabilia auction of the Osian’s Cinefan Film festival was held in New Delhi in 2012 and it yielded $125,000 (INR 6.95 million) in sales. Conferro Auctions organized the first Indian cinema memorabilia auction in London in 2013 and sold items worth 116,000 pounds to collectors from India, Australia, UK, Holland, Spain and UAE, revealing the international appreciation of Bollywood cinema.

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