Bollywood Showcards on Display at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum

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The arrival of the IIFA Awards in Toronto has afforded some wonderful entertainment opportunities for Bollywood fans – from movie nights to dance competitions to an exceptionally fine exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM): “Bollywood Cinema Showcards: Indian Film Art from the 1950s to the 1980s”.

The show highlights examples of this unique art form from the collection of Angela Hartwick, who, in her travels, managed to acquire more than two hundred examples of cinema showcards, a form of advertising quite different from the more familiar billboards and posters.

Showcards use paint and photo collage to create a unique form of poster art: images were cut from film stills and pasted onto painted backgrounds, and then were tinted by having paint applied to them. There is a history of painting on photographs in India, and there is an exhibit of these on at the ROM now, too (“Embellished Reality: Indian Painted Photographs”), and it is well worth visiting in order to deepen understanding of the artistic techniques that went into creating the cinema showcard.

Showcards formed only one part of the publicity machine; posters were certainly the most important element in film advertising, which also included such things as song booklets, press ads, billboards and film stills. But showcards – meant to be displayed in cinema lobbies – are a distinctly different art form, using elements of composition as well as the aforementioned combination of paint over photo collage to evoke certain feelings and emotions in the cinema-going audience. Showcards were displayed in lobbies, in glass cases; they were perused by cinema-goers as they waited to see a film, or during the interval. They were often the first glimpse a film audience had of coming attractions. They were individually produced, they are works of art – and they were meant to be ephemeral, thrown away once a movie had finished its run, to make room for new showcards from incoming films.

The ROM’s exhibit examines showcards as art, but it also sets them in a social and historical framework, connecting the showcards and the movies they advertise to the prevailing events and influences of the time they were produced in.

“Bollywood Cinema Showcards: Indian Film Art from the 1950s to the 1980s” – comprised of 77 examples of showcards from The Hartwick Collection, and supplemented by other perhaps more familiar forms of poster art and film advertising – provides the enthusiastic film fan with a rare opportunity to discover a relatively little known and little studied art form, and is absolutely not to be missed!

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