The fantastical industry of cinema in India is surrounded by stardom, fame, escapism, and a whole lot of advertising. Studying the technological timeline of this industry gives us an interesting historic perspective, from silent to talkie, from black-and-white to colour, not to mention the socio-cultural climate and film themes that have evolved with time too. And as we look back at the bygones of the film industry, it’s interesting to note how advertising has evolved too. While social media, digital marketing and creative promotions to fit multiple mediums are the new-age adaptations, the old days had a more artistically inclined idea of selling a film. One that we’re lucky enough to get a glimpse of today, courtesy avid collectors.
Until the 1960s, lobby cards were amongst the large mix of advertising done by film studios to promote their films. Featuring a photograph or two, a border, the film’s name, and perhaps some other text, they represented the kind of mini-poster only true film enthusiasts might have been sentimental enough to collect and catalogue over the years from their not-too-flashy spots reserved for them in the lobbies and foyers of theaters and cinemas to popularise movies and actors. Produced in sets of eight traditionally, or even up to 20 a series, these cards were meant to give the audience a flavour of the film’s theme and plot.
Originally started by the Hollywood industry’s Motion Pictures Parent Company, these cards used to be 8x10 inches, printed in sepia or duotone. Over time, the concept spread to different cinema industries across the world, and the technology grew as well: from black and white pictures to coloured, from plain borders to designed ones.
Lobby cards played an important role in the advertising strategies of film studios, and they were used to bring stardom to actors as well. Moving away from just stills of films, they started to feature protagonists in centre focus, with the femininity of female actors being showcased delicately, and the faces of male stars occurring too, but less frequently. Further, even sole images of supporting actors in secondary roles were printed, which could either point to how inclusive the industry was trying to be, or how the industry used lobby cards to push under represented actors towards fame and recognition. Not to mention, apart from blockbuster, big-budget films, even documentary works found their place in lobby cards.
For a glimpse into Bollywood of the past, we’ve compiled a pretty diverse set of cards, from ones with simple borders to more outlandish ones and even a few that solely feature actors from films. Scroll on to enter a time-capsule of the old Indian film industry through vintage lobby cards, starting with Alam Ara, India’s first ever talkie.
[An article on these lobby cards originally appeared in Tasveer Journal. You can read it here.]