Cutting Edge


The Biopsy Of
A Film Poster

B.K. Karanjia

roducer Shah Jehan was quite excited about the multicoloured poster advertising his latest multistarrer.

Dominating the design was Amitabh Bachchan, glowering from under lowered eyebrows, true to his image of the Angry Young Man. At the bottom left was Parveen Babi seated, looking at once coy and provocative. Opposite her, right-hand bottom, was leggy Kalpana Iyer in a seductive dance pose. In between was Shatrughan Sinha with a revolver smoking in his hand, facing Shakti Kapoor holding a dagger dripping blood. Behind Amitabhís left shoulder was a grinning Mehmood, dressed in a sari.

At the posterís bottom was the rather wordy title, in the current fashion: Dilruba Ka Dil Dukha. D, you see, was Shah Jehanís lucky letter. His previous film, with only two Ds in the title, had gone on to a Silver Jubilee. With three Ds he was hopeful of celebrating a Golden Jubilee.

"My poster has everything," a jubilant Shah Jehan told his distributor. "Star value, sex appeal, dramatic impact, comic relief. You name it, my poster has it." To his production assistant he grandly added: "Get this printed. 1,00,000 copies. Ek dum!"

But in his excitement, Shah Jehan reckoned without the latest stipulation laid down by the Maharashtra Government, authorising the various Municipal Corporations to appoint Committees to precensor film posters to safeguard the Stateís moral values believed to be in considerable jeopardy.

Parveenís bosom inevitably became the luscious curve of contention. The Chairman of the Committee appointed by the Bombay Municipal Corporation felt that the blouse she was shown wearing in the poster showed too much cleavage. The other members of the Committee were inclined to agree, except one who claimed to have seen village women with their bosoms totally uncovered, but he was shooed into silence. A magnifying glass was called for to further aid the Committee in its researches into this particular aspect of the starís anatomy. After prolonged scrutiny, with the magnifying glass being passed round again and again (although no magnification in the instant case was called for), the Committee reached its unanimous conclusion. Clothe Parveen suitably as befits Indian womanhood, or else?/font>

Hastily Shah Jehan got the artist to hand-paint a lace border to the blouse ?which was a good job of camouflage but not a small one considering the number of posters to be hand-painted. But the job was done. The posters were displayed all over the city, and to the producerís considerable relief, nobody noticed the artistís handiwork on the famed though ill-fated bosom.

Alas, his relief was short-lived. Just prior to the pictureís release in Pune, an elderly gentleman made a complaint in writing to the Committee appointed by the Pune Municipal Corporation against the vulgar display of Kalpana Iyerís bare legs in the poster. "Although I have crossed the Biblical span of three score years and ten," he wrote, "I found myself getting excited by this naked display." Of course, being a gentleman he respected his age, and being a student of the Gita, he was able to surmount the temptation. But, he asked, what about the thousands of young men who were not as strong-willed? A poster like this would be an inducement to them to indulge in sexual orgies. The old gentleman suggested summoning Kalpana to Pune, on the charge of indecent exposure, quoting the precedent of how Padmini Kolhapure was summoned to Nagpur or somewhere for kissing Prince Charles. "What this poster has done," he concluded grandiloquently, "is to plant a sex bomb in our ancient city."

The wise men on the Committee of the Pune Municipal Corporation found that they didnít have the authority to summon Kalpana Iyer. But about the poster they didnít need to deliberate to agree. The poor producer was now in a quandary. Giving a lacy coverage to Parveenís bosom was one thing, but covering Kalpana Iyerís long, long legs was another thing altogether. But his quick-witted and resourceful artist told him not to despair. He had an idea. Pedal-pushers were the fashion, he would provide Kalpana with a pair of pedal-pushers.

"But pedal-pushers werenít even known at the time of my film," wailed the poor producer, while the artist went around the city with paint and brush providing pedal-pushers to a girl who, the citizenry felt, looked much better without them.

Troubles donít come singly. Different Committees appointed by the various Municipal Corporations found different things to object to in the poster. In Kolhapur and Sholapur, the Committees felt that the sight of popular stars like Shatrughan Sinha and Shakti Kapoor wielding revolvers and daggers would set a bad example to the local youth and incite them to mindless violence. The poor artist had his work cut out for him, disarming the stars by airbrushing away the revolver and the dagger, so that Shatrughan Sinha looked as if his hand were raised to swat a fly and Shakti Kapoor with his hand outstretched looked as if he were soliciting alms.

Finally, there was the educated lady in Nagpur, a libber if ever there was one, who protested to her local Committee against showing Mehmood in a sari. "What if he is a comedian? This is male chauvinism in reverse!" she cried. The exhibitor in Nagpur had neither the time nor the means to get in touch with his distributor, so he released the film without displaying the poster, of which there wasnít much left, anyway.

How one wishes that this were the end of the biopsy. Unfortunately it isnít. The end, alas, is a freeze shot of the distributor presenting the bill for the frequent poster changes to the producer and the producer after a glance at the bill sitting back with a dazed, glazed expression on his face. Sad to tell, the shocked Shah Jehan had met his fourth and last D.

STOP PRESS: As we go to press we learn that the City Coroner has asked for an autopsy to determine the cause of Shah Jehanís sudden, unexpected, untimely and most inconvenient demise.

An essay from A Many Splendoured Cinema by B.K. Karanjia, published by New Thackerís Fine Art Press Pvt. Ltd.