[Reader-list] posting by Indrani Majumder

indrani majumdar indrani_majumdar at rediffmail.com
Fri Jun 25 21:24:29 IST 2004

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Looking at some designing aspects of film publicity material

By Indrani Majumder

It is generally understood that a movie publicity material – be it a poster, handbill, newspaper advertisement or a song booklet – presents all kinds of information about a particular film through text and visual. It would be important to understand the design conventions were developed by the group of first generation of designers of publicity materials most of whom were unidentifiable now. Those forgotten designers worked with the text and image supplied by the production company and then tried to organize the information in an interesting manner. Here is some observations on the early handbills I have found:

 Handbills: I have located some theatre handbills from 1903 onward which contained information about cinema also. These handbills were most probably designed by Amarendra Nath Dutta who was actor-manager of a famous Bengali theatre company and very innovative in advertising his theatre programmes. There are ten Bengali Theatre handbills of different size starting from 18 inches high to approximately 2 feet 6 inches high. The handbills presented cinema not as a rival to theatre but and extension of it. Short ‘topical’ films and scenes from popular contemporary plays were presented along with the play. Cinema was then yet another attraction, in the tradition of the illusory stagecraft with lots of ‘effects’, and was presented just like that. The handbills highlighted the selling point of an evening’s programme which usually featured a package of ‘attractions’ – the main play, one or two comic sketches and a bioscope show. The handbills provided a brief idea about the contents of the series of very short ‘topical’ films to be shown (‘see the Derby’), sometimes a word or two on the quality of the image (‘pictures are bright and not doused in darkness’) and almost always with catchy phrases to hold the attention of its reader (‘Oh, what a lovely scene’, ‘you have to see it to believe it’).  The handbills often begged its potential customers not to miss the show. The early film publicity, as we see in the Bengali theatre handbills from 1903 – 05 clearly shows that cinema was yet to generate enough respectability and its own independent status. The handbills clearly establish that cinema was formative age and yet to receive its status as an independent form of entertainment. These Bengali theatre handbills also draw our attention to the hierarchical value assigned to the ‘products’ for sale and placed them accordingly. Use of different fronts and point size provided an added thrust to the design aspect of the handbills. Visually the eyes of the reader with not miss the main attractions: the name of the main play and the stars appearing, bioscope and title of the comic sketch. The names of the authors of the main play and the comic sketch were also presented in larger types with variations in type and front size. Some of these handbills also identified the company that brought the films and also the man behind the venture. None of the handbills used any photographs of any kind. 

In my next posting I would like to discuss my ideal on other aspects of designing.

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