In Rajajinagar in Bengaluru, the remanants of yesteryear posters stand tall

The last of the surviving film poster boysInstagram / Namma_Karnataka
Features Film Saturday, October 29, 2016 - 17:55

In a photograph, reams of light play on the surface of freshly painted cutouts of a theater actor. Standing in between the two cutouts, Kakaiah Chinappa has a deadpan expression. The old pendulum clock, which occupies the rest of the space in the picture, plays companion to Chinappa. But Chinappa laughs and says he does not know age.

Every morning, 80-year-old Chinappa gets to work in studio. It isn’t far; just the room adjoining his house in Rajajinagar in Bengaluru. littered with cutouts and prints of film posters ready to be painted over.

Chinappa at his studio

Chinappa is one of the last surviving poster artists in the country, renowned for making cutouts for over 4,300 films. “My first was Kantha Rao and Kanchana’s Telugu film “Deva Kanya”. My mother and I lived in poverty after my father had passed away. So I left school and began making posters,” he says. 

He proudly declares that he has been dedicated to his work for 71 years. “I have never stopped working since I was 9.”  

Rajinikanth’s “Apoorva Ragangal” and “Mullum Mallarum” were the next big assignments of the many that poured in. “I did Sholay too. See my Whatsapp dp, Amitabh sir is there,” he says. 

Chinappa barely scraped by each day. “There were hungry days and sleepless nights.” For work worth Rs.10,000, he earned 1,500 a month. And if the picture flopped, he came back home with nothing for the month.  “My forefathers always used to say, ‘If you have not lived in difficulty, you have not lived at all’. And art is in our blood, so we have learnt to deal with difficulty every day.” 

Basha and his assistant

Basha is a fellow artist, having worked for 50 years in the profession and proud of his reputation as a stickler for perfectionism. “I used to make posters ever since I was a school boy. I went to Bombay (Mumbai) as a young boy and started working,” he says. Basha recalls that he had an easier deal than Chinappa’s, earning a steady salary of Rs. 3,000 a month. 

But Chinappa is clear that he does not want his two sons – both equally enamoured by art – to bear the brunt of an artist’s unforgiving life. “They cannot go through the difficulty I went through. Let them learn all they want, learn computers… Everything is computers now. But don’t ever do what I am doing,” he says, almost as if he were talking to them. 

A still from the documentary "In Search of Fading Canvas" by Manohar Bisht, where Chinappa features

Ask him about battling his aching back and weary knees, as he paints, he says, “Chalta hai.” (It goes on)

Modern posters and cutouts come to Chinappa’s studio as prints with a basic colour template. This is however a recent technique, where he paints over them. “Why are we still relevant? The colouring on the template is simply basic. We can however add over 2,000 colours, give it depth, toning, and light. No computer can do that,” says Basha. 

A poster of Kabali, his last assignment from Chennai

When the print comes to them, Basha says it could be too blurred to work with for definition. While Chinappa longs for the work of the past, Basha feels life has gotten much easier with computer prints. “I can go to sleep at 8pm and not have to work till 4 am,” he says. 

Crankily, Basha rues over the instances of actors and directors arriving at the studio to see his work. 

“I just want them to come, see, and go because otherwise, they are disturbing the artist if they say anything.” Chinappa agrees that there is nothing to be star struck about. 


“We make posters of them that are of four-five feet. The leg is in one place on the ground and the head is in another corner. When the actors visit the studio, they don’t see their own selves as one body, only parts of it. But once they see the huge cutout on the day of their release, they realise the work we put into it,” says Basha.

Chinappa gleefully gloats, “I have seen Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan from afar. But when you are making posters of them every day, you are not as excited as you can be. But the best compliment I got is when Kannada actor Rajkumar said, “You have made me even more handsome than I really am.”


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