Please see special acknowldgements to film historian Mr Omar Khan in the end. Click on the photos to get enlarged views and also to reach their source website
A very unique thing about Pakistan is the prevalence of billboard paint art. For example, look at the photo to the right. In this billboard of movie called ‘aurat raj’ (rule of women) a gladiator lady (actress Rani) is shown controlling a 4-horse chariot. All the 4 horses have faces of men. The second horse from the right is by the way none other than our Lollywood’s mega hero of 70s Waheed Murad. I think this poster/billboard is very creative.
In Karachi, Marston Road is a big center of this form of art. My father’s office used to be near Marston Road and whenever I went to his office, I invariably wandered off to watch these street artists bringing larger than life images to life on billboards. Most of these billboards belonged to local cinemas advertising oncoming movies. The use of extra bright colors, colorful language and extra emphasis on body muscles is all an essential ingredient of this form of art. Look at the photo below. It is the billboard of Pakistan’s first sci-fi movie called ‘sar kataa insaan’ (The Headless Human). The person shown holding his own head is Lollywood’s famous star Ghulam Mohyuddin.
The billboards are created on sheets of tin metal. They are painted white first and placed along street walls. Then the artist draws image outlines (pencil sketch) and color fill up comes last. Mistakes are erased by kerosine oil. Whenever an artist is at work, a crowd gathers around him. Some people in the crowd give the painter not-needed suggestions and a two way discussion ensues. Sometimes a group of artists work together on a single billboard with portions of image divided between them. If one does the pencil skectch then others may do block painting or detailing. As written above, I’ve attended a few of these painting sessions and it is fun to watch.
A great mystery of such art to me is that the billboards make much more sense when looked at from a distance. If one looks at them from a close distance of (say) 5 to 10 feet then they appear very funny. It is very common to see shocking pink color in a heroines blushing cheeks and apple green color shown as a 5 o’clock shadow on a hero’s stubble.
Lahore, which is the center of movie industry of Pakistan is the biggest center of such art. In Lahore, the center of such art is at Royal Park in Laxmi Chowk area. Here one can see billboards as large as 70′ x 70′ being hand painted.
The artist who paint these billboards learn the art form their parents. They do not go to any art school. Even formal schooling is limited. This brings a disadvantage to these artisits as they cannot go to other jobs. With number of movies being produced at Lollywood dwindling fast, these artists are forced to live at whatever meagre resources are available to them.
Another common feature of these billboards is the Urdu translation of English titles. I don’t know who does the translation but sometimes they end up with quite funny Urdu titles. Look at the photo below for the English title ‘python’. It has been translated in Urdu as ‘adam khor cobra’ meaning ‘The Man Eater Cobra’. Famous Urdu writer Shafiq-ur-Rehman has mentioned in one his books that when ‘Moon Over Miami’ was released in Lahore, the billboard translated the title as ‘Mian Mir ka chaand’ (The Moon of Mianmir). Mian Mir ofcourse is a Lahore locality famous for a saint named Mian Mir who is buried there.
Not many people know but the famous Lollywood actor (late) Saeed Khan (Rangeela) also started his movie career as a billboard movie painter in Lahore in 1941. Some of my favourite movie posters are following.
Photos and some material for this article was taken with permission from film historian Mr. Omar Khan, who hosts the Lollywood Pop art webpage with hundreds of Lollywood poster and billboard images here. Contact information of Omar Khan is also given at his webpage.