Ramachandraiah prints movie posters for a living. He's done it ever since 1971, when he bought an ancient lithograph press. He keeps it in a factory north of Bangalore, far from the English town where it was built 111 years ago.
Most movie posters here are lavish. They're digitally-printed, full-color, and reach up to 30 feet long.
Ramachandraiah's posters aren't.
These are five-color, hand-drawn, and measure just 30 inches by 20 inches. They're printed on thin paper, and illegally slapped up on building sites and highway overpasses late at night. They proclaim and boast: "See To Day!" "Daily 4 Shows!" "English Colour A/C!" They cost just pennies to print. And they're absolutely gorgeous.
In his small store-front, filled with shrines to a famous local actor, Ramachandraiah sat me down with a tiny cup of coffee, and plucked two biscuits from a package.
"You must dip them," he said, miming a biccie-dunk. "Now tell me what you want!"
It had taken me a month to track him down. I'd wandered alleyways, asking locals, hiring fixers, holding out a photograph of his posters--begging strangers for help. Finally I found it hidden in a maze-like neighborhood of local movie theaters and one-shop film distributors.
Outside on the sidewalk, the artist Raju set aside the poster he'd just finished for a Hindi-dubbed 3D run of Underworld: Awakening. He immediately started on another. Raju draws a poster every three hours. In a week, he creates campaigns for dozens of movies.
He traces movie stills or posters, or ads from the paper. Sometimes he just eyeballs other flyers for the same films. He captures the drama, the movement, the blood, breasts and passion, and thrashes them across the canvas with an almost 3D style. The colors bleed into each other as the litho inks mix and combine, and the strokes are filled with typos, corrections, and misprints.
I needed to see what they'd do with my film Poultrygeist. You saw it, right? It was the fowl gross-out musical I made a decade ago with my childhood hero Lloyd Kaufman -- the film the NYT called "as perfect as a film predicated on the joys of projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea can be." The film Entertainment Weekly called "genuine sick fun," and PETA placed at the head of "the top 10 films that'll inspire you to go vegetarian."
I wanted a Kannada original.
"What does Poultrygeist mean," Ramachandraiah asked.
"Poultry means chicken," said Raju.
"Yes, like cock, or like a hen? And what is this geist? Like ghost? Or geist?"
Ramachandraiah pulled out an old 1950s dictionary, and started leafing through it. Raju flipped through a collection of printed publicity stills I'd brought. They argued about which ones would work best.
"Here is a Kannada title," Ramachandraiah said, quickly penning one in the local script. He pointed to each word as he translated it. "Night. Chicken. Ghost."
A week later, I returned. The hundred posters were shoved in a corner, rolled up in a tight pile. Again, Ramachandraiah sat me down with a small cup of coffee and two biscuits, while his son unrolled the package.
"Dip the biscuits," he urged.
His son held up the top poster.
"What do you think? Do you like it?"
I loved it so much, I ordered more. I couldn't resist commissioning posters for some of my favorite other movies. Here's a hint: Peter Lorre, Nicholas Cage, Orson Welles, Jessica Harper and Molly Ringwald.
See more posters at AsiaObscura.com.