Rafi Ghanaghounian

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Rafi Ghanaghounian is an artist. He is interested in cultural trends across the world.

Just before 2005 Ghanaghounian exhibitions explored Japanese dolls, street fashion and in September 2005 he had an exhibition at the Design Exchange, Canada, called Tamasha!, from the Hindi word meaning spectacle or display, showcasing Bollywood art.

A chance encounter with an article in a French magazine in 2003 inspired Ghanaghounian to curate the exhibition.

"I noticed some painters in the article and asked my friend to translate," he says. "It was about billboard painters in Bollywood, about how things were changing, everything was going digital. And these artists, their grandfathers were painters, and now they are unemployed. Because of programs like Photoshop and Illustrator we are witnessing the demise of a trade."

Bollywood posters involved in the exhibition were mainly from the fifties and sixties, depicting characters and scenes, some even listing popular songs from the advertised movie's soundtrack.

The poster for the hit film Barsaat (Rain, 1949) with Bollywood legends Raj Kapoor and Nargis and the poster for the cult hit Kaagaz Ke Phool (Flowers of Paper, 1959) that illustrated famous Bollywood actor-director Guru Dutt with his muse Waheeda Rehman are typical examples.

Classic tunes from both movies were listed at the top of the posters.

Traditionally, the posters were painted and then photographed. Thereafter, lithographs were made. The original paintings were either painted over or destroyed.

"It's insane," says Ghanaghounian. "It costs a fortune. No one will do it now. Today you have vinyl printing and digital printing. You don't need painters any more.

"Many of these painters are considered laborers. Despite their talent in graphics, they are not considered artists."

Yet an original Bollywood billboard painting can fetch a pretty price from interested collectors. The 24 posters framed and displayed at the Design Exchange could also be purchased for $350 each.

Ghanaghounian traveled to Bombay twice to source the posters. An Armenian by background, he didn't know much about Bollywood movies, so he chose posters based on the graphics. Some posters of classic movies were suggested to him by his guide.

"We went to Falkland Road, where you have older cinemas," said Ghanaghounian. "A theatre manager gave us an address in some alleyway. We climbed up a rusty staircase. And there was this man with thousands of posters just piled up. They don't throw anything away. A movie may get re-released and they reuse the posters."

The exhibition wasn't just for Bollywood aficionados, says Ghanaghounian. "There are so many cultures growing up with Bollywood today," he says. "When I was bringing some posters from the framers, the cabbie, who was from Africa, recognized they were Bollywood.


  • True Bollywood story, By APARITA BHANDARI, September 9, 2005