Bollywood Easter: Images of Christ in '70s poster art from India

My brother Carl Hamm (Twitter), who is a club and radio DJ and a collector of obscure but excellent global stuff, shares the images in this post and says:

There's a long tradition of Indian poster art which was probably at its height in the 1970s but goes back many many years before then. Youve already seen vivid and colorful posters for Hindi films.

Often the same artists who were painting "pinup" style posters of bollywood heros and heroines were also painting similarly colorful calendar and poster art of gods, goddesses, politicians, national heros, etc.

The artists' subjects were diverse and sometimes included icons of the west -- including Jesus as seen here. (Ive also seen posters of Kennedy)

Poster artists would also paint advertisements for perfume, bicycle manufacturers, beedi vendors, health tonic, insurance companies and banks, political campaigns, car batteries, makeup and feminine hygiene products.. and would incorporate the same lavish style in the ads for these ordinary products -- and often include either a film star or even a religious deity on the same advertisement.

It was also common for religious posters like these to have a calendar (sometimes with rotating wheels with the date) and a company name.

I'm currently reading a great book on the subject of Indian poster art called Gods in the Bazaar.

Since today is Good Friday, I'm sharing a few interesting depictions of Jesus; I'm sharing others as examples of the other diverse subject matter these artists were painting for calendars, ads, and "inspirational pinups".

Some of the studios/artists here include: JB KHANNA AND CO (Madras aka Chennai) "Jesus life," S.J BRIJBASI AND SONS "Holy Family", and STUDIO SVARAS, "Jesus with arms outstretched."

(Source: random piles of stuff on the internet. Artists unknown, alas.)


    1. Good point, technically they’re not.. they were just produced by art studios in India that also mass-produced posters and calendars of Indian deities – and, also posters of Bollywood film stars.

      Some of the studios/publishers here include:

      JB KHANNA AND CO (Madras aka Chennai) —  “Jesus life”
      S.S. BRIJBASI AND SONS    “Holy Family”
      STUDIO SVARAS   Jesus with arms outstretched

  1. just wondered if you had heard of Indian Hippy… its a not-for-profit business based in Mumbai that exists to preserve the art of Bollywood poster painting..when I first saw this post I thought it was from Hinesh at IH :)

  2. There used to be a clock shop in a dying mall where I’d pick up mail which sold clocks which used as their faces an image similar to the first and the one with the crucifix, candles and Mary. However, my favorite of all of them (there was a lot of them) was one of Jesus et al. in front of an undulating waterfall which might of been Niagara Falls (likely cribbed from the Bollywood classic A Evening in Paris – which has a climax which takes place at the Falls). My wife physically restrained me from buying it. Sadly, that store is long gone… 

    1. Ah, but your wife can’t possibly monitor your Ebay activity 24 hours a day, unless you married the NSA.

  3. These don’t look all that different from Roman Catholic artwork I saw in shop windows and people’s homes in the early 1960s. I don’t know who did the art for those posters, calendars and the like, but I doubt they were imported from India. They had the same lurid style with fully saturated colors, the “glow” around the sacred heart, and almost identical themes and poses. They were very exotic to me. I was Jewish and familiar with a rather different iconography. (I half expected to see some of that old artwork in Peggy’s mom’s home on Mad Men.)

    1. I’m pretty sure these were produced in India (though some of them may have borrowed heavily from prints coming from Germany, Italy, and England at that time) – It makes sense that they would keep the imagery relatively close to how Jesus and his life story are usually portrayed around the world .. including Mrs Olson’s home decorations

      But once you’ve looked at a lot of the indian ‘pop art’ from this era, some elements start jumping out at you as being characteristic of the style of these Indian commercial art studios… for example the coloring, backgrounds, lighting, abundance of flowers, birds, stars and other embellishments, facial expressions etc..

      here’s a page i found with some other work from the SJ Brijbasi studios for example:

    2.  I’m sure these were produced in India and subject to a different artistic tradition. I’ve always loved those Manoj Pocket Book children’s posters which are in yet another tradition. On the other hand, the pastel colors, floral imagery and general line of these do bring back memories of my Irish day care provider and her preferred iconography.

  4. What I have wanted to see, for a very long time, is trading cards or posters or the like with “Saints to Science!!!” on them. (Like the saint cards my grandmother (god rest her soul) used to give me at Mass to shut me up.) Tesla, wreathed in lightning-like glow, surrounded by sparking coils and wireless lamps, hovering unnaturally above Niagara Falls… Alexander Graham Bell with his first phone, gesturing beatifically at his alphabet…. Newton, Einstein, Franklin, Curie, even distant Hypatia, all rendered in glowing iconographic style.

    I wish I could art so bad.  

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