While listing my , I had observed that not only had the pool to choose from considerably narrowed, but that the onslaught of streaming platforms — with their thumbnail and algorithm-driven approach — was threatening to nearly wipe out film posters as we know them. In 2022, I’m sad to report that it really does seem that the end is nigh: Posters are rare and good posters, even rarer.
It’s also made me struggle with the question: What really qualifies as a movie poster? Are we to accept thumbnails as the new poster? I do know many people use the terms interchangeably, but I’m not quite ready to do that yet.
Take this for instance. It’s doubtlessly pretty, but the format, with its boxy dimensions and aggressive branding makes it a thumbnail or promo art in my book, not a real poster. It’s important to note that in Hollywood, despite many films being made primarily for streaming, many ‘prestige’ titles such as and get the honour of a proper one-sheet poster. (This may be because these films premiere at festivals and also have limited theatrical runs. Unfortunately, this is unheard of for their equivalents in the Indian scenario.)
Still despite, the changing times and practicalities, we did see some posters that were designed with cleverness, aesthetics and care. So here’s my list of the best Indian posters of 2022, in no particular order — except for the numero uno.
These stylish posters created by at the popular design studio Marching Ants offer up a gritty and fun take on the phata-poster-nikla-hero trope. In the first, Ayushmann Khurrana’s titular An Action Hero seems to have been yanked out of the backlit poster behind him and thrown into a world of real-life action and danger that he likely didn’t sign up for. The second poster has him lying bruised, battered and worn out in front of his own film poster — reinforcing the reel versus real theme of Anirudh Iyer’s acclaimed meta action-comedy thriller. In an impressive show of restraint from the producers, the credits are clean and minimalist, and the company logos even more so . Notice how in the first one, they actually appear on the poster within the poster!
Indian documentaries have been having a dream run on the global stage, and two of this year’s most celebrated non-fiction feature films also have two of the most striking posters of the year. The poster for Shaunak Sen’s Oscar contender All That Breathes features an image so poignant and sublime that even the uninspired typography can’t dim its emotional appeal. The one for Vinay Shukla’s While We Watched (design by , additional design by Alisha Coelho Pereira & Sanyukta Adhikary) effectively conjures up an atmosphere of dread and dystopia, with its protagonist Ravish Kumar bearing witness to the crumbling of the fourth pillar of democracy, and perhaps democracy itself.
For these two films, we have only the posters — both are still being shot and no plot details on either have been revealed — and they do exactly what good posters are meant to do: They draw us in. The poster for Malayalam film actor and former assistant Rajesh Madhavan’s Pennum Porattu (created by artist ) is a delightful potpourri of intriguing details and quirky artwork and typography. A girl demurely peeks out of a window and via shadows on the house wall, we get a glimpse of the chaos ensuing outside — a bunch of angry, animated characters, armed with various objects; a dog, a frantic chicken at the centre. It recalls the playfulness of Satyajit Ray’s illustrations for children’s books and posters such as (1969) and (1974). A dog also features in the announcement poster of Mari Selvaraj’s Vaazhai, which shows us four boys against the backdrop of a banana grove and a moody sky. The lush colours and the elegantly composed mise-en-scene are courtesy designer , who has designed posters for all of Selvaraj’s films.
Designer (who runs the Kochi-based ) is the man behind these wonderful illustrated poster designs for Parth Saurabh’s Pokhar Ke Dunu Paar and Kuldip Patel’s Powai, both of which are currently doing their festival runs and awaiting distribution. The design for Pokhar ke Dunu Paar (On Either Side of the Pond) portrays the widening chasm between two lovers in a surreal, small-town landscape, while the one for Powai presents a microcosm of the titular Mumbai suburb with all its contrasts and the world of its three female protagonists, all boxed into their roles and identities.
(Full disclosure: I was the art director for the poster for Powai — which is why I was initially reluctant to include it in my list — but my contribution was minimal. This design is largely Ashwin’s creation and his work deserves a a wider audience.)
Designer Sivam Kabilan makes another entry in this list with his arresting poster for Pa Ranjith’s Natchathiram Nagargiradhu. Notice his trademark blend of photographs and illustration. The splash of pop colours and the central character Rene’s wild, electric blue tresses represent the unrestrained and anarchic spirit of the film itself. Her hair, like all of us, contains multitudes (of characters!).
While this is a list of official posters, I’m making an exception to also include a lovely alternative fan poster for the film by the talented designer here, which nods towards the film’s theatrical aspect with a dramatic illustration and terrific title typography.
Nishtha Jain’s film — which premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival, Amsterdam (IDFA) this year — documents the last vestiges of the jute industry in West Bengal and the workers who run it. The poster by designer captures that entire process and the painstakingly hard labour that goes into it succinctly in one beautifully illustrated design.
This is hands down my favourite Indian poster of the year and one of the best from across the world. The poster for Faraz Ali’s deeply personal, evocative and lovingly crafted film Shoebox is simply stunning. Just like the film, it’s a nostalgic, moving (but clear-eyed) portrait of a warm old city and culture crumbling and giving way to a colder and brute modern landscape with the protagonist at its centre, standing within the titular shoebox. Meticulously detailed and composed with extraordinary elegance, this poster is one for the ages, the kind you immediately want to frame and hang up on a wall.
Special Mentions for a bunch of lovely short film posters:
Designs for Varun Grover’s by and , Arati Kadav’s , Siddhant Yalgi's (also by ) and Murali Krishnan's Stockholm by Simi Sadanandan.