This column has been missing in action for a while, but I couldn't possibly let 2020 slip by without honouring our annual tradition of documenting the best film poster art of the year.
There were slim pickings this year, and nearly nothing impressive from Bollywood – or mainstream cinema anywhere in the country, for that matter. Many films went directly to streaming and thus, often eschewed traditional posters – narrowing the pool considerably. (Streaming platforms, with their aggressive algorithm and thumbnail-driven approach, have a rocky relationship with film posters as an art-form, and we'll have to see how that evolves over time – both globally and in India.)
Apart from the many independent narrative and documentary features in this list – I've included a couple of short films for the first time as well. I hope you enjoy discovering these posters (and the films they represent) as much as I did. Presenting my favourite Indian film posters of 2020, (loosely) ranked:
This eye-catching illustrated poster for Arati Kadav's lo-fi / sci-fi parable Cargo features its two protagonists along with an assortment of eclectic characters; the titular 'cargo' of the film. What it lacks in polish, it more than makes up with its quirks and delightful little details. It also funnily reminds me of this great poster for Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs. You can watch the film on Netflix.
A striking top-shot of two men circling a funeral pyre with chains and bloody footprints all around creates an effectively creepy sense of foreboding for this occult-horror film which premiered this year at the Fantasia Film Festival. You can watch the trailer here.
Not much is known about Irul ('Darkness') yet, except that it is a thriller featuring only three characters (played by Fahadh Faasil, Soubin Shahir and Darshana Rajendran). Look closely, and you'll see tiny silhouettes of all three in this moody teaser poster (hand-painted by art director Ajayan Chalissery) which whips up a great atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.
Apoorva Satish's short film is an evocative portrait of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, and this poster beautifully captures the splintered, fragile state of mind of its young protagonist. It also uncannily reminded me of the poster for Satyajit Ray's Teen Kanya. You can watch the trailer here.
It's perhaps only possible to unspool the visual metaphor on the poster for Laila Aur Satt Geet (aka The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs) after watching the film, but its minimal, delicate design and meditative aura drew me in nevertheless. Watch an excerpt from the film here.
Rajeev Ravi's period drama is based on the protests against the 'chappa' system that was practised in the Cochin harbour in the 1950s, and the poster puts us right in the midst of a violent clash between the workers and the police at a shipyard. The wonderfully detailed graphic-novel style illustration and sprawling canvas give it an impressive, epic scale.
The deceptively simple key art for Chaitanya Tamhane's sophomore feature (winner of the Best Screenplay prize at the Venice film festival) features designer Midnight Marauder's signature crafty and subtle 'invisible' photoshopping work – that only becomes apparent when you see the source image. It's a quiet, contemplative poster that succinctly captures the film and its protagonist – forever in the shadow of crippling self-doubt and his Guru. Watch the trailer here.
Like the other short film on this list, the poster for Sushma Khadepaun's poignant and unsettling short film about a young Gujarati bride also features an arresting, pensive portrait of the film's titular protagonist. The elegant, distinctive artwork and title design along with the vivid colours make this poster by award-winning filmmaker and designer Yen Tan an instant standout.
I was instantly floored by this poster for Sonia Filinto's documentary about food, culture and migration through the lens of Goa's unique bread, pao. The delightfully composed illustration is full of character and nostalgic warmth – and the tagline adds to the irresistible charm.
Inspired by a mix of traditional art forms – chiefly Madhubani and miniature art – this poster for Achal Mishra's terrific debut feature Gamak Ghar is by far the most stunning design I've seen this year. Hand-painted with gouache, acrylic paint and pencil colours, and divided into 9 gorgeous panels bathed in magic-hour hues, it transports you right into the idyllic home it portrays. As exquisite and deeply personal as the film itself, this is a work of love and pure art. A frame-worthy poster for the ages.
Ghar Ka Pata (Dir: Madhulika Jalali, design by Shiraz Husain), Super Sharanya (Dir: Girish A.D, design by Prathool NT), Archana 31 Not Out (Dir: Akhil Anilkumar, design by Old Monks Design).