Making a list of the best Indian movie posters of the year, I must admit, initially seemed like a daunting prospect. Poster design in Bollywood at least – as I lamented in my previous column, feels mostly uninspired – lacking imagination, integrity or elegance. No matter how good or bad a year it is for movies, it's always a worse year for movie posters. Truth be told, I wasn't expecting to manage even a top 10.
But boy, was I in for a surprise. Once I ventured out from the familiar cocoon of mainstream Bollywood cinema and design studios, there was so much interesting work out there that I ultimately ended up struggling to pare down my main list to 12 films, with a long list of special mentions.
A key concern was that this would end up becoming a list of independent and art-house 'festival films' with – well, 'artsy' festival posters. Now whether it's films or posters – pushing boundaries, doing radical work and preserving artistic integrity is always more challenging in mainstream cinema– and I was determined to include a diverse set of films from different parts of the country and schools of filmmaking.
There are many films here that I haven't seen – and some that I hadn't even heard of before. Researching and compiling this list, was a revelatory process – as I discovered many talented designers and visual artists doing some incredible work – especially in the Malayalam and Tamil film industries. Without further ado, I present to you my favourite movie posters of 2018 (in alphabetical order):
Design Agency: Marching Ants
Sriram Raghavan's neo-noir has been widely regarded as the best mainstream Hindi film of the year. Luckily, it also had a sensational trailer and slick posters to match. The main poster features a deadpan Ayushmann Khurrana walking over the blood streaked title, (seemingly) blind to the fact that he's at the scene of a murder, while a cat loiters in the background. It's an arresting and darkly comic image that pops out at you with its clean bright yellow background and clever typography. You can check out the entire campaign on designer Raj Khatri's Behance page.
ASK THE SEXPERT
Design Agency: Pigeon & Co.
Illustration by Dilip Khomane, Sundeep Yaya and Aishik Sengupta
After their brilliant illustrated poster for Chaitanya Tamhane's Court, the very hip creative studio Pigeon and Co. creates another winner with this poster for Ask The Sexpert, Vaishali Sinha's documentary on Indian sexologist Dr Mahinder Watsa. The gently wise figure of Dr Watsa is seen standing in front one of Mumbai's most familiar sights – that of couple sitting on rocks by the seaside, canoodling under umbrellas. It paints a droll picture of a society starved of both sex and space, along with its unlikely and unassuming hero.
BHAVESH JOSHI SUPERHERO
Design Agency: Seek Red
The funky graphic novel-inspired posters of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero are fairly radical for a mainstream Bollywood film. Most of them don't feature the actor's face; even the final poster just gives us a glimpse – which is apt for a film that's about the idea of a vigilante superhero, and the fact that it could be anyone. I have a slight beef with the shadow effect used for the title in some posters, and I do think these would have benefitted from a strong tagline – but I'll let that pass – because we rarely see Bollywood posters taking risks, cutting loose and having fun like this.
Artist: Lech Majewski
Photographer Ronny Sen's debut feature Cat Sticks, which premieres at the Slamdance Film Festival next year – observes the lives of brown sugar addicts in Kolkata over one night. Its poster, created by legendary Polish artist Lech Majewski, conjures up a surreal, nocturnal image with blocks of handwritten type that appear as buildings at night with two faces that look like wisps of smoke forming a giant moon in the night sky. The director describes the poster as "a portrait of the hopeless addict", whose two selves are in an endless cycle of conflict with one another. Like most Polish poster art, it lends itself to many interpretations, but no matter how you look at it – it's a haunting image that draws you in and stays with you.
CZECHMATE: IN SEARCH OF JIRI MENZEL
Designer: Prashant Kanyalkar (Concrete Design)
The poster for Shivendra Singh Dungarpur's 7-hour long documentary CzechMate: In Search of Jiri Menzel showcases the many iconic films contained within the genius mind of renowned Czech director Jiri Menzel, paying graphic tribute to the Czech New Wave predominant in the 60s. This design was painstakingly developed over 6 months – and the result, as we see is absolutely stunning.
GHODE KO JALEBI KHILANE LE JA RIYA HOON
Design by Piyush Kashyap
Artwork by Anand Radhakrishnan, Shyam Sundar Chatterjee and Piyush Kashyap / Title Design by Pratyush Kashyap
According to the synopsis, Anamika Haksar's Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon 'fuses documentary-realism with magic-realism, and true and fictionalised stories with poetry and dreams; forming a love-letter to the syncretic culture of Old Delhi'. This intricately designed poster – which draws influence from various art styles like miniature paintings, soviet poster art, Indian calendar art and matchbox prints – uses a mix of mediums like collage, caricature, digital painting and photographs to create what designer Piyush Kashyap aptly describes as a 'visual synopsis' of the film.
Design Agency: Old Monks Design
The Cochin-based agency Old Monks Design has done some remarkable work, including the posters for all of director Lijo Jose Pelissery's films, right from Amen to Angamaly Diaries and Ee Ma Yau. For the filmmaker's upcoming feature Jallikattu, they've outdone themselves with this handmade first look poster, created with actual mud (brought from a tile factory) mixed with water and drawn on paper (later enhanced digitally). The filmmaker says the film explores "the beastly side of man" – and this furious image that pits one raging bull against a herd of charging humans sure kicks up a mighty storm of intrigue.
Designer: Aditya Vikram Sengupta
Director Aditya Vikram Sengupta (who is also a graphic designer and visual artist) creates a beguiling poster for his latest film Jonaki. We see the hand of the protagonist – an old lady clasping a bright, ripe orange, upon which stands a little soldier figurine. While one clearly needs to watch the film to unravel these visual motifs, this is nevertheless a beautifully atmospheric and dreamlike poster that captures the magical, soft glow of fading memory.
Designer: Sivam C Kabilan
The presence of the dog Karuppi looms large over the story of Mari Selvaraj's Pariyerum Perumal, and it's no surprise that he dominates the film's promotional key art as well. This first-look poster for the film is a flat-out beautiful composition, with a real painterly quality to its colours and texture.
Designer: Gopi Prasannaa
Designer Gopi Prasannaa started his career in film publicity design with the posters of Aaranya Kaandam, which became trendsetters, matching the film's cult appeal. His posters for Balaji Tharaneetharan's Seethakaathi capture the lead actor Vijay Sethupathy in a set of vintage-style photographs modeled on three different eras: The 40s, 60s and the 80s. These posters really nail the old-world look, with period specific tone, treatment and border details.
Design Agency: Agence Fidelio / Le Circle Noir
This poster for Rohena Gera's charming and heartbreaking Sir immediately caught my eye with its lush colours and striking title treatment. It captures the film's characters wonderfully – the irrepressible, unputdownable spirit of Ratna (Tillotama Shome) against the reserved melancholy of Ashwin (Vivek Gomber) with a moody Mumbai skyline forming the backdrop.
THE SHADOWS OF THE DESERT
Design by Jayakrishnan Subramanian
Artwork by Anand Velou
Franziska Schönenberger and Jayakrishnan Subramanian's part-animated, part-live action documentary feature traces the journey of Baskaran, an Indian who went to Dubai as a construction worker and never returned alive. This poster – a poignant image of grief brought to life in a gorgeously evocative acrylic painting, and adorned with exquisitely hand-lettered type- blew me away instantly.
96 (Gopi Prasannaa), Carbon (Old Monks Design), C/O Kancharapalem (Anish Penty), Kaala (Vinci Raj), Lilli (Old Monks Design), Manto (Marching Ants), Papparapaam (Kannan Sundar), Ratchasan (Thandora), The Gold-Laden Sheep and the Sacred Mountain (Ridham Janve), The Sweet Requiem (Design by Midnight Marauder, Title Calligraphy by Jamyang Dorjee), Velvet Nagaram (Venky)