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Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) Celebrates the Year of India with Exhibition of Bollywood History

The Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents the North American debut of Bollywood Cinema Showcards: Indian Film Art from the 1950s to the 1980s, a visual journey through the history of Bollywood advertising. Curated by Deepali Dewan for the ICC at the ROM in collaboration with the Hartwick Collection, Bollywood Cinema Showcards will be on view in the special exhibitions gallery on Level 3 of the Museum from June 11 to October 2, 2011.

“Bollywood Cinema Showcards is a unique opportunity for visitors to see this rare collection of vintage cinematic art, bringing early Bollywood culture and design to life,” said Janet Carding, ROM Director and CEO. “I’m delighted that the ROM is contributing in such as significant way to this year-long celebration of India in Canada and the Bollywood experience in Toronto surrounding the International Indian Film Academy Awards.”

Bollywood cinema is deeply rooted in the cultural traditions of the East, and has become a growing fascination among art, film and pop-culture enthusiasts across the West. ROM curator of South Asian Arts & Culture, Dr. Deepali Dewan, states, “This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to explore the evolution of a specific form of advertising associated with the Hindi commercial cinema centered around Mumbai. These showcards combine paint and photography and are a unique aspect of South Asian visual culture, following their equally as remarkable predecessors –Indian Painted Photographs. They were originally produced by local artists but usually thrown out at the end of a film’s run. It is remarkable that this collection has survived at all.”

About the exhibition

Bollywood Cinema Showcards embodies the quirky and colourful style of India’s cinematic culture with a display of rare, vintage showcards—colourful hand painted photo collages commissioned to advertise the release of Bollywood films, originally exhibited in display cases outside cinema theatres.

The exhibition features over 120 works, including 77 original showcards from the private collection of Angela Hartwick and a selection of posters, lobby cards and film booklets from the ROM’s permanent collection. The installation will be organized chronologically, tracing the aesthetic and thematic evolution of Bollywood graphic design as seen in its advertising, from the years after India’s independence in 1947 through the liberalization of India’s economic policies in the early 1990s.

The exhibition coincides with another North American debut—International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards in Toronto—providing an interesting historical context to modern day Indian cinema. Bollywood Cinema Showcards also contributes to the national celebration of 2011 as the Year of India in Canada, as designated by a bilateral treaty between India and Canada.

Bollywood Hero Legacy Project

To celebrate Bollywood Cinema Showcards, the ROM will install a 15 x 36-ft. billboard titled Bollywood Hero, a theme that focuses on the recurring role of the male hero in most Bollywood films. Commissioned specifically for the Museum from Suresh Sandal Arts, a studio in Bombay, India, the work of art will be installed in the Hyacinth Gloria Chen Court and will remain on view until October 2, 2011. Following the exhibition it will reside in
the ROM’s permanent collection.

Bollywood and Beyond at the ROM

Also on view during this time is Embellished Reality: Indian Painted Photographs from the 1880s to the 1940s. This exhibition brings together 75 works from the ROM’s permanent collection, never before shown in public. Produced from the advent of photography in India in 1840, the focus of the exhibition are photographic portraits almost completely covered with paint as a way to enhance the subject. By combining the art of painting with the technique of photography, these artists created a distinctive genre of Indian visual culture. These works are a precursor to Bollywood showcards, as the concept of enhanced photographs and embellished realities complements the fantasy world created by Bollywood cinema. Embellished Reality will be on view in the H.H. Levy Gallery, Level 1, from June 4, 2011 to March 2012.
Together with Bollywood Cinema Showcards, these two exhibitions present a 100-year survey of Indian visual culture related to the Indian photography and film industry.

Both exhibitions will be accompanied by catalogues, richly illustrated with essays by Deepali Dewan, Rajesh Devraj, Kajri Jain, and Olga Zotova. Catalogues will be available in the ROM Museum Store for $24.99 each.

A series of ancillary lectures, films, panel discussions and free public tours led by prominent guests will be offered from June to October. Among them is a panel discussion on Bollywood film in Toronto, organized by the ROM’s Friends of South Asia and featuring representatives from the Bollywood cinema industry in Toronto; a Bollywood dance performance by Shiamak Davar’s Bollywood dance troupe; and a documentary film series featuring Sounds of Mumbai (2010) and Big in Bollywood (2011).

Image: Payal ki Jhankaar, 1980 (detail) 63 x 37.5cm Photo courtesy of the Hartwick Collection

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