Lollywood Billboard Art

Posted on February 23, 2008
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Art & Literature, Society, TV, Movies & Theatre
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Owais Mughal
A very unique thing about Pakistan is the prevalence of Billboard Paint Art depicting anything from movie advertisements to selling water gysers. Especially colorful and entertaining are the Cinema posters and billboards. For example take a look at some of them below:

As for another example, look at the photo to the right. In this billboard of the movie called ‘aurat raj’ (rule of women) a gladiator lady (Rani) is shown controlling a 4-horse chariot.
All the 4 horses have faces of men. The second horse from the right is none other than Lollywood’s chocolate hero of 70s, Mr. Waheed Murad. I think this poster/billboard is very creative. ATP had an earlier post on Waheed Murad which can be reviewed here.

Billboard Paint Center in Lahore:

Lahore, which is the center of movie industry of Pakistan is the biggest center of such art. In Lahore, the center of such art is at Royal Park in Laxmi Chowk area. Here one can see billboards as large as 70′ x 70′ being hand painted.

Billboard Paint Center in Karachi:

In Karachi, Marston Road is a big center of billboard painting art. My father’s office used to be near Marston Road and whenever I went to his office, I invariably wandered off to watch these street artists bringing life to these larger than life images. Most of these billboards belonged to local cinemas advertising oncoming movies. The use of extra bright colors, colorful language and extra emphasis on body muscles is all an essential ingredient of this form of art. Look at the photo to the left. It is the billboard of Pakistan’s first sci-fi movie called ‘sar kataa insaan’ (The Headless Human). The person shown holding his own head is Lollywood’s famous star Ghulam Mohyuddin.

The billboards are created on sheets of tin metal. They are painted white first and placed along street walls. Then the artist draws image outlines (pencil sketch) and color fill up comes last. Mistakes are erased by kerosine oil. Whenever an artist is at work, a crowd gathers around him. Some people in the crowd give the painter not-needed suggestions and a two way discussion ensues. Sometimes a group of artists work together on a single billboard with portions of image divided between them. If one does the pencil skectch then others may do block painting or detailing. As written above, I’ve attended a few of these painting sessions and it is fun to watch.

The Pushto Movie Billboards

I took following four photos at the Nasheman Cinema located at Marston Road, Karachi during my visits there in 2005 and 2007. This cinema only shows Pushto language movies and you can see the billboards are no different in character than Urdu, English or Punjabi cinema. I asked friend of mine to translate these billboards to me. The titles from L to R are:

Pushto: janaana ghanam ranga, Urdu: Mahbooba meri Gandumi rangat wali, English: My Wheatish beloved

Pushto: aajzi loya badshahi da, Urdu: aajzi sab se bari badshahi hai, English: The biggest Kingship is humbleness

The titles from L to R for following billboards are:

Pushto: aashqi bada bla, Urdu: aashqi buri bala hai, English: love is evil

Pushto: musafir, Urdu: musafir, English: The Traveller

Keep Your Distance to Get The Big Picture:

A great mystery of such art to me is that the billboards make much more sense when looked at from a distance. If one looks at them from a close distance of (say) 5 to 10 feet then because of the use of extra ordinary colors they appear very funny. It is very common to see shocking pink color on a heroine’s blushing cheeks and apple green color shown as a 5 o’clock shadow on a hero’s stubble. Therefore to really appreciate the art of billboards in Pakistan, keep your distance.

The Billboard Paint Artists:

The artists who paint these billboards learn the art form their parents. They do not go to any art school. Even formal schooling is limited. This brings a disadvantage to these artisits as they cannot go to other jobs. With number of movies being produced at Lollywood dwindling fast, these artists are forced to live at whatever meagre resources are available to them.

Following images in L to R direction show a billboard in Karachi of movie ‘Lahori shehzade’ (Princes of Lahore) and a billboard artist working with bright colors in a Rawalpindi street.

Not many people know that the famous Lollywood actor (late) Saeed Khan (Rangeela) also started his movie career as a billboard movie painter in Lahore in 1941.

The Local Language Titles on Billboards

Another common feature of these billboards is the Urdu translation of English titles. I don’t know who does the translation but sometimes they end up with quite funny Urdu titles. Look at the photo below for the English title ‘python’. It has been translated in Urdu as ‘adam khor cobra’ meaning ‘The Man Eater Cobra’. Famous Urdu writer Shafiq-ur-Rehman has mentioned in one his books that when the famous Hollywood movie ‘Moon Over Miami’ was released in Lahore, the billboard translated the title as ‘Mian Mir ka chaand’ (The Moon of Mian Mir). Mian Mir of course is a Lahore locality famous for a saint named Mian Mir who is buried there.

In the billboard shown at below-left, the title of the movie ‘War-Night 3′ has been translated as ‘Jinn ki suhaag raat’. Click on the photo to see its enlarged image.

Another common word used on these billboards is ‘aaj shab ko’ which means the movie will screened tonight. To save space the painters combine these three urdu words in one as ‘aajshabko’. Famous Urdu writer Ibn-e-Insha has written in one of his books that the single word ‘aajshabko’ confuses him to no end. He used to read it as ‘aajash bako’.

Following images in L to R direction show a billboard in Peshawar of movie ‘Fighting Force’ and a 1994 poster of movie ‘jagga Budmaash’ in Odeon Cinema Karachi.


(1)Photos and some material for this article was taken with permission from film historian Mr. Omar Khan, who hosts the Lollywood Pop art webpage. His site‚ has hundreds of Lollywood poster and billboard images and can be seen here. Contact information of Omar Khan is also given at his webpage.
(2) Anwar Ahmed for translating Pushto titles.
(3) Roshan Malik for providing us 6 poster images for this article.

23 Comments on “Lollywood Billboard Art”

  1. October 14th, 2006 10:57 am

    Owais, this is a fascinating topic and the pictures here equally fascinating (marketting folks can learn much from what images are chosen for these boards). I do think that, along with bus art, this billboard art is a major and authenticc expression of ‘peoples art.’ I would only quibble with teh word ‘unique’ since it is also to be found in India and elsewhere… even though there are interesting difference that have evolved in style… a topic worthy of a discussion itself. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Owais Mughal says:
    October 14th, 2006 1:36 pm

    Thanks for your comments and add ‘truck art’ to the list of indiginous Pakistani art. I am sure you are familiar with the truck artist: ‘Kafil Bhai of Ghotki’, whose signature appears on many trucks in Pakistan. I am thinking of writing about him too.

  3. TURAB says:
    October 14th, 2006 3:16 pm

    very nice collection by all means… notice now few comments we have when it comes to culture and how heated the debate becomes political…. hehehe

  4. Owais Mughal says:
    October 14th, 2006 3:18 pm

    Turab. add ‘religion’ to hotly debated topics too :)

  5. October 14th, 2006 5:52 pm

    Really a fascinating post. The Aurat Raj poster is unique. India’s best known artist MF Husain had started his career painting such cinema hoardings.
    In his childhood in Indore, he remembered the Muharram processions and thus horses became an obsession for him all his life.
    Owais bhai, I also felt nostalgic seeing this posters because they remind me of the heydays of Jasoosi Dunia (Faridi Hamid and Imran series) as the titles of these magazines published from Allahabad (and later Pakistan) were quite similar like in Ek din Sher daa and Cheeta above.

  6. BhindiGosht says:
    October 14th, 2006 10:14 pm

    Does anyone recall the movie adverts in the Urdu papers? The Urdu translations of English titles were hilarious. My favorites were:
    Bhariyon ka mujra (dances with wolves)
    chumi, chumi, tha, tha (kiss, kiss, bang, bang)
    Chaudhry Ryan di dhee (Ryan’s daughter)
    azeem Bhagorey (great escape)

  7. Owais Mughal says:
    October 14th, 2006 10:45 pm

    Translations of Ryan’s daughter and Great Escape were hilarious :) A movie’s title translation to local language is not limited to Pakistan only. I’ve heard when ‘Top Gun’ was released in China, the title got translated as ‘What a huge gun’ :)

  8. iFaqeer says:
    October 18th, 2006 2:55 pm

    No mention of the “subtle” shading sometimes added to…shall we say… strategic parts of these posters–and, especially the newspaper versions–to make the dress of female characters more modest? Was that just a relic of the Zia era and its immediate aftermath? I remember–with some bemusement or even shame–self-censorship like that being part, even, of my first job, which was as an editorial assistant at The Teenager, Pakistan, then about the only English-language media outlet Pakistani youth. When I was the juniormost member of the team, I used to be given the task…

  9. Owais Mughal says:
    October 18th, 2006 3:14 pm

    Dear iFaqeer, you penned it right when you wrote about ‘strategic shading’. That type of censorship made sure to point out areas that would’ve gone unnoticed otherwise. It added to the curiosity.

  10. yasmeen says:
    April 19th, 2007 1:22 am

    please let me know if film star Mumtaz is alive and where she lived I am very fun of her . Kindly let me know and if I can get her photos and movies where I can buy?

  11. February 8th, 2008 12:34 am

    Really, the art work by artist is great and post too. Especially Aurat Raj is great and unique work. I’m from printing industry, there are many great artist and painters mostly uneducated. Even they don’t know the correct ‘Hija’ of urdu words and their translation of English is purly “Desi”. The most artist have adapted painting as their first work, after “escaping” from study, later that become bread and butter for them. Their work is great. I think there must be some forum, from where they can exibit their creativity.

  12. Owais Mughal says:
    February 22nd, 2008 3:38 pm

    A cinema billboard in Lahore. See here. The photo is from October 2005

  13. Ayaz Siddiqui says:
    February 23rd, 2008 9:37 am

    Really enjoyed….Great article

  14. Adil Najam says:
    February 23rd, 2008 12:01 pm

    Owais, thank you for the updated post… I just wanted to point out for those who might have seen this before that Owais has added new photographs and material to this post; especially at the end.

    I was particularly fascinated by the information on Pushto cinema… it is the regional language cinema that has blossomed over the last many many years even as the Urdu cinema has dwindled…. I have always wondered why?

  15. Roshan says:
    February 23rd, 2008 1:41 pm

    The downfall of Urdu cinema is partly because the urban class used to go to cinema very often in 60′s and 70′s. Their interest gradually lost in cinema partly because of indian movies and VCR revolution in late 70′s.
    The rural class or people living in suburbs substituted the cinema spectators who enjoyed movies more in regional languages than in Urdu.
    Unfortunately punjabi movie among urbanites was considered as ‘paindoo’ production rather and going to cinema was also a similar symbol. It ultimately caused the decline of Urdu cinema as there was no demand in the society.

  16. n ali says:
    February 23rd, 2008 3:05 pm

    I have always loved the painted billboards. But when I was in Karachi a few months ago, I noticed they are being replaced by photographic images. I wonder if the growing popularity of digital photography and cheaper color printing means the demise of this form of art. Sad, indeed.

    I’ll miss my dose of driving by those wildly colored images of swarthy men and buxom women with heavy makeup and bare legs discreetly cross-hatched to give an appearance of modesty.

  17. zakoota says:
    February 24th, 2008 12:53 am

    All these billboards were lovely and very artistic, despite the fact that these artisans were never really recognized by any major or minor institution nor any of our annual movie or TV award ceremonies included them. The artists painting them were so genuine and very creative.

    This new mania of showing indian stuff on every media, in the name of “co-production”, will be very harmful in the long run and will eventually finish our TV productions one day. Our plays were and are still better than theirs and honestly speaking we didn’t need all this. Our crook and traitor planners and so called leaders have almost killed every institution whether its army, judiciary or media and Pakistani public is too innocent and straight forward to think the big plans which are in making.

  18. Ghazi says:
    February 26th, 2008 5:40 pm

    There was a movie “munday parhaako kurian tambakoo” being played somewhere in lahore.. i wish i could get the poster for that..

  19. Owais Mughal says:
    March 13th, 2008 11:36 am

    Checkout this collection of Lollywood bilboards and posters by Faisal Jameel here

  20. Areej says:
    May 10th, 2008 3:46 am

    I am writing a research paper on billboard art in Lahore, can any one help me with primary research (interview of painters) and significant secondary sources (books articles etc).

  21. Kashif says:
    May 5th, 2009 2:59 pm

    Very nice… I am looking for a movie Billboard named “Arain da Kharak”. If you any have it, please share it with me.

  22. May 8th, 2009 8:21 pm

    Jawed sheikh sahib nae express news paper main ake new di thi kae woh new comedy film buna rahae hain new artist contact ker suktae hain muger unki website per koi email address nahi hae brae meherbani aap untuk mera yeh message pohncha dain to meherbani hogi….thanks

    Mr.Jawed Sheikh
    Mera name Majid ahmed siddiqui hae main ake writer hoon aur khas ker comedy behter likhta hoon karachi main 2004 main meri ake comedy book “Baron kae Latifae” kae nam sae achuki hae ake comedy CD “Gaye bhag gai” Eid per achuki hae ake tv comedy programe main mawad achuka hae aur kuch mawad India bhi bheja hae Aj Kul “Daily Muqadma” News paper kae liae colum likh raha hoon main nae ghuzista 5 saal main 50,000 new comedy short scripts likhae hain muger usmain sae istemal chund hoae hain aur ake kamoosh film “Mr.Been in Pakistan” ka mawad bhi mere paas tyyar hae
    ager aap interested hain to contact ker suktae hain. thanks

    Majid ahmed siddiqui

  23. Aliya says:
    July 25th, 2010 6:35 pm

    very nice post. loved it

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