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 responses to “Lollywood Billboard Art”

  1. Areej says:

    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).

  2. Owais Mughal says:

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

  3. Ghazi says:

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

  4. zakoota says:

    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.

  5. n ali says:

    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.

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