Sunday, June 17, 2007

Poster Boys and Girls

One area that seldom gets attention in Dravidian politics is the fine art of making posters. For some reasons, the minions of the party have long felt that the one way of displaying loyalty is to ensure that your constituency is choc-o-bloc with posters of all relevant leaders. Presumably when the party chief’s car whizzes by at 100 kmph on roads cleared by the traffic police, some special vision capability will make them note that T Nagar had only 149 posters as opposed to Adyar which had 152 posters. The Adyar MLA gets a pat on the back and looks forward to becoming a central minister some day.

The casual observer however immediately notices a flaw in this strategy that emphasizes volumes. The T Nagar guy takes a mere day to up his count to 160 and the Adyar guy obliterates all business signs, trees, people on the road with his increases. Sooner or later, both chaps run out of walls, the general public is complaining about the lack of space to spit without disfiguring your favourite leader and there is chaos all around. It was at this fine moment of despondence that some worthy invented the ‘Cutout’.

A Cutout is a huge, larger than life cardboard picture of your beloved leader that one can erect on wooden poles. If mere walls were a constraint earlier, then the Cutout solved the problem in one stroke. You did not need walls anymore. Footpaths did nicely. So what if the voter had to swerve his way around every Cutout and jump onto the road and back on to the footpath constantly. That is the kind of aerobic exercise that makes the average citizen fit and brings down health expenditure in the government budget.

Sadly the Cutouts began to disappear one day. My guess is a passing flight bumped into one of them and as they say 'what tangled webs we weave'.

So innovation became the name of the game. MBA style cunning was used to subtly differentiate poster A from poster B. What was hitherto a piece of cheap paper listing down details of the leader being praised, the ambitious sponsor of the poster and some general terms of sucking up (‘Our great leader’, ‘the greatest son of the soil’, ‘may we be humbly permitted to give a bath to your dog’ etc) became a work of art.

People decided to take their inspiration from the movies. Remember the good old days when the hero and heroine methodically changed clothes every twenty seconds in movie songs? Watching a series of posters on the Beach road gives you the feeling of watching such a song. First there is the poster with the leader’s head morphed onto western clothes, then onto Indian clothes and finally some colourful casuals. That the morphing has transformed the perpetually dhoti-clad man into a somewhat thinner, shapelier and nifty dresser is considered artistic license.

Not to mention, it is not just sartorial elegance that wins votes. Apparently during the last elections one of the reasons the incumbent was rumoured to have lost was because of the serious, unsmiling face in the posters. This election the posters were modified to show a benign smile that the electorate could apparently identify with. Sadly in the more remote villages where wall paintings are still cheaper than posters, the benign smile turned slightly constipated in the artist’s reinterpretation of the original work. It seemed to understand the common man’s urgent need to perform ablutions by the wall.

My latest fancy has been to gawk at a poster that depicts a smiling yesteryear leader now deceased. Emerging from the open heart of the deceased leader, like some grotesque mid way picture of a heart transplant is the smiling mug of a current leader. Still it is a whole lot better than the Congress posters. Devoid of any imagination and burdened by history, the congressmen feel obliged to make family snaps with pictures of various generations of the Gandhi-Nehru family appropriately sized to depict current levels of importance. Thus Nehru would be fluttering like a fly by Sonia Gandhi’s head. Entertaining but not in the same league as the open-heart surgery one.

Some day, I am sure Chennai citizens will be too advanced to vote going by the posters. But I do hope as an art form it finds its place in history.

Anita B
(Read more of Anita's posts on

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