Somewhere on Mutton Street, in Bombay’s Chor Bazaar, sits a cave of musty sweetness. It’s filled with old movie posters, piled almost six feet high.
“You know V. Shataram, yes?” says the pint-sized operator, Khalim, who looks to be about twelve years old. “He’s fantastic, amazing,” he says, flailing his arms. “You must see his movies.” He dives into the center of a thousand posters, and flips through four before he lands on a Shantaram poster. “You must buy this. It’s beautiful!”
If you know me, you know I like things big and overdone. I care less about the society of the spectacle than I do the spectacle of the spectacular. And Shangrila fills that fetish.
It’s this month’s hit song from next month’s hit Sandalwood movie, Topiwaala, starring the legendary Upendra (Uppi to his fans). And you have got to see the video: Honeymoon in Vegas meets I Dream of Genie in a Burning Man-Busby Berkeley dream. Dick Dale gone Bhangra gone Kannada.
Third, here’s the new batch of Bangalore-style sidewalk posters Ramachandraiah did for some more of my favorite movies…
My Neighbour Totoro
I’d really wanted to see how they’d handle a Ghibli film… we’ve been doing Miyazaki marathons here at the Husainabad apartment building, and I thought they’d pair perfectly with his style. Sure enough, they did. The Kannada title of this film translated to something like “Nice Monster Friend!” Cute, huh? Continue reading “Great New Indian Sidewalk Movie Posters”
So yesterday I got up to some dark nonsense… I ordered 600 more Bangalore sidewalk posters. You know, like these….
But not any of those. Chronologically, the movie’s leads were Buster, Louise, Glenn, Lloyd, Hayao, Johnny. Hint: might be directors. Hint: four are Americans. Hint: If you know my taste in film, and my obsessions, you should be able to work it out, right? Right??? Okay, here are two giveaway clues: Continue reading “The Great Poster Contest”
It was the Singapore Agent who told me about the poster guy on Rambuttri. “Rambuttri like Rambutan,” he said. “But with a tree at the end. Look for the restaurant with the good pad thai, next to the massage place. That’s where you’ll find the poster guy.”
The pad thai restaurant next to a massage parlor? In Bangkok, this means nothing at all — on the restaurant-and-massage-filled Thanon Rambutri, doubly-so. But it made for a treasure hunt. And, as you know, I LOVE treasure hunts.
[If I had taken a photo of the guy selling posters, I would have put it here. But my breath was wrenched away when I saw him. I forgot my camera. I forgot this blog. I only saw amazeballs.]
His folding table on the sidewalk, nestled between a jewelry stall and a t-shirt vendor, was piled high with old Thai posters for 80s American action movies, Chinese porn, and Japanese yakuza deliciousness. They were ripped, frayed, stained with water or coffee or blood. They were just $10 a sheet. They were gorgeous.
“Michelle, can you get me a coffee and a pack of cigarettes?” I licked my leafing finger, and started sorting. Holy shit — is this Nikkatsu Noir?
“You want some samples?” he asked. His workshop was piled high in rolls of movie posters for local cinemas. Outsider masterpieces, they’re drawn in hours, printed on cheap sheets of 30″ by 20″ paper, and slapped up on highway overpasses, building sites, and concrete walls across the city.
His horror posters render horror in full 3-color gore and madness. Sam Raimi’s The Possession has never looked scarier:
It’s 12/12/12, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY RAJINI! I posted this before, but I think only my nephew watched it (about 47 times, my count so far says)… so here it is again. The most amazing Rajini scene of all time:
Something about her was so desperate, filled me with angst and longing. Is that a wedding poster in her hand? Is she Vijay’s bride, or is she his one true love, and she’s just discovered he’s getting an arranged marriage this afternoon??? I’d love to know who she is, or the name of the film…
Alone in the hotel, drinking Kingfisher and watching old Karanataka films. In 1981’s Keralida Simha, an honest cop has to break up a party of riotous and drugged out delinquents. And it’s something akin to poetry.
I don’t know much about Kannada cinema — it’s called Sandalwood — but the cop with the sweet mustache and stern slap is Dr Rajkumar. He’s a legend. He’s George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Michael Jackson, rolled up with James Bond and Jesus in a burrito of southern India awesomeness. When he died in ’06, shop windows were smashed, cars were torched, and all of Bangalore was locked down.
“Put these in your car window,” managers urged to employees, as they handed out stacks of photos of Rajkumar. “If anyone stops your car, point to it. And go home, NOW!”
My brother and his wife fled the state.
“It isn’t as if it was a surprise that he died,” my sister-in-law gasped years later. “He was 78 years old!”
But still, there were riots in Bangalore for days.
My coworkers from Bombay, or Chennai, or New Delhi, have never heard of the man. They didn’t recognize his photo. But here, six years after his death, he’s still everywhere. Poster printer Ramachandraiah still keeps a shrine to Dr Rajkumar in his shop, and a monthly Dr Rajkumar calendar above his desk. Earlier this week, the Bangalore paper ran a front-page article complaining that there still wasn’t a Dr Rajkumar replacement.
All told, though, that is a truly awesome ‘stache.
I have 100 of each of these, so let me know if you’d like one. (If you’re in Bangalore or Beijing, you can have them for free the cost of a coffee. Overseas, I’ll have to charge.) Let me know in the comments below!
My favorite, of course, is the first one…
Jessica Harper, absolutely gorgeous in Dario Argento’s Suspiria:
Nicholas Cage wearing his snakeskin jacket, a symbol of his individuality and his belief in personal freedom, in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart:
Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and Michael Schoeffling in my favorite movie of all time, John Hughes’ (ahem, slightly misspelt) Sixteen Candles. I only regret the absolute absence of Gedde Watanabe as Long Duck Dong.
A strangely puckered Peter Lorre as the sick Grieg-whistling child killer in Fritz Lang’s M. (I just read Lang apparently threw Lorre down a staircase while filming, to rough him up a bit. Fantastic!)
Orson Welles as Harry Lime, suddenly dangerous with his pocketed pistol — it’s a setup! — in Carol Reed’s awesome The Third Man. Where’s Holly Martins? Probably drunk under the table again.
Ramachandraiah prints movie posters for a living. He’s done it ever since 1971, when he bought an ancient lithograph press. He keeps it in a factory north of Bangalore, far from the English town where it was built 111 years ago.
Most movie posters here are lavish. They’re digitally-printed, full-color, and reach up to 30 feet long.
Ramachandraiah’s posters aren’t.
His are five-color, hand-drawn, and measure just 20 inches by 30 inches. They’re printed on thin paper, and illegally slapped up on building sites and highway overpasses late at night. They cost pennies to print. And they’re absolutely gorgeous.
We heard there were rats in The Liberty. That it smelled like urine. That the sound was awful. But it’s the most famous cinema in Sri Lanka’s capital, a 1955 Art Moderne beauty, and how could we turn that down?
Remember the last time we visited that wretched and bruised little street urchin, Sanmao? Oh, what dark laughs we shared.
Well, the other day I found two new Sanmao books. From 1980 and 1985, they were full of strips I’d never seen. I leapt with joy and overpaid for them — they were antiques, the old man insisted. When I flipped them open, though, I discovered something saccharine and horrible.
What? He’s benching 90? He’s a master of calligraphy? He’s… he’s… what about the blood, gore and sick Chinese humor???
“Do you know Leonard Cohen?” Sidney shouts. He’s trying to be heard over the album that’s blasting through his hutong apartment. “This is one of his live sessions. I think it’s just wonderful. I like to play it really loud and do my taichi.”
Sidney Shapiro’s 90-something years old. He moved to Shanghai looking for a job in 1947. And he’s lived in Beijing since liberation. In China’s literature circles, he’s a legend. He married a movie star, lived through the Great Leap Forward, defends the Cultural Revolution, and scuffed with Jiang Qing. More than those, he translated one of China’s greatest books — 1,600 pages long — into English.
Sure, that sounds boring. But check out these sweet snippets…
“The farmer… smashed their skulls with his hoe, spattering brain matter.”
“Liu Tang and Yang Xiong brought their policemen’s staves down on Wang’s head with such force that his brains spattered and his eyes bulged, and he fell dead.”
“He whipped out a knife and cut off Ho’s ears. Blood flowed copiously.”
The book is “Outlaws of the Marsh” (水滸傳). It’s about 700 years old and it’s one of the great works of Chinese literature. It exists where Robin Hood meets The Ramayana. And it’s got everything.
The prince, impressed by his winning several archery matches in a row, had given him his daughter in marriage. But Xuan Zan’s ugliness had so revolted the girl that she died.
Tips for scoundrels….
“These seduction cases are the hardest of all. There are five conditions that have to be met before you can succeed. First, you have to be as handsome as Pan An. Second, you need a tool as big as a donkey’s. Third, you must be as rich as Deng Tong. Fourth, you must be as forbearing as a needle plying through cotton wool. Fifth, you’ve got to spend time. It can be done only if you meet these five requirements.”
“Frankly, I think I do. First, while I’m far from a Pan An, I still can get by. Second, I’ve had a big cock since childhood.”
“Ximen was frolicking with Golden Lotus upstairs. At the sound of Wu Song’s voice he farted with terror and pissed in his pants.”
And this book is considered a classic? Not just a classic, but one of the FOUR greatest books of Chinese literature.
“There are hairs in this dumpling that look a lot like pubic hairs.”
“What’s in these?” he asked. “Human flesh, or dog’s?”
There are three different TV series based on the length of it, and a half-dozen movie adaptations. There’s at least one porno version. There are video games, comic books, operas, and more.
Toilet humor, you see, is considered an art in China. The Farrelly Brothers would have thrived here. Even Mao loved to litter his quotes and poems with references to his farts and shits.
And really, this book is awesome. Once you get past the blood and viscera, there’s even epicurean poetry that makes me crave a Shandong feast.
The waiter went downstairs and soon returned with a jug of “Moonlight Breeze on Lovers’ Bridge”—a fine liquor, and a tray of vegetable dishes and tidbits to go with it. Then came fat mutton, crispy chicken, less-steeped goose and fillet of beef, all served on vermilion plates and platters.
“I was saved by Song Jiang,” Sidney told Liz and me. He’d spent the turbulent China years, during the cultural revolution, translating it into English, avoiding all of the infights and the political battles that surrounded his coworkers. The only problem was the title.
“I wanted to call it Heroes of the Marsh,” he said, “but Jiang Qing wouldn’t have it.” Jiang was Mao’s witch-like wife. She was worried about celebrating rebellious miscreants. So she sent a pair of thugs to his office. “So I changed the word to Outlaws,” Sidney said, then laughed. “I don’t think she realized it’s a positive word in the West.”
I didn’t realize that either.
The book is about 108 rebels — many of them historical figures — and it seems strange to glorify them at all. They take to the mountains of Shandong to fight corruption and injustice, but dole out as much drunken violence as they can muster. They see themselves as heroic figures, but blindly slash and rape and maim with joy. Even a razing of a church is seen as a passing error.
“I used to tend the vegetable garden in the Guangming Monastery,” says Zhang Qing the Vegetable Gardener. “I got into an argument over a small thing and lost my temper. I killed the monks and burned the monastery to the ground. But nothing happened.”
And that’s one of the heroes.
Here’s another. His name is Li Kui. He’s known as the Black Whirlwind for his dark skin, incredible temper, and the two axes he waves in circles as he dives into crowds.
“These two big axes of mine haven’t had any action for a long time,” said Li Kui the Black Whirlwind. “I’m glad to hear we’re going to fight and pillage again. Let me have five hundred men and I’ll take the Northern Capital, hack Governor Liang into mincemeat, dismember the corpses of Li Gu and that adulterous female, and rescue Lu the Magnate and Shi Xiu!”
Hooray! Oh, he’s told off time and again, but it never really holds. Here’s one of my favorite Li Kui adventures. He’s been irritated by a holy man’s attitude…
Li Kui groped for his two axes, quietly opened the house door and, step by step in the moonlight, made his way up the mountain. The double portals of the Temple of Purple Void were shut, but the fence around the compound was not high, and he cleared it in a leap. After opening the portals in readiness for a retreat, he crept into the grounds till he came to the Hall of Pines and Cranes. He heard someone within chanting scriptures. He crawled closer and poked a hole through the paper window. Luo the Sage was seated alone on his dais. Two smoking candles on a table before him shed a bright light.
“That wretched Taoist,” thought Li Kui. “He deserves to die.”
Stealthily, he crept to the latticed door and, with one push, swung it creaking open. He charged in, raised his axes and brought them down on the Sage’s forehead. Luo collapsed on his dais. His flowing blood was white. Li Kui laughed.
“The varlet must have been a virgin. He’s still got all his male essence. He hasn’t used any of it! There’s not a drop of red blood in him!” Li Kui took a close look at his handiwork. His ax had cleaved the Sage’s hat and split his head right down to his neck.
“Today, I’ve removed a trouble-maker,” Black Whirlwind observed with satisfaction.
It’s a little strange.
But, at the same time, this book reads with an odd relevance, today. These 108 are disgruntled. They believe in the Emperor, and in China, but they’re sick to death of the greedy, embezzling, toadying provincial leaders. They’re sick of corrupt leaders imprisoning the innocents, stealing the contracts, polluting their cities. They’re looking for a change.
It sounds familiar. I know the book is still being read, and referenced, regularly. It’s sold in every bookstore. Every child knows the stories. But how do you think a contemporary remake might be received?
Hollywood’s never been too subtle when it comes to Asia.
Mickey Rooney, yellow-skinned, buck-toothed and slanty-eyed, howling “Horry Gorightry!!!” down the staircase yet again. Warner Oland, carefully quoting his ancient proverbs before smacking Number Two Son yet again. And what was that Long Duck Dong quote? Oh yes, of course, “No more yankie my wankie!”
And yet… as cringeworthy as it is, the same happens back here in China.