Posters, paintings, photographs, signage, Chor Bazaar has it all, genuine or as you like it, says Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty


Madhubala smiles, characteristically coy, and teasing at the same time. The caption: “Masking her pain”. A jolly white-bearded man in red top hat and black overcoat grins and raises an overflowing ale mug to advertise ‘Schwabhauer Bier’. A 1930s Hollywood horror release screams in graphic black and white: “Return of the Terror! John Halliday…” Closeby lies an ’80s Bollywood horror, spouting B-grade glory—”Jalte Badan”. And by this, a head-to-toe picture of His Highness (ex), the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, with moustache and sword—drawn taut and sized extra large. Then there is a 1950s family portrait of the Rangwallas—their anonymity recycled as ethnic mystique. A large lithographed photograph from 1911, records the historic Coronation Durbar at New Delhi where George V announced transfer of the government seat from Calcutta to New Delhi. An original Pyaasa poster records Guru Dutt’s angst as filmmaker and poet as a Mughal miniature replica simultaneously depicts Aurangzeb’s lack of such. As Bombay’s biggest punter of signage, paintings, photographs, postcards and posters from shops (named or merely numbered), Chor Bazaar markets its images as it markets itself: stolen from time, date unknown.

Afzal Mansoor at shop number 141 —selling signage over a century old, has taken over from his father: “The signage was available freely post independence—when foreign companies leaving town rendered their advertisements useless.” Recently, with Indian décor veering towards the adventurous, antique metal boards with a ‘His Master’s Voice’ next to a gramophone and a dog, or a ‘Horlicks Malted’ next to a cheery-picked kid have become
fashionable acquisitions. Noorubhai at shop number 115 draws his photographs from the feriwaalas who turn up during the ‘Friday sale’ and these feriwaalas, in turn, pick them up at a pittance from old Parsi and Muslim homes. A striking piece is an ancient casual group photo with a Maharashtrian Hindu, a Muslim, a Parsi and a Christian smiling jointly in their traditional attire as a goodwill gesture – beckoning back business the area has never regained since the riots. Mughal Bazaar owner Abdul Wahid possesses the antique Coronation Durbar photograph, “not for sale, but as a kind of heirloom – since my family is traditionally from Delhi.” For sale, though, are antique maps and more photographs – one of a steamer, no longer in plying, bound from Bombay to Jedda. Which brings us to Bollywood and Shahid Mansoori’s three shops: Mini Market, Bollywood Bazaar and Super Sale (holding “original movie posters of over 3000 titles and their replica prints in varying sizes” if you please.)

invitation to the Coronation Durbar
A primary research source behind famous books on the Hindi film industry such as Living Pictures and The Man of Many Moods, Mansoori spells
the reason for the sudden popularity posters enjoy: “Hand painted posters are history today—none of today’s computer generated promotions can be categorized as art in the traditional sense.” Then there’s shop number 3, that despite being labelled ‘Mansoori’, has among its framed images Hindu gods drawn as per tantric geometry, astrological alphabet interspersed.
The dichotomy continues. While shops at Chor Bazaar Mutton Street are often accused of pulling off replicas as fakes, one can’t help but wonder if they sometimes store originals…calling them replicas instead. A passage next to shop number 67, for instance, leads to a room with packed paintings lying around. The same gentlemen who smiled benignly while spotting a potential customer, however, frowned on us upon hearing the word ‘press’. Hurriedly he muttered, “Sorry. No paintings. All gone.”

Royal Art - painting store at Chor Bazaar

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


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  1. Pingback: India Press | Daily Buzz about India

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