Chinnappa, who has been making posters and cut outs for the Kannada film industry, bids adieu to his six-decade old profession

Till recently, he was painting life size images of film actors and famous personalities at his tin-sheeted studio in Gayathri Nagar. A life size image of Nandamuri Balakrishna, the ‘Legend’ of Telugu cinema is his last hand-painted work. Earlier to that he had painted a 46-ft tall cut out of the BJP prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Chinnappa now bids adieu to the profession which has been his means of livelihood, and is now focussing attention on capturing ancient monuments on the canvas in his modest studio in Mahalakshmi Layout. Chinnappa closed down his dream-land Rajkamal Arts, which served the film industry by creating life-size images of celluloid stars over four decades, as his services are not required in the age of digital printing. In fact, Rajkamal Arts was the only company which continued to paint film posters and Chinnappa and his sons carried on till date with great difficulty because of their loyalty to the cinema, which gave name, fame, besides helping them to earn their livelihood.

Chinnappa took up the brush when he was just nine years old. Coming from an agriculturist family, Chinnappa, a native of Kolagondanahall inherited art from his grandfather K. Kalayya, who drew designs on wooden doors. After leaving school in 1947, Chinappa picked his brush to embark on a colourful career. The company, started in 1967, flourished well in the 80s and 90s. He started assisting S.K. Shreenu, an artist, who was painting posters for films. “While master (Shreenu) was painting portraits of stars, Balanna (the famous actor Balakrishna) used to write titles for a fee of three annas,” he recalls. Chinnappa remembers assisting his guru Shreenu in creating the iconic Mother India poster, which is still synonymous with Indian cinema. After working with Shreenu, he also worked with many artists of that period including C.M. Ram and K.S. Naidu Brothers. Meanwhile, Chinnappa also worked as artist in HMT for six years, “I was giving finishing touches to only imported machines,” he said with pride.

In his sixty years, he created images of almost all stalwarts of the Indian film industry, including V. Shantaram, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and others, from his Rajkamal Arts, which was founded in 1972. He created the poster for Bedara Kannappa, Rajkumar’s debut film, 56 ft cut out of Na Ninna Mareyalare, 60 ft image of the thespian for the blockbuster Mayura. “The 60 x 30 huge banner of Huliya Halina Mevu created by me adorned one end to the other end of Sagar Theatre,” he recalled.

Dr. Rajkumar was elated by the poster Chinnappa made for his landmark film Bangarada Manushya. He had asked Chinnappa, “Who named you Chinnappa?” and added, “they should have named you Doddappa!”

When he worked for Hindi film, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, distributors told Chinnappa that if the film ran for 25 weeks, they would pay him double the money. “They kept up their promise.”

Probably Chinnappa is the last link with the film industry as far as hand-painted posters are concerned. He has painted over 4,000 movie posters in his six-decade career. This has not gone unnoticed. According to C. Ramachandra his second son – his father received many awards for his work including Indira Priyadarshini award and few television channels have expressed an interest in making a documentary on about Chinnappa.

In a career spanning 66 years, Chinnappa has painted images of everyone from Amitabh Bachchan to Rajesh Khanna, Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan, Ambarish, Kalyankumar, B. Saroja Devi, Nargis, Madhubala and M.G. Ramachandran, Shivaji Ganesan, N.T. Rama Rao, Mammootty, Mohan Lal, Rajnikanth to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. He has made movie posters of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi and English, apart from Kannada.

However, be it painting film posters or capturing images of ancient monuments, he does it with felicity. Chinnappa received rich accolades both from critics and art enthusiasts for his work. Being a member of the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, he had an opportunity to exhibit his works. “Of course, I depend on the photographs of monuments and paints them on canvas,” Chinnappa says humbly, without making any tall claims about his artistic capabilities.

When this correspondent met Chinnappa, he was giving finishing touch to life-size image of Nandamuri Balakrishna in his Gayathri Nagar studio. “When positioned next to a digital print, hand-painted poster exudes a rich texture that cannot be achieved by a machine. It is something one cannot fake,”Chinnappa says looking into the small photograph in hand, which he uses for reference. There was a time when he used to work 18-hours a day to meet the needs of film industry. But the demand for hand-painted posters hit an all-time low in the recent years.

He found it difficult to pay wages to workers because of the change in trend. “It was frustrating. So I decided to stop.” Those working with Chinnappa have already found their livelihood. Some opted to colour the temple Gopura (tower) and others have taken to art work, paintings and murals. Tears started rolling down his cheeks when he said that two of his colleagues were working with a security firm…