Why decades-old memorabilia and magazines have become precious commodities in Bollywood
Prices of vintage Bollywood magazines, which once cost way less than a rupee when they were originally published, have shot through the roof, ranging from Rs1,000 to even Rs10,000 for a single issue.
The unprecedented boom kicked off some five years ago with eBay India becoming a prime hunting ground for shoppers of movie nostalgia, spanning from the era of the mid-1940s to the mid-'80s. These encapsulated portraits and interviews of stars from K.L. Saigal and Suraiya to Meena Kumari, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar, plus Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan during the peak of their stardom.
Ever since the closure of the trading Internet site eBay India, the prices have soared further. Old B-town magazines are available only with private collectors, some of whom - like Ranjeet Gupta of Mumbai - are willing to part with the rareties at fixed rates.
Meanwhile, scores of raddi (junk) shops, that would sell backdated issues for a song, have switched to selling toys and children's books. Or they have rented their spaces out to high-end stores with the escalation of real estate costs in Mumbai, Delhi and also smaller towns like Indore, Jaipur, Pune and Kanpur.
The three most-in-demand yesteryear film magazines are Filmfare (established 1952), Stardust (1971) and Cine Blitz (1974) in that order. Says the Delhi-based collector Rohit Sharma, "To get any vintage issue of those magazines for less than Rs1,000 would be a lucky strike." Second-hand copies of the widely-circulated Urdu magazine Shama in the '50s and the Hindi magazine Madhuri of the '70s also have their avid takers.
Dhruv Somani, a textile industrialist and collector of movie memorabilia, has been hunting in vain for the 1960s and '70s issues of Picturpost (the letter 'e' from 'Picture' was omitted inexplicably), a diary-sized magazine covering Hindi cinema, published from Madras. "It was an unusual magazine, publishing stories and photos of upcoming releases. There wouldn't be any gossip, just wonderful spreads of photos and synopses in the style of Hollywood's Screen Stories."
What explains the vintage magazine phenomenon? As in the abiding popularity of the melody-suffused songs of the bygone era, old movie magazines are a league ahead in content. The clean-cut Filmfare, founded in 1951 by The Times of India group, catered to a family readership while Stardust (1971, established by Nari Hira) and its market rival, Cine Blitz (edited by veteran journalist R.K. Karanjia's daughter Rita and subsequently sold to the Vijay Mallya group) thrived on sensational scoops on liaisons and private innuendoes. Such scoops would occasionally incite the 'maligned' stars - take for example, Mumtaz - to drag the publication to court for libel and defamation.
The precursor of the gossip magazines was Filmindia (1935-61), whose editor Baburao Patel's reviews were scathing, going to the extent of ranting that most films released during his tenure were fit for viewing only for the brain-addled. The very mention of his name would strike terror in the hearts of film studio corridors.
However, if he aimed nasty potshots at Madhubala, the editor of Filmfare, B.K. Karanjia would undo the damage by penning paeans to the heart-breaking Anarkali of Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Indeed, nine years after the premiere of the royal opus, the farewell article by Karanjia on her passing away due to a heart ailment is one of the finest obituaries of the star.
The sparring between Baburao Patel and B.K. Karanjia (who had, incidentally, interned with the former) is the stuff that fiery movie journalism was all about.
To track factoids about the box-office collections of the blockbusters as well as the major flops, researchers hunt out backdated issues of Trade Guide and Film Information, which ruled in the 1970s and '80s. The slim copies of the weekly round-ups can be bought at Rs800 to Rs1,000 a piece.
The fortnightly magazine Star & Style, edited by Gulshan Ewing, issues of Super and Movie, edited by Rauf Ahmed, too, have eager-beaver buyers. Somani echoes Sharma's belief, "The yesteryear magazines are worth their value in gold. Original movie posters too - only a connoisseur can distinguish between the real and fake - have been rocking for quite a while at swishy auction sales and at the few surviving outlets at Chor Bazaar."
He cites the posters of Dev Anand's Guide (pegged at Rs5 lakh) as the bestseller, followed by the images of Madhubala against a clocktower in Mahal and the several variations of Sholay. "I would even say that the Sholay posters carry an appeal across the generations," Somani remarks. "And if you ever visit a Bollywood-themed café in the Asian neighboods of London or New York, you are more than likely to find Gabbar Singh and Company staring right at your face."
Alas, a comprehensive collection of any of the valuable magazines has not been preserved at the National Film Archive of India, Pune, the place-to-go-to for film aficionados and researchers. A sizeable, though not complete, collection has been stored, fortuitously, by the library of V. Shantaram's Rajkamal Kalamandir Studio in Parel, a central neighbourhood of Mumbai. As for the stock on display at the newly-opened National Film Museum of India on Peddar Road in Mumbai, the less groused the better.
The moral of the story is: the next time you junk a movie magazine, think again. In the future, its value as a major component of film heritage could spiral beyond your imagination.