ucas Mondal was only 14 years old when he ran away from his relative's house in Kanpur and landed in Bombay in 1970. But the city of dreams wasn't particularly kind to the teenager and he struggled before landing a billboard painting job. "I was fond of drawing even as a child. So when I attended a workshop on hand painting boards, my billboard painting career took off."
Initially limited to only letterings, Mondal's expertise soon became polished to include figures and invariably — Bollywood posters. "I was painting all kinds of things: banners, posters, billboards, hoardings. In the beginning, I earned only Rs 2.50 per day and a plate of rice back then cost Rs 1.50," Mondal laughs. From there, he went on to earn almost Rs 40,000 per month when advertising became the buzzword in the '80s and hoardings promoting all kinds of products started dotting the horizon. The '90s arrived, Bombay became Mumbai and in came the era of digital printing. "And with that, our source of livelihood collapsed," Mondal reminisces.
Almost two decades later, a 31-year-old computer engineer with practically no experience or proficiency in art, retail or product design started a collective that combines all three in an effort to save the dying art form of hand painted posters. Hinesh Jethwani launched Indian Hippy in 2009, when due to recession his technology outsourcing business had thumped. "One of my old clients from Germany was visiting India and I wanted to gift him something uniquely Indian," he says. "But while browsing through gift shops I was highly disappointed to see the cliched pictorial representations of India on the gift items"
An entrepreneur by habit and having a faint recollection of an art studio somewhere in Dadar, he instinctively decided to start a profitable business along with the few remaining hand-painting poster artists. Challenges abound, first of finding the artists out of their hideouts, then of convincing them of his new venture. "And it didn't stop there," says Jethwani. "We were dealing with an art form that has been dead and buried for almost two decades. No one wanted hand painted posters anymore. So the challenge was to come up with innovative products which could be marketed in today's age."
Now, Indian Hippy boasts of a dozen-strong team of artists and a catalogue of products ranging from customised movie posters, hand-painted Bollywood-themed stage backdrops for weddings to handbags, folders, wallets, foldable chairs, belts and more, all hand painted with iconic images from Hindi films. The collective has a huge customer base internationally and has helped the artists gain a steady source of income. "We had all started doing odd jobs. But now we are back to doing what we love most," says Mondal. "Painting is our passion and we are paid fairly for our efforts here."