- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

AHMEDABAD, India — Time was when Indian elections spelled big business for artist Janak Gajjar — who would paint garish, larger-than-life posters of candidates.

Now, slick computer-designed images featuring politicians’ photographs are turning billboard artists into a dying breed.

“The new technology has completely wiped us out,” Mr. Gajjar said.

Mr. Gajjar and his team of six artists in Ahmedabad, the largest city in western India’s Gujarat state, used to make a living by hand-painting posters and jumbo-size cutouts of politicians during elections campaigns.

Now, an eerie silence reigns in the studio. Rows of blank canvasses lie forlorn and his jars of paints and brushes gather dust. Mr. Gajjar has not received a single order for an election poster, even though national elections begin in less than a month. Balloting will be staggered over five days, starting April 20 and ending May 10, with the outcome expected May 13.

Vinyl printing, which uses photographs of politicians rather than paintings, is costlier but is favored by political parties over hand-painting because the technology helps rapid production of vast quantities of durable and easy-to-transport posters.

So political parties shun studios such as Mr. Gajjar’s and switch to firms offering vinyl printing to produce posters that will be pasted on every available wall, compound, tree trunk and lamppost.

“There was a time when orders kept pouring into our studio during elections, but this year we haven’t had one order. Vinyl printing has captured the poster and cutout market,” Mr. Gajjar said.

More than a dozen other studios in Ahmedabad employing more than 1,000 artists are idle as a result of the switch to new technology.

“In the old days, I used to be employed for a whole month [during elections] and had a wide range of commissions,” said painter Manoj Kanujia.

“I was expecting the elections would bring in work, but this year people have shifted to vinyl printing completely.

“All my friends are in the same boat. We’ve been painting for the last 20 years and now would not enjoy doing anything else,” Mr. Kanujia said.

Mr. Gajjar manages to eke out a living by painting signs for businesses at the studio his father set up in 1932. But he tells his children to take up other work.

Some poster studios have kept afloat by changing with the times.

Artist Hemant Bhavsar saw the writing on the wall when his orders started to dwindle. He set up a vinyl printing studio six months ago.

“We’d seen this coming and so set up a printing studio to survive this tide of change,” Mr. Bhavsar said. “All the orders for elections this year are for vinyl printing. We’ve trained our artists to operate the machine.

“While it used to take us a minimum of one day to paint a poster or a cutout, we can print more than 20 posters in a day through the new solvent printing technology,” he said.

“If what we have is on a CD, the poster is just a click away.”

Shashiranjan Yadav, an official of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that governs Gujarat and heads the ruling national coalition, said that although vinyl posters are more expensive, “they’re more durable and look better.”

Vinyl posters are double the cost of hand-painted posters.

A similar fate has befallen Bollywood billboard artists who used to paint giant posters for India’s prolific film industry featuring pouting actresses and muscle-bound actors.

Now most moviemakers prefer computerized posters to advertise their films.

Still, while vinyl posters may be the way of the future, Mr. Bhavsar said he is more comfortable using a brush than guiding a mouse.

“I’ve switched over to vinyl posters, but I can’t deny the fact that painting posters gave me more satisfaction,” he said.

“It saddens me this art of poster painting is on its last legs,” he said.

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