Saturday, August 13, 2011

A tryst with tinseltown

For the past 30 years, Pradeep Gopalan has been pasting cinema posters on walls and lampposts in Kochi and all over Kerala

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a weekday morning, Pradeep Gopalan stands near a wall in Padivattom. From a bag, he takes out a large 'Salt and Pepper' poster, which announces that the film has completed 35 days. He flips it over, scoops up glue with his hands, from a small container, and rubs the edges on all four sides. Then he pastes it neatly on the wall.

“At Padivattom, I was coming to the end of my work,” he says. Pradeep's work had begun the previous night. He had travelled all over Kalamaserry, Kakkanad and Padivattom, pasting posters on walls and lamp posts. “If the wall is easily accessible, it takes me about ten minutes to put up a poster,” says Pradeep, who hires an auto-rickshaw to move around.

But there are places, in Kalamaserry, beside a pond, on slushy ground, when he takes a longer time. “Of course, it is much more difficult during the monsoon season, but at the same time, because of the cool weather, I feel less tired,” he says. In summer, the humidity gets to him and Pradeep becomes tired when morning arrives. “I am not getting any younger,” says the 54-year-old.

When he was 19, Pradeep secured a job as a peon in the office of a cinema in Chalakudy. Soon, he was given the job of pasting posters in the town. “Later, I would travel from Kasaragod to Kanyakumari putting up posters all over the place,” he says. “Film producers would provide a van for the job.” In eight days, he would paste 15,000 posters. And he would sleep in cinema theatres along the way.

“In those days, I would be paid Rs 2 per poster,” he says. But over the years the rates have not gone up much. “I am getting Rs 2.15 per poster now,” he says. But Pradeep has to pay for the transport charges as well as the cost of buying the raw materials, to make the glue.

In the backyard of Pradeep’s house, near the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium at Kaloor, a container has been placed on a mud stove. It contains a milky white liquid. Pradeep is making the glue.

“It has a mix of flour, water, and a chemical powder,” he says, as he stirs the mixture with a ladle. “This powder prevents ants from walking all over the posters when they are pasted on the walls.” At the side, there are four plastic containers, all filled with glue. “Costs are going up,” he says. “I have to buy firewood also.”

Of course, putting posters on walls is unlawful. But Jose Mundadan, the secretary of the Film Distributors’ Association, which oversees the work of pasting posters, says, “Political parties do it. The Cochin Corporation does it, apart from various unions. So we see nothing wrong in what we are doing.”

As for Pradeep, he says, “I am talking to you very politely, but I don't know where you live. Tonight, who knows, I may be putting up a poster on your wall.” Then he gives a sly grin.

In Kochi, Pradeep usually pastes the posters of films shown in nine theatres: Padma, Shenoys, Little Shenoys, Sridhar, Savitha, Sangeetha, Saritha, Kavitha, and Kanoos. The busiest days are on Wednesday and Thursday, before the Friday release of the film. Interestingly, Pradeep does not see any of the films, despite seeing the posters all the time. “I am not interested in movies,” he says. “If I get a pass, I give it to my daughter.”

Meanwhile, he has had bad experiences. In 1998, Pradeep was getting ready to paste the posters of the Mohanlal-Mammooty film, 'Hariskrishnans' in Kodungaloor. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a group of young men emerged, with sticks in their hands. They pounced on Pradeep and beat him up. He pleaded with them to take some posters, which they did, and departed. “They were drunk,” he says. “So what could I do?” He pauses and says, “There is always a risk to work at night.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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