The Biographical Dictionary of Delhi – Shanky, b. Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1968
The definitive directory of famous Delhiites.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Shanky’s is one of the more curious careers in Indian cinema. This son of a factory supervisor is as unknown as any acclaimed art house film. A collector of movie posters, he is a familiar face only among the high-end dealers of Bollywood’s premier kitsch art.
Shanky was a shop assistant at a footwear store in Old Delhi’s Ballimaran. Before that, he was a student at the madarsa in Chandni Chowk’s Fatehpuri Masjid. Dabbling with photography swept him into his life’s calling. Distributors of black and white films would come to his photo studio in Maujpur, east Delhi, to get their posters touched with flashy colours. In 2006, Shanky shut the studio, threw away his Nikon and jumped into the poster market. He would scavenge the collections of kabadi-wallas, who scavenged the throwaway raddi (waste) from Delhi’s old-money bungalows. He also started making regular trips to Bollywood Bazaar in Bombay’s Muhammed Ali Road. Five years later, Shanky became the key supplier to the poster sellers of Hauz Khas Village, a south Delhi neighbourhood famous for its curio shops selling old Hindi film posters. A store there sells you the poster of say, Sholay, a 1975 revenge drama, for Rs 1,500. Shanky sells the same for Rs 300.
Most Hindi films are over the top and that’s why they are popular. For the Golden Globe intellectuals, who swear by Satyajit Ray and Francois Truffaut, films like Sholay are symbols of mass-market mindlessness. These highbrow subscribers to Sight & Sound magazine could never sit through three hours of trash. Nevertheless, Hindi films are a great cultural phenomenon and if you want to understand India, you have to reckon with these. A snob could de-emotionalize these films and make them his own by artifying their tastelessness. That explains the fascination with Bollywood movie posters.
Every Sunday, Shanky sets up his stall at Daryaganj’s weekly book bazaar, on the pavement opposite the area’s police station. The bigger treasure lies on the fourth floor of Chitli Qabar’s Haveli Azam Khan, where Shanky’s 2,000 posters share a tiny one-room apartment with his wife and two sons. His newly married daughter, Tuba, visits him frequently. Lean and boyish, the father of three laughs easily.
Some posters that Shanky showed The Delhi Walla were of classics such as Kagaz ke Phool (1959), Ab Dilli Door Nahin (1957), Shatranj ke Khilari (1977) and Raja Harishchandra (1913), India’s first full-length feature film. He also has movie catalogues (including Bollywood adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with Mala Sinha as Ophelia), photographs of film stars (Mumtaz and Feroze Khan holding hands in swim suits) and a scrapbook filled with film-related news cuttings from newspaper supplements.
Shanky’s visiting card is printed with miniature posters of Sholay, Mother India and Mughal-e-Azam. His real name is Mohammed Suleman. “I introduce myself to customers as Shanky because giving off your Muslim name is risky,” he says. “People may shoo me off.” Shanky’s older son, born after 9/11, is named Osama.
Contact Shanky for posters 9211-291823