City Obituary – Film Poster Seller Shanky, Old Delhi
A life in cinema.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Lean and boyish, Old Delhi’s Shanky wasn’t famous like a Bollywood star, but was well known among the collectors of Bollywood memorabilia. He traded treasures for a bargain—once he even let go of a precious cinema ticket of the classic movie Mughal-e-Azam, when it first premiered in a Delhi theatre in the 1960s, for almost nothing. He died on 19 July due to “liver disease”. He was in his late 40s.
A factory supervisor’s son, Shanky was a collector of Hindi movie posters—original and reprints. Dabbling with photography swept him into his life’s calling. Film distributors who operated in small towns would come to his photo studio in Maujpur to get their cinema posters touched with glossy 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 started making trips to what he called the Bollywood Bazaar, in Mumbai’s Muhammed Ali Road. Within five years, Shanky became a key poster supplier to the city’s curio shops.
Every Sunday, he would set up his stall at Daryaganj’s book bazaar. The bigger treasure was in his one-room house in the Walled City. Some original posters that Shanky always showed to his guests were of classics such as Kagaz Ke Phool (1959), Ab Dilli Dur Nahin (1957), Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) and Raja Harishchandra (1913), India’s first full-length feature film. He also had movie catalogues (including of the 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 newspapers.
Shanky’s visiting card was printed with miniature posters of Sholay, Mother India and Mughal-e-Azam. His real name was Mohammed Suleman.
It is incredible that a man of modest means single-handedly built such an enviable collection of precious souvenirs over the years. Even more astonishing was Shanky’s generosity with these treasures. Sometimes, he would give them away for almost nothing because he liked the purchaser or sensed that the enthusiastic person genuinely couldn’t afford the quoted price.
Shanky has been buried in Dilli Gate graveyard. He is survived by his wife, Shahnaz, and three children. His elder son, Osama, 18, has taken over the business. “I feel sad about papa’s passing,” he says, “but I hope I can bring happiness to people as papa would do to his customers.”
Passing of a poster boy