Back in 2013 I wrote about a poster for Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers
that appeared to be knitted out of wool
. It turned out, in fact, to be a piece of digital ingenuity, though no less impressive or charming for that. But I recently came across this poster for Raam Reddy’s Locarno-winning film Thithi
, whose artwork, it turns out, is
actually embroidered by hand.
, which played at New Directors/New Films in New York this past spring, is a wonderful portrait of four generations of men and the community that surrounds them in the Karnatakan province of Southern India. The idea of having a poster embroidered by hand by a team of local artisans fits perfectly with the communal generosity of the film (which has the feel of a sun-baked Ealing Comedy). The poster features the majestic, grizzled head of Gadappa, the wily, peripatetic, devil-may-care senior, whose 101-year-old father, known as Century Gowda, is seen in the astonishing opening scene of the film sitting on the side of the road, crudely berating every passer-by before keeling over and expiring. Daniel Kasman, writing for the Notebook from Locarno
, where the film won the award for Best First Feature, called Thithi
“funny, humane, and seemingly effortless” and said that “this young director [Reddy is only 26] has coaxed from a massive cast and a specific setting a great deal of character, an evocation of a locality and its society, and wrapped it all in a Renoirian understanding of human behavior. ”
I got in touch with the designer, Juhi Agarwal, to find out more about this unique design. Reddy had wanted the poster “to be something hand built like a tapestry to complement the film.” Though Agarwal, who was fresh out of art school (she graduated from the Sristhi School of Art Design and Technology in Bengaluru) had never designed a movie poster before, her final diploma project had been a beautiful, hand-crafted textile book with hand-stitched illustrations based on her conversations with women from Kolkata. Reddy found his ideal artist through this project and she became the film’s chief graphic designer.
She told me about the process of making the poster.
The artwork for the poster was first made like a digital painting and then printed on fabric. Getting the digital painting correct took us a long time. It was key to get the expression right, we wanted an all-knowing Mona Lisa smile. The colour blue and the calm wisdom of it representing Gadappa, with the yellow being a symbol for the warmth and energy of the film, was another aspect we struggled with. After being satisfied with these things we printed the painting on various fabrics.
The printed fabric then served a base for the whole embroidering process. The digital painting was done by me and the stitching by the various embroidery artists I worked with. I would sit with them through each stitch. It was a unique experience for the embroiderers because they had never done this kind of work before, it was almost like painting. The hair was another huge challenge we faced. The hair had to be the correct texture and not too much or too little. From the thickness of the thread to the way it would stitch on that particular fabric, all of that made a huge difference to how it ended up looking.
The whole process took a little over 3 months and was done in parts in Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru. This was a freelance project and I would work on it after office hours. The face was embroidered in Delhi, the hair in Kolkata and the eyes and over finishing in Bengaluru.
Once it was over, the fabric was scanned, enhanced a bit digitally and then printed as a poster.
The film is in the Kannada language, which has a beautiful, distinctive rounded script which makes for an even more beautiful poster than the English version above.
And there was a second poster made—this time incorporating embroidery with photographs—using all the characters from the film. (Complete with Francis Ford Coppola pull quote.)
Above: Director Raam Reddy, fourth from left, with cast and crew and the finished poster.
Above: Designer Juhi Agarwal with billboard versions of her collage poster.
Many, many thanks to Juhi for her generosity with these photos and her time. You can see more of her work here