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From Hand-Made to Digital: A Study of the Aesthetic Evolution of Lollywood Posters in the CAP Archive

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Authored by Haya Faruqui - Citizens Archive of Pakistan
Published on 2nd May, 2024 18 min read

From Hand-Made to Digital: A Study of the Aesthetic Evolution of Lollywood Posters in the CAP Archive

On 7 August 1948, as Pakistan approached its first year of independence, the nation marked the dawn of its cinematic journey. While still building its own identity, Pakistan took its first step into the realm of cinema through the production of its inaugural film, Teri Yaad (Urdu for “Your Memory”). The film ran for five weeks on cinema screens, laying the foundation for the pioneering film landscape that was to come. It paved the way for what was known as the “Golden Age of Pakistani Cinema”—a period characterised by creativity, charismatic performances, and timeless storytelling. While numerous scholars have delved into Lollywood's artistic contribution to Pakistan's history by utilising the country’s cinematic pieces and scripts, the study of this history via the static medium of posters remains limited.1 Yet this area holds significant historical and artistic interest. It should be incorporated into the canon of visual culture scholarship so as to better understand the aesthetic sensibilities of Lollywood films, the changing audience tastes, and the shifting cultural landscape of Pakistan.

In a time without digital advertisements, Lollywood posters played a pivotal role, serving as the primary tool for film promotion. Pasted outside cinema halls, these posters were tasked with the arduous job of conveying the genre, mood, and essence of the film, thereby functioning as a visual gateway to the cinematic experience that followed. 

A visual history documenting the aesthetic evolution of these Lollywood posters is preserved within The Citizens Archive of Pakistan’s (CAP) digital archive. This collection, which contains over a hundred film posters, allows one to investigate visual culture during the advent and apogee of Lollywood. It serves as a vital resource for the study of the evolving patterns and aesthetics of film posters. With only a few individuals actively engaged in preserving, documenting, or archiving these materials, maintaining a visual repository of this kind is crucial. Through close study of a sample of three posters from CAP's extensive collection, this article will explore the impact of developing print technologies and means of production on the changing visual features of Lollywood posters from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The origins of poster-making for Pakistani cinema date back to the 1930s, with the establishment as a distinct profession in this field in British India. During this time, large studios began commissioning artists to transpose their creativity and craft onto a poster that captured the essence of their film. These artists, mostly self-taught, practised under senior figures before establishing their own careers.They were tasked with the challenge of effectively presenting themes, elements, and emotions within the limited canvas of a poster, while simultaneously enticing their audience to visit a cinema and view Lollywood's cinematic productions. Their resulting works served as the trailers of that time—a key visual for generating an audience for any film. Similar to the role of film trailers today, these posters aimed to highlight the main actors, convey the genre and tone of the film, and give a preview of its storyline. This was achieved through the strategic placement, sizing, and spacing of characters and elements, allowing viewers to piece together information to grasp the thematic purview and narrative of the film. The colour choice, font, and complementary text were also pivotal in terms of reflecting the tone of the film. Granted the creative freedom to amalgamate these elements, artists were made responsible for providing enough information to evoke curiosity among the viewers, which could only be abated upon watching the film.

Following the release of one film in 1948 and six in 1949, along with the ban on Bollywood films in Pakistan in 1954, Lollywood gained momentum in producing films, with Karachi and Dhaka (modern day Bangladesh) joining Lahore in establishing themselves as production centres. By the late 1950s, the industry had witnessed the release of a staggering total of 33 films, inevitably increasing the demand for artists to create associated posters.3 These artworks, initially hand-painted on canvas, served as design references to create prints on low-cost papers.4 As the reception of films relied heavily upon the circulation of posters, the method of lithographic printing was employed to aid the process. They were produced by drawing directly on stone or metal plates. After undergoing multiple chemical processes and passes with an ink roller, they were transferred onto paper. This process was first introduced in India in the late nineteenth century. Yet existing scholarship regarding its integration into Lollywood film promotion lacks breadth.

Poster for Intezar (1956). Image source: CAP.The lithographic print created to promote the film Intezar (Urdu for “The Awaiting”), which was released in 1956, provides a preview of the film. The poster successfully highlights the main character, reveals the film’s genre, and provides the audience with a glimpse into its storyline. In the foreground, occupying the majority of the frame, is a portrait of the character Nimmi, portrayed by Noor Jehan, a renowned Pakistani singer and actress. By experimenting with proportions and placement, the main character becomes the epicentre of a viewer’s attention. This practice of focusing on the main characters in film posters was common during this time, with other scenes from the film illustrated in the background.Behind the protagonist, Nimmi stands with a lantern, with its light stark against the blue backdrop, symbolically representing the absence of natural light and suggesting Nimmi's quest for something. Towards the right, a shadowed figure stands on a path leading to a house further away, situated in a mountainous region. This is suggestive of what Nimmi is in search of. The choice of colours used in this poster leads one to the conclusion that conveying emotion took precedence over depicting reality. Furthermore, the extensive use of blue, complemented by tears dripping down Nimmi's face, conveys tones of melancholy, while the shadowed figure in the background evokes curiosity and implies mystery. The title of the film, Intezar, translates to “wait”, and by piecing together the visual elements across the poster, the purveyor can assume the narrative that follows. The artist's success in capturing the essential plot can be appreciated upon watching the film, which begins and ends in the mountains, following Nimmi's tragic love story and her prolonged struggle to find her lost love amidst personal sacrifices and societal deceptions.

In the following years—the so-called “Golden Age of Pakistani Cinema”—the number of Lollywood films released grew rapidly, leading to an increase in the demand for posters, as well as a shift in their methods of production. In the 1960’s, Packages Limited and Pakistan Times Press introduced off-set lithography, resulting in a decline in the use of stone lithography.6 Advancing on the previous technique, this new method, also known as off-set printing, allowed for the process of colour separation and transferring to take place mechanically, resulting in faster prints and sharper quality. Initially used for the reproduction of hand-painted posters, they nevertheless sparked a movement towards composite forms relying on both hand-made and digital prints, before ultimately precipitating the decline of hand-made posters as a practice.Poster for Badnam (1966). Image source: CAP. During this period, Lollywood posters underwent noticeable changes in their design sensibilities, as evidenced by the poster for the film Badnam (Urdu for “Disgraced”), which was released in 1966. The introduction of print technology led to the exploration of colours, compositions, and printing techniques. The promotional material for Badnam embraces the developing technology of digital prints, while integrating it with the traditional use of hand-painted posters. Certain elements of the poster adhere to the aesthetics of earlier years, such as the colour choice, quality of brushstrokes, and the importance given to the main characters and their placement on the posters. This poster marks a shift in the visual quality of such posters, however, through the overlaying of printed images and the use of a dramatic colour palette, creating vivid, dream-like compositions. In this poster, the protagonist Dino, portrayed by Allahuddin, a Pakistani Lollywood film actor, occupies a significant space at the centre of the frame. He is painted in shades of black, blue, and red, thereby blending in with the globe placed next to him and mirroring the space surrounding him. Conversely, Hameeda, played by Nabila, a veteran Pakistani film actress, is situated at the bottom left. She is portrayed in comparatively vibrant colours, which contrast with the colours deployed throughout the rest of the poster. The placement and significance given to the globe suggest its importance in the film. This is once again verified upon watching it. It is also worth highlighting how the smaller pieces of jewellery suspended in orbs around Dino hint at the film's adaptation of a story titled Jhumke (bell-shaped pendant earrings) by Saadat Hasan Manto, a prominent author and playwright.Poster for Akhri Qatal (1989). Image source: CAP.From composite techniques to complete reliance on digital technology, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed an even greater shift in the methods of promotional poster-making, resulting in a drastic change in their visual characteristics. This is exemplified by the poster for Akhri Qatal (Urdu for “The Last Murder”), which was released in 1989. Lollywood posters from this time evidence experimentation, such as the incorporation of collages and montages to offer viewers glimpses into various aspects of the film. In the poster for Akhri Qatal, there is an evident movement towards highlighting select cinematic moments, thereby capturing the multiple facets within the storyline. With less attention paid to illustrating large portraits of lead characters, more emphasis has been placed on different scenes within the film, with their prominence on the poster being proportionate to their level of appeal to audiences. This can be seen by studying the poster for Akhri Qatal in conjunction with the film itself. A key element of this poster is the inclusion of stills from dance sequences. Importantly, all the songs performed in the film carried undertones of seduction and were enacted by female actors. Such forms of entertainment played a significant role in attracting viewers by subjecting the women depicted to male desires.7 Film posters of this era often emphasised such scenes to entice audiences, as is evident in the poster for Akhri Qatal. Despite the film revolving primarily around a narrative of crime and justice, with several dance sequences included to enhance viewer engagement, the poster strategically places a still from the dance sequence in the foreground while pushing scenes more directly related to the film's plot to the background. This illustrates that Lollywood posters from this era prioritised designs and compositions based on audience appeal rather than accurately conveying the storyline and genre. Yet despite the changing preferences with regard to poster content, the significance of colour choice remains constant. The contrast between the two halves of the poster for Akhri Qatal can be deciphered as depictions of gender roles: the blue-hued background alludes to tropes of masculinity and confrontation, whilst the pink harks to femininity and romance. Another observation can be made here: although the use of cameras to capture characters in stills somewhat restricts the opportunity for experimenting with colour to depict their individual traits, the deliberate choice to feature characters in their costumes, coupled with the strategic use of colour in the background, effectively establishes the tone of the scenes within the film. While diverging from the methods employed in the previous decades, Akhri Qatal exemplifies the utilisation of modern techniques in order to engage audiences while also providing them with glimpses into the film.

Analysing the pictorial elements and artistic choices on posters is undoubtedly crucial when it comes to understanding the evolving trends in film advertising. Yet the accompanying texts, which likewise play a vital role in promoting the depicted films, should not be overlooked. From Intezar to Akhri Qatal, a movement towards bolder experimentation, evident in the font choice for the titles, is noticeable. Intezar is titled in a simple, straightforward typeface. Akhri Qatal, on the other hand, plays with proportion and perspective, using a louder, more daring style of font. Additionally, the use of both Urdu and Roman Urdu in presenting the titles for the three films analysed in this essay is interesting to note, with Roman Urdu dominant during the earlier years, and Urdu gaining prominence with time. This development can be understood through the ideas of marginalisation and backgrounding, which can be analysed through the font size, placement, and colour choice of the titles.8 The Roman Urdu titles for both Intezar and Badnam exemplify the idea of backgrounding through the smaller font size and colour choice, making the two blend in with their respective poster’s colours, and providing sources of contrast in relation to their starker, bolder, and larger Roman Urdu counterparts. The positioning for Intezar’s Urdu title also reflects the notion of marginalisation—it has been pushed to the top right of the poster, while the Roman Urdu title sits centrally on the bottom of the frame, spanning its entire width. While Intezar uses marginalisation, and both Badnam and Intezar use backgrounding, the poster for Akhri Qatal balances the presence of both the titles through the occupation of equivalent space on the poster and through the choice of positioning. Here, the Urdu title is arguably given more importance as a result of its enhanced visibility through a bold, black outline. It should likewise be noted that the credit blocks on all three posters are exclusively written in English. The use of English script can be attributed to various factors, including the ease of printing in English, an attempt to appeal to a diverse audience, the visual clarity of the English language, or an endeavour to convey a sense of modernity by invoking Western ideals and sensibilities. That said, more and more importance was given to Urdu throughout the decades surveyed in this essay. Thus, a steady reclamation of the language can be observed. 

Analysis of visual and textual elements on Lollywood posters not only reveals aesthetic trends resulting from advancing technologies, but also deeper socio-cultural dynamics at play, reflecting the evolving linguistic and visual landscape of Pakistani cinema over the decades. The timeline explored in this essay (c.1950s–1980s) reveals a gradual shift from hand-painted posters to digital designs. Throughout these decades one can likewise observe the introduction of additional components in the posters, all of which fed into the kitsch aesthetic that audiences found appealing. With the evolution of print technology, the focus on the cultural and artistic significance of Lollywood posters evidently began to diminish, with an increasing importance given to facilitating cheaper and more efficient means of production. While the transition resulted in job losses for artists specialising in hand-painted posters, it has also presented opportunities for adapting to these advancements. This is evidenced in an oral history interview that CAP conducted with Faiz Rahi, a veteran Pakistani artist, in November 2018.9 “Some boys have learned this work with me”, as Faiz informed us.10 He went on to explain how other artists 

went into the commercial line [of work], [and] some are still practising, but very few are practising because there’s no work. Now basically, one’s livelihood is in God’s hands. So after that, the panaflex was introduced, and since I was educated, I thought that instead of working a job, it’s better to preserve this line of work, so I taught my son graphic design.11

Despite the decline in his career as a film billboard artist, Rahi has found alternative means of earning through other forms of handwork. He has also encouraged his son to pursue graphic design and to enter a similar field, while adapting to technological changes and newer forms of art. The visual journey of Lollywood posters has generated opportunities for growth, but also moments of loss in terms of artistic expression and mediums. At times, this journey has likewise been characterised by the emergence of new artistic techniques. When navigating these shifts and the wider factors that prompted them, it becomes imperative to acknowledge the gap in existing literature on this topic. Consequently, archiving and exploring posters from Pakistan’s film industries can be a source of artistic inspiration. This process allows us to look into a history that bears the burden of having been neglected within the context of South Asia's larger canon of visual cultures.


[1] Ali Khan and Ali Nobil Ahmad, Cinema and Society: Film and Social Change in Pakistan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Ali Nobil Ahmad, “Explorations into Pakistani Cinema: introduction,” Screen 57, no 4 (Winter 2016): 468–479”; Iftikhar Dadi, Lahore Cinema: Between Realism and Fable (Seattle: University of Washington Press).

[2] Ali Khan, “Pakistani Film Poster Art,” Bioscope: South Asian Screen Studies 5, no. 2 (July 2014): 183–190.

[3] Ali Khan and Ali Nobil Ahmad, “From Zinda Laash to Zibahkhana: Violence and Horror in Pakistani Cinema,” Third Text 24, no. 1 (2010): 149–161.

[4] Ranjani Mazumdar, “The Bombay Film Poster: The Journey from the Street to the Museum,” Film International 4 (2003): 13–18.

[5] Saima Zaidi, “Aina Mirror: Publicity Design as a Reflection of Lollywood Film Content,” in Mazaar, Bazaar: Design and Visual Culture in Pakistan, ed. Saima Zaidi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[6] Rabia Mehmood, “Out by Royal Park, the ‘soul’ of Film Lays Dying,” The Express Tribune, 10 May 2012, available at

[7] Waheed Chaudhry, Zara Shehzad, and Anwaar Mohyuddin, “Women Body Exposure as an Entertainment in Pakistani Films: A Synoptic Survey of Cinemas in Rawalpindi,” Journal of Gender and Social Issues 13, no.2 (2014): 70–89.

[8] Jamil Asghar, Zahid Yousaf, and Arshid Ali, “The Roman Conquest of Urdu in Pakistani Movie Posters: A Study of the Cannibalistic Politics of Transliteration,” Pakistani Journal of Languages and Translation Studies 7, no. 1 (2019): 79–100.

[9] Faiz Rahi, interviewed by The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, 25 November 2018.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. 


Ahmad, Ali Nobil. “Explorations into Pakistani Cinema: Introduction.” Screen 57, no. 4 (December 2016): 468–79. 

Asghar, Jamil, Zahid Yousaf, and Arshid Ali. “The Roman Conquest of Urdu in Pakistani Movie Posters: A Study of the Cannibalistic Politics of Transliteration.” Pakistan Journal of Languages and Translation Studies, no. 7, no.1 (June 2019): 79–98.

Chaudhry, Waheed, Zara Shehzad, and Anwaar Mohyuddin. “Women Body Exposure as an Entertainment in Pakistani Films: A Synoptic Survey of Cinemas in Rawalpindi.” Biannual Journal of Gender and Social Issues 13, no. 2 (2014): 69–89.

Dadi, Iftikhar. Lahore Cinema: Between Realism and Fable. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2022).

Khan, Ali. “Pakistani Film Poster Art.” BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies 5, no. 2 (July 2014): 183–90.  

Khan, Ali, and Ali Nobil Ahmad. Cinema and Society: Film and Social Change in Pakistan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Khan, Ali, and Ali Nobil Ahmad. “From Zinda Laash to Zibahkhana: Violence and Horror in Pakistani Cinema.” Third Text 24, no. 1 (January 2010): 149–61.  

Mazumdar, Ranjani. “The Bombay Film Poster: The Journey from the Street to the Museum.” Film International 1, no. 4 (April, 2003): 13–18. 

Mehmood, Rabia. “Out by Royal Park, the ‘soul’ of Film Lays Dying,” The Express Tribune, 10 May 2012, available at

Rahi, Faiz, interviewed by The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, 25 November 2018.

Zaidi, Hasan. “Aina Mirror: Publicity Design as a Reflection of Lollywood Film Content.” In Mazaar, Bazaar: Design and Visual Culture in Pakistan, edited by Saima Zaidi. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Authored by Haya Faruqui - Citizens Archive of Pakistan

Haya Faruqui - Citizens Archive of Pakistan

Haya Faruqui is the Archivist at The Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP). CAP is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to cultural and historical preservation in Pakistan, with global outreach. CAP’s digital archive houses one of the most unique selections of photography and oral histories on South Asia. To reach out to CAP, please email

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