Chapter 4
Cine Signs: The Semiotics of Chennai’s Cinema Banners

Banners and cutouts combine the power of the photographic image, magnified to gigantic proportions on mural-sized canvases, to evoke the memory (or promise) of filmic pleasure. This chapter theorizes the production and social impact of the charismatic star image, the primary subject matter of banner and cutout imagery.

The star image of Indian cinema is a hybrid with origins both in ancient, indigenous theories of theatrical performance and aesthetic appreciation, referred to by the Sanskrit term navarasa or nine basic emotions and in the western tradition of melodrama that developed from the late eighteenth century onwards. In an analysis of specific banner compositions and cutout portraits the author demonstrates the ways in which these two traditions of theater, rasa and melodrama, structure the connotational dimensions of the cinematic image – poses, gestures, expressions, and compositional layouts.

Cinema banners transferred images that signify “screen stardom” to the extra-cinematic realm of urban streets. This image transference, from screen to street, using banners and cutouts was a basic instrument of the social and commercial machinery of the Tamil film’s “star system,” that evolved to garner widespread popular recognition and intense appeal (i.e., stardom) for individual actors.



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