In India, till the mid seventies, cinema lobby cards played a crucial role as a medium for popularising and marketing of films in addition to newspaper advertisements, hoardings, posters, and song booklets. Being part of film advertisements, lobby cards were 11-by-14-inch mini-posters carrying photographic stills of the film. Typically issued as a set of eight or twelve by the publicity departments of the film studios, each print featured a different scene from the film, giving a sense of the story line and credits. Lobby cards were displayed in foyers and lobbies of cinema houses to inform prospective audiences about the upcoming films or films currently on display.
The earliest known lobby cards date back to 1908, produced in Hollywood, when they were part of the advertising material provided by the film companies to theatre owners. These cards were sepia or duo-tinted, smaller cards (8-by-10 inches) displayed on easels next to the box office window or in the cinema lobbies. Initially, lobby cards were developed as silver gelatin photographic stills and slowly they also started to be printed using the Rotogravure process which led to the prints having brown and white shades. This process made the cards more durable than the photographic stocks on which movie stills were developed. As with time, photographic printing techniques and movie marketing became more evolved and lobby cards underwent a new makeover. They grew bigger in size, became more elaborated and were imaginatively designed. To convey the mood of the film, designed borders, hand-tinted subjects and colours were added to the cards to turn them into ‘artworks’, which turned out to be a fusion of poster art and photography. Being vital to the process of commercial film advertising, lobby photos employed the aesthetic vocabulary within the photographic compositions that reflected the values, ideas and politics of the socio-cultural environments in which they were produced. Even though the exact date of the origin of lobby cards in Bollywood is unknown, the earliest examples of lobby cards of films which exist today belong to the decades of 1930s or 40s sch as for Devdas (1935), Achhut Kanya (1936) and Ram Bhakt Hanuman (1945) etc.
Film studios often employed some of the best photographers and art designers to produce designed lobby cards which narrated few film scenes with montage-like effects. Designed to make the ‘stars’ and the ‘genre’ of the film familiar to a wider public, lobby cards were also used to announce the name of the director, producer, lyricist, music-director and featured actors of the film. Since lobby cards often used a singular image of the stars and had the potential to turn celebrity faces or upcoming stars into dominant ‘icons’ of the times, hundreds of photographic stills in multiple film costumes, postures and locations were shot before making the final selection for the set of final lobby cards. Unlike the film posters, the distribution and circulation of the exclusive lobby cards were carefully monitored by the film studios, prior to the release of the film.