The University of Pennsylvania Libraries has recently acquired a small collection of 71 pressbooks from the cinema industry in India centered around Mumbai. Pressbooks were promotional material created by film producers to market films. At at a time when most film companies did their own promotion, pressbooks were given to theatre owners by distributing agencies.
Hollywood pressbooks would usually contain information about material that the theatre owner could order to promote the movie, such as handbills, records for the music from the movie or published material. The pressbooks would showcase pictures of common movie posters that could be ordered.
Indian pressbooks were completely different. They contained no provisions to order promotional material, but carried content that was descriptive of the movie itself. The books usually contained a small synopsis of the plot, often in two or three languages, commonly English, Hindi, Urdu and sometimes a regional language like Gujarati, depending on the perceived audience for the movie. Since almost every movie was a musical, the lyrics to film-songs were a key feature of these booklets. On occasion, production stills were reproduced in these booklets.
Since the early 21st century, independent film theatres in India are being increasingly replaced by multiplexes, and such promotional material has lost its place; as online trailers and other electronic media are becoming popular vectors of promotion, pressbooks might soon be a thing of the past.
The pressbooks acquired by Penn are divided into two separate holdings that have been created as chronological categories: Pressbooks from 1929 to 1980 and Pressbooks from 1981-2003. These limits are determined by the numbers of books that the library has acquired, and their years of publication. The earliest book is that of a movie called Shahi Chor from 1929, and the last one was published for the movie The Hero in 2003.
There are several historically important and popular movies that are represented through the collection, which has There are several historically important and popular movies that are represented through the collection, which has critically acclaimed movies such as Lagaan (2001), debut movies for now established figures in the Mumbai film industry, such as Sanjay Dutt in Rocky (1981), and blockbusters such as Coolie (1983). Several other movies from this collection are important in the history of Indian stage and cinema. For example, the movie Indar Sabha (1932) was the cinematic version of an Urdu drama (considered the first complete Urdu play) written before 1853. This play was one of the canonical scripts for Parsi theater in Mumbai, and inspired Annasaheb Kirloskar to create the magical world of Marathi Natya Sangeet (operatic theatre). Ironically, the cinematization of these stage productions resulted in a decline of musical stage. The press-books are a primary source for graphic design, self-representation and the evolution of cinema across almost a century in the movie industry in Mumbai, and are useful in the study of several other cultural crafts and formations.