This Puja, Kolkata not on billboard high

By Anurag Dey, IANS,

Kolkata : Every year when Durga Puja lights up the scene on the ground, up there, city hoardings tell a story of their own. This time, though, the industry estimated to be worth Rs.250 crore in West Bengal has taken a hit due to new rules to clear the Kolkata skyline.

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Zip through the streets during festival times, and staring down at you are billboards with witty one-liners, colourful images, selling an idea or a product with a little help from the mother goddess.

But these are conspicuous by their absence in the city’s central areas and near heritage buildings this Durga Puja, being celebrated since Sunday.

Ruchhita Kazaria of Aarcee Enterprises said hoarding rentals are down by 60-70 percent this time, as billboards are banned in almost all the central areas or near and on heritage buildings.

“The hoarding industry in the state is estimated to be worth Rs.250 crore annually. The government decision will affect the livelihood of not less than five lakh people, which includes agency people, the fabricators of hoardings, billboard painters and so on, while the approximate loss to the industry will be Rs.60-70 crore,” said Kazaria.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, whose government came to power in May this year, had ordered the civic bosses to free the skyline of the city’s heritage zone by pulling down billboards, and ordered the Kolkata Municipal Corporation to prepare a plan of action for regulating commercial hoardings.

“Before the order, the city hub at Esplanade would be resplendant with hoardings, but now these have been removed. Companies have moved to other modes,” said Kazaria.

Kajori Mukherjee of Envisage Advertising told IANS: “The ban was a bolt from the blue. We had already taken orders from clients. Though it’s hard to quantify the loss, it is around 40 to 45 percent. Also the clients have now moved on to other modes, which is a big concern for us.”

City dwellers often watch out for these delightful billboards at festival time.

“Maa Durga just commented on your status, use us to connect to her”! This smart promotional is by an internet service provider.

The hoardings are a source of entertainment if one has an eye for it. A mobile promotional reads “Flaunt the fire in you”. Next to it is an antacid promotional which says “Douse the fire with…’!

“There is a mad rush for renting billboards before Puja and the bookings start as early as June. With each passing day, the rent multiplies and the bookings are over usually within August,” said Girish Poddar of Ad Square, an outdoor advertising agency.

Puja organisers have also put up hoardings across the city, advertising their marquees.

One such hoarding reads “Dekhte hobey noile pichiay porte hobey” (Watch it or lag behind). The catchy line is a take-off on a popular vernacular daily punchline – “Porte hoey noiley pichiay porte hoey” (read it, or else lag behind).

Goddess Durga seems omnipresent as the majority of hoardings carry her depiction with the words “Sarodia Subhechcha” or “Autumnal Greetings”.

As one speeds out of the city limits, the hoardings multiply not only in numbers but also in size.

Sudip Ganguly of Accord Advertising says: “The price range is eccentric in Bengal and the rental per month may vary from Rs.700 to Rs.200,000 and above.”

Several Bengali TV channels have put up large hoardings at various city intersections, conveying to the people seasonal greetings and displaying various Puja themed shows they would be telecasting.

However, the West Bengal government’s decision to make certain areas of the city free of hoardings has dealt a big blow to advertisers.

“We have been hit hard by the ban. The loss is around 40 percent,” said Ajay Biswas of AsmitAd.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at [email protected])