Serial Bus

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My Name is Singh, Rocket Singh!

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By the time I post this, Aamir Khan must have moved to another city of India. There is no telling whether it will be big or small, famous or obscure. A legion of his fans and curious onlookers await the fifth clue. Though Aamir calls it an Alternate Reality Game, what he is doing would be interesting by any other name too. And unprecedented. His bharat-darshan has raised film marketing to a new level. Though film-makers have long strived to create buzz around upcoming movies, never has it taken on the kind of aura as in recent times. It is high time that they instituted a Filmfare and an Oscar for Best Marketing of a Feature Film.

In India, film marketing has rapidly evolved from being informational to interactive. Until early nineties, plastering the walls of the town with the next Mithun-starrer was the only medium of giving everyone a heads-up, aside from trailers ahead of a show and music cassettes ahead of the release. Most of these posters were hand-painted and then, reprinted in millions of numbers. Then, they started printing posters with actual images from the films. Since they were mass produced for several cities, a crude note printed locally would be affixed somewhere on it that would tell the onlooker which cinema hall to go to: ‘Prem Mein, 20 May Se’ or ‘In Prem, 20th may onwards’.

When cable television began its astounding spread in early nineties, Zee TV began showing trailers of upcoming films on TV and countdowns of hit film numbers too. Other channels followed suit. When this became passe, Yash Chopra uniquely promoted DDLJ in 1995 through ‘Making of DDLJ’ on Doordarshan – a documentary-style short feature showing what went behind the scenes while filming the movie. People sat in front of their TV sets across the nation and watched Bollywood’s magic unfold. The impact was enough to provide a huge opening to the movie. Today, the ‘Making Of…’ features are staple for every production and major songs. Along side, every film worth its salt will have publicity tie-ups with a handful of TV channels, newspapers, FM radio stations as well as retail stores and consumer brands (product placement in reverse). In fact, the information feed to the audience begins even before a film is formally announced. A good example is ‘My Name is Khan’ – more than an year back, even before anyone shouted ‘Action’, the gossip sites were rife with how the first letter of Karan’s next opus was not ‘K’!! The first trailer came out yesterday – everyone’s bracing for a relentless winter of MNIK bombardment – so much that you will feel targeted and will drag yourself to the theater in Feb with the hope of being spared after withstanding what promises to be an unapologetic tearjerker!

In such a glut, how can one shine? In two ways, smarter dissemination of information and more interaction with the audience.

A great example of the former is ‘Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year’. A minimal marketing campaign preceded the release. Leveraging the goodwill enjoyed by the director-writer duo (Shimit Amin-Jaideep Sahni) and the popularity of Ranbir Kapoor, the main lead, the production house released a single photo of Ranbir in the garb of a sardar flanked by Shimit and Jaideep about 6 months before the movie was released. For the urbane crowd, that put the film in the reckoning. Then, cut the chase to the pre-release publicity. It was the first movie in several years that did not have what is understood to be a typical trailer i.e. a quick synopsis of the movie that showcases some major characters, a broad or a delicate hint of the story-line, some songs and some major scenes. Rocket Singh’s television marketing included just a teaser, a second teaser and a promotional song. The teasers had just Ranbir Kapoor, in his sardar character, breaking the fourth wall and making an honest pitch to the audiences to come see his film. No other characters were revealed and the song showcased ‘Pocket Mein Rocket’ is not even in the film. Yet, the strategy worked well and for the low budget production it might have been, I am sure it raked in enough to cover costs and then, some more.

However, such a campaign may be risky for a big-budget mega-starrer where millions are riding on a solid opening. Such films need an implicit commitment from the audience before the release date. The audience should not only note and remember the film, it should become so engaged with the product that it should begin to pseudo-own the success of the film. Their imaginations captured, the people should promise themselves that they will watch it first day first show because if they do not, ‘their’ film will do badly.

Paa excelled in embedding that kind of ‘pseudo-ownership’ among the movie-watchers. The subject of the movie was endearingly universal (a seemingly sensitive portrayal of a father-son relationship) with progeria being the elephant in the room. Amitabh’s stunning make-up was used to good effect to create an unprecedented buzz when they literally removed the carton covering his look in the film. Then, his monkey dance to a playful tune by Ilaiyaraja was shown to have become a national pastime when a documentary-style video feature showed people from all walks of life imitating his moves. There was a plenty of interaction with the potential audience through Amitabh’s blog, the film’s blog and evocative stories in the media about progeria. No wonder that people lined up to check out Paa. In fact, I felt such unity with the Bachchans that I have refrained from seeing it free of cost on the net, as I do not want to rob it of its rightful price.

Just when we thought Paa had raised the marketing bar, Aamir Khan came along and lifted the bar to an even higher notch for his upcoming ‘3 Idiots’. He has piqued everyone’s interest with his visits to Varanasi, Chanderi, Kolkata and now, Palanpur! Long before ‘3 Idiots’ is released, the audience has become part of the experience and is living it up every step of the way. In a curious case of life imitating art, it is no longer possible to tell if the audience is holding its breath for do-gooder film star or Rancho or a shabby fan of Dada or a paan-chewing Banarasi babu??!! With every moment we devote to Aamir’s latest adventures, we unwittingly and subconsciously become vested in the success of the film. With so much at stake, come Christmas, we must not let the film fail!


Written by serialbus

December 17, 2009 at 11:32 pm

One Response

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  1. Do you have an opinion of the film Bhoothnath? I really liked it when it first was released last summer. Based on what you’ve written on this site, I think you would like Bhootnath. Click here if you’d like to check out my site. Cheers!

    Tracee Hegre

    December 21, 2009 at 2:07 pm

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