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Small wonders

Even as more big budget Bollywood films have tanked at the box office than succeeded so far in 2010, smaller budget films — some with no known star cast and mostly with storylines that break with stereotypical themes and formats — have done well. when small means big | Peepli [Live] makes a splash

mumbai Updated: Aug 30, 2010 01:23 IST
Rachit Vats

Even as more big budget Bollywood films have tanked at the box office than succeeded so far in 2010, smaller budget films — some with no known star cast and mostly with storylines that break with stereotypical themes and formats — have done well.

The runaway success of Peepli [Live], produced and promoted by Aamir Khan Productions and UTV Motion Pictures, underlines the coming of age of such films that are increasingly turning in successful runs at the box office and delivering quick returns on investments.

Armed with relevant content, producers of small budget films are religiously keeping firm control on costs, identifying their potential target groups, sprucing up distribution, and recovering costs and making a profits via theatrical and satellite rights.

Internationally, Paranormal Activity is one of the most successful examples of a low-budget movie delivering profits. Acquired by Paramount Pictures and made at a shoestring budget equivalent to Rs 7 lakh, the film worked primarily because of two reasons — its edgy, unexpected content and the ingenious marketing campaign.

Probably a similar inspiration is at work in Bollywood. Recent examples of smaller budget films such as Peepli [Live], I Hate Luv Storys, Udaan, Tere Bin Laden, and Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai are bringing in success. In fact, through a combination of theatrical and satellite rights, most such projects turn profitable even before release!

Peepli [Live], for instance, released on 750 screens in India and 100 screens in the international market and raked in over Rs 21 crore at the opening weekend of its release in the domestic market and Rs 3 crore overseas. Its satellite rights have been sold to Zee TV for an estimated Rs 10 crore.

“Content is king and more than a film’s budget, attention is paid to how much marketing spends are assigned to it. A small budget film may get a merited marketing campaign because of its content. So, the marketing strategy for all our films is different, but we do have a knack of exploiting smaller-budget films,” said Shikha Kapur, senior VP – marketing, UTV Motion Pictures.

UTV’s Udaan and Walkwater Media’s Tere Bin Laden saw similar success. Tere Bin Laden, made for around Rs 6 crore, grossed Rs 15 crore at the box office and earned Rs 3 crore from its music rights. These movies saw transparent marketing campaigns, telling viewers in advance what to expect.

While earlier, the industry spends would range anywhere between 10-50 per cent of the total cost of a movie on marketing, recently this sum has gone up, primarily because of the need to create more buzz. Media costs have gone up as well and filmmakers are using all media avenues available to them for promoting their films.

The annual number of releases of small films has gone up, along with the ticket prices. Consumers too have become more discerning. “Filmmakers are not shying from spending more. Nowadays, the film marketing starts much earlier. At the end of the day, though, a lot depends on the content. The film works only if the content is good. Viewers are looking for new content,” said Amod Mehra, trade analyst.

Earlier in March, Alt Entertainment, a Balaji Telefilms company, effectively recovered the cost for its ultra low-budget Love Sex Aur Dhokha. Marketing played a critical role in this. “While promoting the film, it is essential to stay true to the audience and tell them what the film is about. For LSD, we were clear about the product and its core target of the 15-35 years age group, which is looking for edgy content. The marketing budget was minuscule, but with digital media as a focus, we were able to connect with our audiences,” said Puneet Kinra, group CEO, Balaji Telefilms.

Peepli [Live] too saw smart marketing. With no known names or faces to talk of, the promoters decided to concentrate on the man behind the film, Aamir Khan, since his name’s big and he has an awesome reputation for delivering successful films. The film was aggressively promoted across the TV, print, radio and outdoor media and on reality shows on TV. Distribution and syndication were also given close attention in India and overseas.

“Marketing a smaller film is more difficult as the challenges are different. But if the formula is right, then the recovery happens faster,” said Amrita Pandey, senior VP, international distribution and syndication, UTV Motion Pictures. It’s not that all small-to-mid sized films are succeeding. It’s a Wonderful Afterlife failed to impact, as too the Darsheel Safary (of the Taare Zameen Par fame) centered Bumm Bumm Bole. Neither touched Rs 1 crore in their opening weekends.

UTV’s Shikha Kapur added that with small films, the marketing and promotion challenge was to find what could stand out or be tweaked to good effect — the storyline, the people in or behind the film, the characters or a character who could be built up, an event and other such methods to create the right buzz.

As low-budget films hit highs more frequently, most Fridays are seeing some low budget to mid-sized films hitting cinema screens along with the usual bigger fare. August 27 saw low-budgeters Hello Darling, Antardwand, Gumshuda, Madholal - Keep Walking and Soch Lo releasing at the box office. These films’ budgets range from Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 5 crore.