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The filmmakers' Diwali big bang theory

Now that filmmakers have discovered the power of marketing, does a Diwali release still hold meaning? It’s October 23. Three days left for one of the country’s biggest festivals – Diwali. Just a few days left for SRK, Hema Malini and Himesh Reshammiya, to learn once and for all if their movies will work.

bollywood Updated: Oct 22, 2011 17:47 IST
Kavita Devgan

It’s October 23. Three days left for one of the country’s biggest festivals – Diwali. Just a few days left for Shah Rukh Khan, star and producer of the mega budget Ra.One, Hema Malini, producer of Tell Me, O Khuda, the relaunch vehicle for her daughter Esha Deol, and Himesh Reshammiya, writer and star of Damadamm, to learn once and for all if their movies will work.

These three films are all Diwali releases. Though Shah Rukh has ensured that Ra.One will release on Diwali (a Wednesday), giving him five days to cash in on the festive feeling, the other two will release on Friday, two days after Diwali.

But in a time when filmmakers have discovered the power of marketing; when sources of entertainment are no longer restricted to cinema; and when the culture of short-break travel has taken hold, which means that every holiday is an opportunity for a trip out of the city, does a Diwali release still have any meaning?

SRK KareenaKhan-Do Attitude

Aamir Khan: The creator of creative marketing in Bollywood. Usually releases films around Christmas

Shah Rukh Khan: Earlier, he got by on charm. Now he pulls out all the stops. Usually releases films around Diwali

Salman Khan: Gets by on his persona. Sends reminders to his fan base that ‘The Boss Is Back’. Usually releases films around Eid promotion is the star.
Traditionally, a Diwali release is one of the biggest box office opportunities of the year for filmmakers. Provided the film works, it is always the biggest film of the year, not only in terms of audience appreciation (and a subsequent increase in the star’s power), but also in terms of the money it brings in. Because, or so goes the argument, it’s a huge festival so people are willing to spend money; they have holidays (or at least, are brimming with holiday spirit) so all shows can potentially run to full houses; and because of the festival and holiday spirit combination, the audience is hungry for entertainment that’s more entertaining than usual.

Naturally, the Diwali magic doesn’t always work. For every spectacular success, there’s been a spectacular flop (2007’s Saawariya and 2009’s Blue come to mind), but if a film works on Diwali, then it’s traditionally a blockbuster.

The key in this concept, however, is the word ‘traditionally’. Because, today, the size of a film’s collections does not necessarily depend on Diwali combined with star power and hype (though the holiday always helps). As Aamir Khan showed us in 2008 when he released Ghajini at the end of the year rather than race to release on the traditional occasion of Diwali, it’s the film – and the way it’s marketed that really matters.

Ghajini"With Ghajini (and subsequent movies like Peepli [Live], Delhi Belly and so on), Aamir demonstrated how an innovative marketing and promotion campaign can catapult any good film to box office heights," says Joy Ghoshal, director, Marching Ants Advertising, which specialises in film publicity. "He could have pitched the movie as ‘Aamir’s action film after decades’, but instead he went for an out-of-the-box, people-focused, interactive marketing approach, and the film benefited tremendously."

For Ghajini, if you recall, Aamir made his character’s hairstyle the film’s promotion star. To promote the film, ushers at theatres shaved their heads like Aamir’s character and young men all over the country followed suit. “The fact is that if the promotion is fun, it’ll work,” explains Ghoshal. “And the right way to do it is to stop taking your film very seriously, and understand that it is but an entertainment product – that needs to entertain.”

Other filmmakers took the Ghajini lesson to heart, as we’ve seen in the few years. For instance, for the release of the Ekta Kapoor-produced Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai last year, promos were shown on buses in Mumbai, and the winners of a contest travelled by bus along with the movie’s stars. “This kind of interaction with the public works very well,” says Gauri Sathe, marketing head at Balaji, Kapoor’s production company.

This year, for Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a film about three young men on a road trip in Spain, the producers, Excel Entertainment, organised a road show with the stars in which they drove from Mumbai to Delhi over four days, stopping en route at towns like Surat, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Udaipur and Jaipur. “The synergy between the marketing idea and the film was very innovative,” says Devika Shroff, head of marketing, Excel Entertainment. “The road show was like the movie content playing out live, so people got a real taste of what the movie was about.”

And when Prakash Jha released his Amitabh Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan starrer Aarakshan, about reservations in colleges, his company made much of the word ‘aarakshan’ (reservation), says Alankrita Shrivastava, head of marketing, Prakash Jha Productions. “Seats at the movie’s premiere were reserved using the word ‘aarakshan’, autorickshaws in Mumbai were plastered with the message ‘Yeh auto Amitabh Bachchan ke liye aarakshit hai’, and the cast of the film travelled to cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow and Bangalore to hold discussions in colleges which were later aired on Star News titled Aarakshan Par Maha Bahas.”

Small is beautiful
How low-budget films grabbed eyeballs?

Udaan: Words like ‘sex’, ‘future’, ‘friends’, ‘parental conflict’, ‘virginity’ were plastered on posters, making people curious, says Joy Ghoshal of Marching Ants Advertising

Yeh Saali Zindagi: Seeti-maar dialogues were made part of publicity, says Manu Rishi, the film’s dialogue writer

Dev.D: Premiere invitations were distributed within condoms, says the film’s director Anurag Kashyap.

LSD: Conversations about the film’s premise were initiated on tabloids / social networking sites, making it a talking point.

Chillar PartyChillar Party: Ranbir Kapoor did an item number, plus the producers organised a seminar with school principals in Mumbai. So people-focused was the approach that the cast of the film even took over Mumbai’s Welingkar College for a day, with Amitabh Bachchan as the guest principal, Deepika Padukone teaching dance, Saif Ali Khan and Shankar Mahadevan holding music workshops and Prateik sharing his talent for graffiti art. "Today, it is no longer enough to make a good film," says Prakash Jha. "It is imperative to engage the audience too."

Innovation’s the key
Engaging the audience is not necessarily enough though. As Aarakshan showed, even innovative promotions don’t ensure a massive hit. Which is why Shah Rukh Khan is going all the way for the release of Ra.One. Burned badly after the promotion of an earlier film, Billu Barber, sank amidst controversy, he’s taking every route he can to ensure Ra.One is a success. So not only is he banking on the traditional audience drawing power of Diwali, he’s also pumping up the other traditional draw – star power – by involving mega names like Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikanth in the film.

He’s also pushed himself to the limit, making guest appearances on practically every show on TV, and he’s attempting to push every possible button with his audience. “Once SRK relied on his charm alone to sell a film, but with Ra.One, he’s refusing to take any chances,” comments Ghoshal. So we’ve been blitzed by all kinds of promos, not only in the real world, but also online.

“Ra.One is the first Hindi movie to be promoted so extensively on digital platforms,” says Shailja Gupta, digital and merchandising head, Red Chillies Entertainment, Shah Rukh Khan’s production company. “For instance, we’ve partnered with Google to launch a custom built movie channel on YouTube for the film. This is the first customised channel of its kind for a Bollywood movie on YouTube and it hosts games and unique contests where participants get a chance to create Ra.One promos from clips, music and dialogues of the film.”

Other promotions include a Ra.One-based game on Sony Playstation, 36 lakh comic books featuring the characters being distributed, and about 50 products in the film’s merchandise.

“I feel the Ra.One team has a clear strategy,” says Ghoshal. “They are looking to pull in entire families and targeting the biggest opening to date. Remember: this is a special effects film, so he knows he can pull in families for early morning weekend shows, which is difficult to do with regular masala movies like, say, Ready and Dabangg.”

Getting on the road

Tell Me O KhudaFor Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a road trip movie, the producers organised a road show where the cast drove from Mumbai to Delhi in four days, making promotional stops en route.

No reason to fear
Given the lavishness of SRK’s media blitz, analysts like Ghoshal believe other filmmakers shouldn’t even try to take on Ra.One, but quietly release their work later. But it’s precisely because SRK is gambling on a five-day weekend to achieve Bollywood’s biggest opening yet, that Hema Malini was brave enough to schedule Tell Me, O Khuda for release at the same time. “People are not going to watch only one movie that weekend,” she said matter-of-factly in an interview elsewhere. And the same kind of thinking works for Himesh Reshammiya’s Damadamm.

From HT Brunch, October 23

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