Let’s not play any more of these games, says Anupama Chopra
I’m part of the Bollywood publicity machinery. I routinely interview artistes before their film releases. In most cases, I haven’t seen the film so it’s a bit like chatting with a chef about how delicious his or her food is, without having tasted it. I try and delve into their process. The artistes — actors and directors — summon all the passion they can and usually insist that their most recent work is their best film, or most challenging role. Occasionally, we manage to unearth some new insight into their craft.
In the last few years, this standard Q&A format has increasingly been replaced by games. So instead of discussing the film at hand, the journalist makes the artiste play some sort of game. A YouTube search throws up the following — Sara Ali Khan playing What If (she is asked: What if Kartik Aaryan asked you out?). Tiger Shroff and Shraddha Kapoor playing Charades. Alia Bhatt playing Never Have I Ever (she admits that she has told her father Mahesh Bhatt that she’s had enough gyaan for the day).
Sara Ali Khan and Ranveer Singh playing Who’s Most Likely To. One particularly inane one has Kartik Aaryan and Kriti Sanon reacting to each other’s outfits — each one swipes through the other’s looks on an iPad and says, “Cool”. Kriti also plays Never Have I Ever with Varun Dhawan and we discover that while he has fantasised about having an older partner, she hasn’t. Even Shah Rukh Khan, perhaps the most articulate and charming interviewee in Bollywood, is playing Charades in an interview.
These games are often ‘inspired by’ Western talk shows — Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres, James Corden and others. The idea is to place the celebrity in an unfamiliar situation and hope that they will bare something new about themselves, something that hasn’t already been revealed on their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds.
This is the real struggle of film journalists today — artistes willingly tell us so much about their lives (a highly curated version, of course) that we need to find ways to dig deeper. Unlike in the West, we aren’t shown films before the interviews, so games seem like a great solution — the outcome is unpredictable and they have the potential to go viral, which is top priority.
But here’s the issue — most of it is neither original nor engaging. Most of us don’t have the luxury of expensive sets that will make the games look like more fun than they are. We don’t have the same comfort level with the artistes. So a lot of the content is tired and sloppy with guests straining to be funny. Or looking exhausted as they go through one more round of games with the ninth journalist interviewing them that day.
A leading Bollywood publicist told me that for a film’s release, they routinely deal with between 250 and 300 outlets (15 to 20 English publications, 150 English websites, and 75 to 80 platforms in Hindi and other languages). This doesn’t include influencers and bloggers. It’s not surprising that artistes frequently say the promotion process is more arduous than making the film.
Is it all even effective? Is the game-playing and revealing what’s in your bag bringing audiences to the theatres and leading to box office numbers? I have no idea. I suspect a stellar trailer does more for a film’s opening day than anything else can. Perhaps it’s time to rethink Bollywood promotions. There must be a smarter way of doing this.