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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Branding Bollywood

Foreign luxury brands are making a beeline for Indian mind space through Hindi films, says Kanika Gahlaut.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 02:29 IST
Kanika Gahlaut
Kanika Gahlaut

In the late 1990s, Karan Johar’s brand of slick urban filmmaking — as opposed to Sooraj Barjatya’s outlandish costumes in Hum Aapke Hain Koun! — introduced Indian audiences to brands such as DKNY and Polo Sport in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

In the mid-2000s, it’s regular to see Amitabh Bachchan walk out of an airport in classic slow motion in Ek Ajnabee, carrying a Louis Vuitton briefcase. Saif Ali Khan is suave with a Louis Vuitton bag in Kal Ho Na Ho one moment and displaying bratishness in Calvin Klein chaddis in Salaam Namaste the next. As mass films get more luxury brand conscious, it is no longer uncommon to see the camera lingering longingly on the Moet and Chandon label at a celebration scene in Sanjay Gupta’s Zinda, Priety Zinta create Australian chic in Von Dutch hotpants in Salaam Namaste or Abhishek Bachchan draw attention to his Breitling watch when he fiddles with his cuffs in Bluffmaster.

Except now, as more brands bombard the market, it is a two-way traffic. It is not just the stylist going to Hong Kong to pick up foreign brands to make his actor seem more slick, as in the days of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but also the brand actively seeking out films that will suit their profile. For example, months before Christian Dior announced their entry in India, their representatives were in Mumbai, searching for product placement opportunities in Hindi films.

Tag Heuer has done a product placement with its brand ambassador Shah Rukh in Farhan Akhtar’s upcoming Don, where the watch plays a role in the screenplay.

Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna has a tie-up with Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, with Amisha Patel wearing the brand (the publicity adds for good measure that Amisha also privately owns many Louis Vuitton bags). Says Tikka Shatrujit Singh, advisor, Louis Vuitton: “Bollywood has changed dramatically and designers like Manish Malhotra are dressing up actors in a sophisticated way, which gives us an opportunity to use our product in the films.” He adds: “It was a given when we came to India that we would use Bollywood a vehicle, as it is transforming the way the world looks at India.”

Movies are not strangers to product positioning. Hollywood uses brands in films, which is beneficial for brand. This was a point conceded by Bonnie Thakar, the representative for Jimmy Choo (also entering India by the year-end) at the recent Hindustan Times Luxury Conference — the shoe-brand is seen in iconic shows such as Sex and the City and the film In her Shoes, currently running in theatres.

Even Bollywood has been familiar with product placement of late, with agencies dealing in what is now a full-fledged business. From cola bottles to mouth fresheners and jewellery, there has been talk about the sums of money exchanged for a product used in a Hindi film.

However, Bollywood’s affair with foreign luxury brands is more recent.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was a turning point. Fake Tommy Hilfiger T-shirts flooded fashion streets after the movie’s release much before the brand itself came to India. When the brand finally launched in India two years ago, Tommy Hilfiger confessed he was surprised by the Indian market’s familiarity with the brand — he credited Shah Rukh Khan for having inadvertently done him a service, by wearing Tommy t-shirts in the film.

So it was only a matter of time before foreign brands identified Bollywood, with its traditional mass appeal and its modern slick production and styling, as the backdrop for their entry to India.

Johar, sitting back bemusedly as the brands vie for his attention, says: “It is a function of the change in the look of Indian cinema, and also of marketing heads realising how impressionable Bollywood is on the Indian psyche, and how what actors wear is emulated across the country.” Of his own role in the trend, he says it was accidental. “When Manish (Malhotra) and I went shopping abroad for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, we didn’t think about what we had started. I only used Tommy Hilfiger because we wanted to introduce colour back into Hindi cinema, not in a garish way as it was being used, but more aesthetically. In those days, we found Tommy Hilfiger had a very colourful line out and we used that — we had no intention of advertising the brand, people in India did not even know of these labels at that time. Of course since then a certain brand consciousness has entered films, but even then we didn’t know what it would lead to,” he says.

The deal with Louis Vuitton and some Christian Dior products for Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna is not a monetary one, maintains Johar. It is a two-way pact, where both are happy to use each other as they lend each other prestige value. However, the director is not shy of drawing the line. “A little is a lot on screen and I am careful not to scream monograms, it is only obvious to those who are already aware of the product would recognise it for what it is.”

The brand reserves equal right to discernment. While films like Ek Ajnabee have also used Louis Vuitton, the brand has actively sought to “build bridges” only with Johar’s films, such as Kal Ho Na Ho and now, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Says Payal Johar, on behalf of LVMH jewellery and watches: “It’s a marriage of two luxury products — we see LVMH as a leading luxury conglomerate with no close second, and Karan Johar being in a similar position in his field.”

Adds Tikka Shatrujit Singh: “We choose a film for the director who we feel will do justice, as also the actor and actress who we think will compliment the brand.”