Movie Marketing Trends

On 5th of March 2007, I was invited to attend a media event called Media Mantra at the S.N.D.T. Women’s University, Mumbai. It was organized by students of Post Graduate Diploma in Communication and Media. The theme of the discussion was ticklishly titled, “Minting moolahs…telling stories’. In the light of International Women’s Day, screening of film “Dor” was a part of the program too. I was keen to watch the film a second time within two weeks. May be it says something about quality of the film.
But what I learnt from all the “Minting moolahs…’ discussions was that a good film maker is going to be a looser in all this jungle of moolah making hyenas. At one point I felt so discouraged that I thought that Bollywood may not be a place for original, creative and clean film makers, any more. If stars are considered to be the only saviors of a movie and not the script and cinematic qualities of that film, then this may be the right time for me to quit this business. Here salaries of the top stars dictate terms. Bulk of production cost is spent on them and that has to be recovered, somehow. Examples of Don (I call it the first remix-movie) by producer/director Farhan Akhtar and Dhoom 2 by director Sanjay Gadhvi and producer, Aditya Chopra were taken up as case study. A very young Mr. Tarun Tripathi, marketing head YRF, enlightened us with kind of schemes he planned through the SMS campaigns and other ‘meet the stars’ lures to get the youth to spend their money. And thus a lot of money was recovered not from the box office of film, but indirectly from the cell phone wielding Indian youth. Another speaker (a PR person) told us that they were given the promotional campaign for Dhoom 2. She said they used the lure of Yamaha bikes as prize and other ‘products’ connected with film to excite and bring people in. As usual the winning prize was for a ‘randomly selected person by computer’. Right now it is difficult to fathom that when will the unsuspecting nouveau riche learn? They will; may be a bit slowly. Sadly the reactions of my friends, who watched Don and Dhoom2 were, not better than ‘OK, can be seen once, not good, fights are good, FX are good, earlier one was better, Hritik is good, I liked a song etc.’ Most of such films are recommended in fragments and not in totality.
Thankfully to take up the other side the panel took up cases of films like Iqbal, Maqbool and My Brother Nikhil. Mr. Tarun Tripathi agreed that these films constituted; what we call as good cinema. But in spite of that they did not make money. In fact the only film out of these three that ‘just about recovered its cost was Iqbal’, pointed out Mr. Tripathi. The audience reactions to all the three movies were totally positive. Everyone recommended all the three films in totality highlighting various points like acting, cinematography, dialogues, authenticity of scenes etc.
This gives a tragic turn to the Bollywood film production scene. Good films are not being backed by marketing agencies due to absence of big stars. Also these producers can not afford to hire a PR agency. The cost of the hiring a PR agency is not built-in, in the budget of such films. If it were, then the film becomes wholly unviable to start with. Cost of the film and the cost of marketing get too disproportionate. They don’t make sense. But they do make sense for high budget films like Dhoom2 or Don (remixed).
Too many complications and contradictions crop up in trying to untangle out of the haze of this maze. Some films are expensive due to the cost of just one or may be 3 stars in such a film. But this film is being produced, because everyone hopes that it will make money. They think it will make money because it has very popular stars, who are capable of attracting the audiences into the theatres. It is believed that because of stars the film is going to get a good ‘initial’ or the ‘opening’. In other words first week of its release will definitely go houseful. Now another grueling act that the production team gets into is to make nearly 600 or more prints for such a film’s release. Producers release that many prints with a belief that star’s gravitational attraction will pull the audiences into the theatre, making the film recover its cost faster. And why do you think that cost must be recovered fast? It is so because they are not sure of it really. In fact they are all white faced with fear. Suppose if someone says something about the film which does not go in its favor…?
Take a look at this reality: As the end credit roll starts, people turn away from the screen and start walking out from the packed cinema hall. As they step out into the brighter side, they are faced with a camera and a petite young girl holding out a microphone with a news channel insignia. PYT is finding it hard to balance herself due to pushes from the surge of crowd. But she is smiling because she is excited with her job. She extends the microphone towards your friendly face and asks ‘what do you think?’ and you blurt out something. A bunch of ‘blurts’ or ‘sound bites’ like this can be packed together and morphed into a very dangerous bomb on a editing table. Reputation and plans of entire production and distribution team of a 50 crore film can be wiped out clean by dropping this bomb through the loud mouth idiot sitting respectfully in every living room. Hmmm doesn’t the game look very scary now?
The film makers and friends of Iqbal, Maqbool and My Brother Nikhil were very positive about their product. These movies were made with good scripts and cinematic commitment, while in the other (bigger) case everyone was shivering in their pants right from take off. They were falling on branding– like bikes and other products in film scenes. Is that film making? Films are now products. They have to be viable. Not necessary that they have to be cinematic too. Now there are no more good old reliable film distributors left, who developed a lasting relationship with production houses. At some stage of completion the film would be shown to distributor to get any convincing feed backs from him. After sorting that, the film would be delivered to distributor, who would transfer the money to the producer and would start working on prints and publicity designs. But now to release a film the producer only has to shell out money for the prints as well as the publicity. So each film has to have the cost of prints and publicity included in its original budget.
Who is backing whom and why? Who is earning moolah and how? Why so much risk is being taken to back the horses whose perform is doubted (600 prints!) from the start? And why are people backing out from backing sturdy, strongly scripted and dependable horses?
Is it not lesser of a challenge and risk to back a good film costing 5 whatever; than to back a remix version costing 50 whatever? Does not take long to discover, does it?

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