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?

Page from the Past

Mr. Dev Anand (Dev saab) huge Indian actor, producer, director expired on December 3, 2011 in London.

He died in his sleep due to a massive heart attack (as reported).

Many people in Mumbai’s film circle, knew about my 12 year long association with him and Navketan. Here are some of the condolences messages from my family and friends:

(PS: please do not bother about the spellings and spaces etc. i have retained them as it is.)

G S Bhaskar: Sir, joining you in prayers for Devsaab, the rarest of rare gems. You are fortunate to be associated with Navketan with with that wonderful humanbeing. Pranam. -bhaskar G. S.

(Reply: Thanks Bhaskar. He got such glowing tributes from all over. Take care)

J R Kamble: DEEPEST CONDOLENCE . DEV SAAB IS MO MORE… He lived in DES AND DIED IN PARDES. I saw DES PARDES IN DES -BOMBAY AND PARDES – SINGAPORE. I saw his last in FTII.

(ReplyL)

Pranav Mehta: Mama. I am sorry on the demise of Dev Anand ji. It is a great loss to the country.

(Reply: Thanks pranav, I’m feeling very sad, after years. Happy to shed a few tears)

Meera Bhardwaj: Dev anandji’s death mst hv jogd sevral memoris.

(Reply: Yes Meera. Feeling very upset, choked, sometime tearful 😦

Apy: hey Arun. personal nostalgia must b flooding,

(Reply: Yes it is)

Prashant Desai: May the soul of Dev Anand rest in peace. V wil miss u Devsaab

(Reply: Yes prashant true)

KK Jaisawal: So sad… Dev saab is no more

(Reply: Yes i m very upset)

Indu: Dev uncle died this morning in london

(Reply: Yes came to know thanks, very sad)

Hersh Kohli: Uncle Dev died of heart attack in London

Tarun Hriday: Hope u r abreast Dev Anand dies in London. 2011 witnessed a lot of deaths from field of art n culture n films. One more coincidence kalika arriving today only. Tarun

(Reply: Yes Munna strangely your sms was first, then Hersh. I just spoke to him… I am feeling very sad. I knew the time was ripe. But i am happy that i felt choked and tearful for him)

Wrote to Amit: Feeling like crying…extremely sad

(His reply: Dev Saab: Eternal!)

During shooting of Ishq Ishq Ishq, 1974

Reviving Immortality

This is dedicated to a person having practically no significance in the glittering world of cinema. I would not claim him to be a great friend of mine too. He had much more important and closer friends in his life. Late Prabhu Dayal or Prabhuji, was fairly senior to me. In fact on paper Prabhuji is not even as someone totally ‘down under’ kind of guy. He acted in a few films like Hum Dono, CID, and House No 44… and also assisted in direction in early Navketan movies like Tere Ghar Ke Samne, Kala Pani, Gambler, Farar… I am happy to say that if you Google, ‘Prabhu Dayal’, you will not go empty handed. IMDb too has a page on him.

Well, I decided to write about Prabhuji, because a five years old incidence got suddenly refreshed in my mind. But before I talk about that incidence itself, I will have to project a long flashback sequence…

I met Prabhuji in 1974 when I came back from Nepal after the shooting of film, ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’. Soon I became a Navketan man and started regularly visiting their office in Khira Nagar on S V Road, Santacruz. Prabhuji would also drop in once in awhile, have a cup of tea, make some loud noises with his old colleagues like Gogi Anand, Vishwa, Sehdev, accountants Raman and Mr. Pisharodi and then leave. Prabhuji’s professional association with Navketan was over much before I joined them. Physically he was a very thin and scrawny looking person. He was bald, had a boney face, sunken teeth and a hooked nose. The veins in his arms seemed embossed extra high. He might have been very athletic in his younger days. He always walked in with a lot of energy and spoke in a loud and energetic voice. In conversations he used a fair amount of bad words but he did it almost poetically, without meaning any of it.

Inside his head he carried an amazing collection of English quotes, Urdu shayari and Farsi (Persian) poetry. On every occasion he had something profound to render. Being a fan of Sher-o-Shayari myself, I liked him immediately. He would narrate an entire Nazm or Ghazal (Matla to Maqta) in Farsi or in chaste Urdu without a hitch. Such was his memory and knowledge of both the languages. The more I did not understand those poems, the more I was impressed by him. After he would finish the narration, his lips would curl in a way that said ‘isn’t that deep?’ Among us all perhaps Gogi Anand was the only person who got some hang of all that.

Gradually I came to know that his wife Uma, was one of Dev Saab’s nieces. I thought that made him an insider in the camp. As a newcomer, I was impressed by anyone who had an easy access to Dev Saab. And Prabhuji was one of those few who could just fling open boss’s room to say ‘hi and bye’.

One fine day there was no shooting and Prabhuji had casually walked into the office. He saw many pretty young girls (wannabe actresses) perched on the brown wooden benches in famous long Navketan passage to meet someone; or anyone who was involved in casting. They were all well dressed and were there for one obvious reason, ‘for getting a chance to face the camera’ in a Dev Anand movie! Prabhuji pushed open the ‘Production’ cabin. He found many young guys, assistants in production and direction chatting away loudly. I too was one of them. He asked us to shut up with a harmless swear word. Then he said, ‘what is wrong with you all Navketan men? So many young girls are waiting outside and you men are happily chatting here like women? Have you all lost your virility? What has happened to this film company?’ He looked up and mourned. Then he stretched out his left arm towards us and ended his outburst with a ‘you all are no men, shame on you all’, before walking out. That was Prabhuji in his elements…

Some years later, I too got married to a girl in the periphery of that family. After which he became very nice to me and started treating me as a younger family member. He had a daughter, Abu. He doted on her. In fact she was the only bright patch in his life; everything else was dark and pointed south. Soon he started keeping unwell and thus stayed home. For years he received a small supporting pension like amount from Navketan office and some of his bro-in-laws too contributed for his survival.

One day his Abu suddenly fell very sick and soon died. She was a young girl of about 20 or so. This shattered Prabhuji down to the core. I met him during one of those bleak days. He hesitated to talk to me, to avoid getting choked with emotions. Another day, I saw him chewing a ‘paan’ in 4-Bunglow area. He was so weak that he could not stand straight due to that mild tobacco’s intoxication. He walked away with unsteady steps. I felt he was justified to intoxicate himself to cover up the huge mound of sadness that had become a part of his weightless personality…

Later I learnt that he lost his eyesight and soon, his hearing.

It is not hard to imagine, how a man must feel when there is total blankness around him. No picture, no sound! No communication. There was no one to say anything with a touch. Situation was, ‘someone has to guide your hand to a plate and you eat, puts a glass in your hand and you drink’. But how many people’s touch could he recognize? Except for his wife, no one was in touch with him anyway.

Now, I am at the point when I am ready to write that, which made me start writing this, to start with. One day I was coming from the market when I saw Prabhuji sitting outside a shop right under his home. He was sitting there, may be for fresh air. But I was really happy to see him. Very warmly I said ‘hello Prabhuji, how are you?’… There was no answer. I placed my hands on his knees and sat down in front of him and spoke again. He kept his hands on mine, but did not react. Then I remembered about the loss of his hearing and blindness. I got up and stepped back in order to gauge what else I could do in order to communicate. My head was not working. I kept looking at his face and noticed his eyes well up slowly. Suddenly I realized that there would be no man poorer than him at that moment. I walked off before my own face got wet…

This is the incident that crossed my mind last week and in a flash I had the solution to that day’s problem, although way, too late. I could have communicated with him… by writing my message on his palm with my finger! I could have told him my name! He had not lost his speech, so he might have replied. He needed to have a conversation with someone; with anyone and at that time I could have conversed with him. But my brains had deserted me that day.

I would imagine that meeting between us, as one of my most intense moments of my life. No dialogues, no communication, no looks; just a situation that could not be overcome. Maybe there is no reason for anyone to remember Prabhuji, think or talk about him; fondly or otherwise. He might not be a material worth remembering or worth giving a thought to; but I am so happy to have written this piece. After all everyone is entitled to some years of immortality after death. This is my sincere effort to inject immortality in the nameless and weightless soul that was, Prabhuji.