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?

Imperial Cinema, Mumbai

In Mumbai many old single-screen cinema halls have been shutting down regularly due to economic reasons. Historically the most important of these was Majestic cinema in Girgaon. This is ‘the’ most important theater in India, because country’s very first feature film, Raja Harishchandra made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke released in Majestic Cinema on May 3, 1913!

Not being able to patronize Majestic even once is my biggest loss. I feel bad today about being in the Majestic neighborhood for five years and not being able to visit it. It is like missing out on a most important chunk of cinematic history. In fact I have not had opportunities to visit so many other cinemas too in Mumbai. Now I do not want to miss a chance of seeing a movie in the surviving old theatres. More over renovation and multiplexisation of iconic Metro cinema has put me on alert.

In this mission titled ‘visit old theatres’ the list is very long. I decided to start with Imperial, an old beauty situated on Lamington Road near Grant Road station, Mumbai. Naaz and Swastik cinemas are its immediate neighbors. Naaz is very old too, but I have seen many films here. I could not make it to Swastik in time, though. Well, let us talk about what is in our hands, rather than fretting for what we have lost and will never get it back.

On Aug 22, 2006, I reached Imperial cinema around 3.00pm. Like Metro I did not come here to see a movie; but to see the theatre. The show timings here still have the same old schedule of 12.30pm, 3.30pm, 6.30m and 9.30pm. At the booking window my eyes widened with surprise at the price of the tickets. They were Rs. 20 for balcony and Rs. 15 for stalls. I felt as if ‘forward to the past’ has occurred to me. I was transported to an era of 70s. I got myself a balcony ticket for the film titled, ‘Murder Ka Nasha’, which when loosely translated into English would be ‘intoxication of murdering’. Well a close look at the poster of the film revealed that I was going to watch Basic Instinct-2, dubbed in Hindi.

There was enough time for me snoop around various corners and crevices of the old structure. The white marble steps leading to the balcony had become so smooth with over use that they felt like silk carpet under my shoes. There were so many parts in the architecture that were purely for beauty and had no practical use. But then a cinema hall has to be pleasing to the eyes and that’s what it was. This theatre is also called as ‘Haathiwala’ theatre, because in its compound there is a pair of life size concrete elephants overlooking a lane. The elephants are still in perfect shape, though a lot of structural area is damaged. The grass and moss is growing in the cracks, giving it an eerie look of a palace whose owner has no will or resources to maintain it. Although it is still a cinema hall in 2006, the settings are of a period film.

I entered the balcony. It looked very friendly and spacious. The seats were not modern; but comfortable. There were fans humming from the ceiling. In stalls too there were ceiling fans, as well fans on the walls. Observing every bit of detail, I took a seat under a fan. There were no seat numbers. The walls had pleasing molding designs. They had survived the time. The ceiling looked fine. The space itself neither was not too large to overwhelm you nor too cramped to make you feel claustrophobic. It was just right. Then my eyes fell at the back of the seat in front. Horrors! There was this very Indian ubiquitous patch of red splash. My knees nearly touched it! Without thinking I got up to find another seat. But I could not. All the seats had that symmetrical spit trade mark. Suddenly I started feeling all this amusing in place of irritating. I went back to the first seat. Slowly the seats started to fill up. I observed that finally about 100 people were in the balcony. Everyone sat separately. Everyone was male.

Lamington road is a business area dealing mainly in electronics and pirated music. Other most popular business here is prostitution. Yes I had noticed two dressed up elderly business women in the compound. After the movie started one of them walked in and went straight to a man sitting in an extreme corner. She spoke for a few moments and then walked away. It seemed to me that sitting in the corner may be a hint which this guy was not aware of. Basic Instinct is a very red light area film. But there were no whistles, no cat calls. Everyone was resting, making use of spare time or perhaps taking a nap. After all in today’s time if 20 bucks can get you 3 hours in a quiet place to relax, it is worth it. I also felt as if I was in a spiritual place where everyone had gathered to let go of their worries.

The intermission slide splashed on the screen. Suddenly I remembered that film ‘Taxi Driver’ made by Navketan, was premiered in this theatre… As my eyes panned away from screen, the walls and the moldings morphed into the period nearly 50 years back. Everything turned new. All the polish on the wood turned fresh. There were streamers hanging from the fans in place of cob-webs. The chairs were smooth and glossy. The crowd in the balcony had Dev Anand, director Chetan Anand, Kalpana Kartik, S D Burman, Talat Mehmood, Lata Mangeshkar, Johnny Walker and many more. They were all shaking hands excitedly and mingling with each other. Some held Coca Cola bottles, while others were being offered cups of tea and snacks. Some eager faces were peeping in from the door to get a glimpse of the super star Dev Anand. The interior of the Imperial cinema looked like a dressed up bride. Softly a band played ‘Jayen to Jayen Kahan’… With the notes of western music and Sharon Stone’s voice, the ambience slowly morphed back into the present. Intermission was over. As I had already seen the original version of this film, I decided to leave this Imperial theatre after touching the trunks of the elephants.


Baiscope, a basic machine that has still photographs in a roll and some synchronised music to it. The man rotates and handle to move the pictures. He sings or narrates the story along with the movement. In rural India this was joyous viewing for village kids. After nearly a century now it has been added as an exhibit in few places. This is in New Delhi’s ‘Dilli Haat’

Leopard in my Dream

Sometime back a dog in his playfulness scratched my arm with his tooth. It made a slight crack in the skin, so I was advised to take full course of five anti-rabies injections. After the course was over, a friend told me that now I am safe for next five years of any dog bites. In a humor I asked him, will the injections work if a lion bit me? Laughing aloud he said of course it will.

In Mumbai’s National Park there is supposedly a good leopard population, who keep venturing into their ‘No Entry’ areas quite often, in search of food. Generally small children and dogs get killed by the beasts; but most grownups who are attacked generally escape with some bites or missing pieces of flesh from their body. But of course attack by a leopard does shake anybody badly.

So, armed with the anti-rabies shots, I thought that meeting a leopard would not be a bad idea. If the animal attacked me, my name will definitely appear in newspapers and personally for me it would be a rare honor too… doesn’t matter if I survive to tell the story or not.

I can see, not many people are in agreement with me. Well, traveling thousands of miles at a great expense to climb the Everest is such an honor that is fraught with worse dangers. Quite a few climbers have not come back home to show the pictures of the summit and tell the story. I think it will be proportionately honorable and dangerous to meet a leopard nearer home and click his pictures leaping towards me. If I stay in my senses, ward off the leopard somehow and run away like a gazelle; I will be able to tell my story punctuated with related real pictures. Just like everybody whoever has climbed or even tried to climb that peak has gone into the record books. But then even leopard attacks are well covered by news channels that send each such encounter into record books and the person also gets frozen into the ocean of internet data for ever…

One day (night actually) with all this unrealistic rubbish in my mind, I went to sleep and dreamt of an ‘encounter of the real kind’ – with a leopard. Location is Mumbai’s ‘film city’ studios, night shift. I am shooting for a television program. It is raining. The scenes are being shot inside a running taxi. I am in the back seat recording sound. I have my headphones with a Beta-recorder by my side. The girl actor sitting on the other side of the seat is enacting her part. In a while due to change in camera position, there is a short break. I get out of the cramped space to stretch my legs and move a bit away to pee by the side of the road. As I am about to unzip for the act, a light-boy shouted from the back, ‘sir be careful, don’t go far. It is not safe at this time.’ It was past 2.00 am. I took the advice seriously and wanted to get back in a hurry. A light drizzle started. Rain drops were creating very soothing soft sounds hitting the soggy leafs. Instead of sharp clicks of ‘tup tup’, the drops fell with soft ‘dhub, dhub’. There is a thick cover of leafs in that dense forest. It is pitch dark ahead and I have no intention of straining my eyes. As I am about to zip up, I notice two small dots of faint light in the dark. In a moment they both vanished and then lit up again, together. Then they moved sideways, but together, retaining the distance between them. A shiver went through my spine. I kept my movements very slow and small and started retreating back keeping my eyes at those lights. The light dots simultaneously lowered towards the ground and moved forward. Now I was able to see the figure of a small leopard in the ‘service light’ provided for the shooting crew. In fright I turned back and ran towards the taxi. But I didn’t know that the taxi had been pushed back by a few meters. I took a swift turn and ran with long paces and grabbed the taxi handle. Silence of the night got shattered by an animal’s roar. Taxi door opened, I rushed in and as I was about to shut the door, the animal too managed to push its roaring face inside. I knew I had to hold the door tight and keep it pulled in with all my strength to keep the leopard out. It was a spotted leopard! His bare teeth and foul smell were inches away from my own face. I did not have enough time to slide further away on the seat as the girl and the recorder were there too. His roar in surround sound had scared the hell out of everyone. I could hear the girl’s squeak too in between. I was holding the door tight to keep the hungry leopard away from me. After a while for some reason, leopard started pulling away to release himself from this unfamiliar tangle. May be he was tired or his neck may have started hurting…

Gradually all the his sounds ceased and a faint regular breathing faded in. His face was not as ferocious now. Feeling easy and safer, I decided to do the most unthinkable. I touched leopard’s nose with my left hand. His ferocious face squirmed and rotated aggressively to bite my hand. But he was getting tired. So in a few moments again, very carefully, I touched him between his eyes as if it was a dog. He protested less this time. Encouraged, I started moving my hand on his face. His shut his mouth and looked at me with wonder in his eyes. Obviously he had never met a human so up close. I remembered there were some omelet sandwiches on the seat. I fumbled behind my back and found them. Slowly I took one near his mouth and released the pressure on his neck, just a little. He smelled it, looked away and then suddenly snapped and gobbled it up. It was the best thing that happened in my life. Seeing this scene, the girl passed some more which also were eaten up in no time. Everyone was quiet and stayed locked up in various vehicles. I gestured for more edible stuff, which was placed behind me by our adventurous spot boy named, Kutti from the half open window on the other side. Soon all the sandwiches were over, although I was sure my esteemed guest could have eaten a hundred more.
Now I was getting restless due to lack of distraction and entertainment for the leopard. I had made the grip on leopard’s neck quite loose so that he could eat comfortably. Now was the time to let him go. It was also the time that was full of risk, apprehension and perhaps loads of sadness. Just as final moments were approaching, I felt leopard’s face one last time. This time his head pushed my hand with affection to increase its pressure.

Meeting a leopard was the most valuable incidence of my entire life. I rolled my fingers on his head, between his eyes and on his ears. He was quiet. I released the pressure on the door. He pulled away a little and finally he was out. Now was the time to do the next right thing. There was enough space for the door to shut. And I did shut it. The animal was confused. I rolled my window down a bit and looked at him. He put his front legs on the door and stood on his hind legs. As I was about to put my hand out of the window, the girl screamed and pulled my hand away. The scream shocked the leopard and he sprinted off with a jerk. Somewhere an ignition key turned and a vehicle started with a rickety sound. I turned to see who this was. It was the camera van. I turned back swiftly, but the leopard had vanished. I could see no trace of him anywhere. There was darkness all around. I got off from the car and tried to search for those two dots of light, but could not…

I felt very sad that I could not go further in this relationship for so many reasons; but was extremely happy for whatever I achieved. We had to restart the shooting. Continuous sound of all the vehicles that scared the leopard was irritating me now…

A school bus was idling and revving outside my bedroom window. Kids were boarding the bus. I left my bed feeling fresh and happy and went out for a walk.

11.07.06

Time 6.24pm, date July 11, 2006, Western Railway trains and stations, Mumbai’s test in tolerance, patience, resilience and helpfulness, duration 11 min.

The first blast ripped the first class compartment of Churchgate-Borivli 6.00pm train at 6.24pm, near Khar station. About 15 people initially were reported to be admitted in hospitals. Soon the news of more blasts started pouring in and the death toll started moving up dramatically. In 11 minutes Mumbai’s life line endured 7 such massive explosions, on its trains and the stations. Other places where blasts occurred are Bandra, Jogeshwari, Mahim, Mira Road, Matunga and the last one Borivali at 6.35 pm. They say Borivali had two charges, out of which cops were able to defuse one. What it means is no mean thing. It means that in the sprawling platforms at the Borivali station the unsuspecting bag was noticed and identified by the cops, the bomb disposal squad called, explosives confirmed and then defused. In fact when I heard about this, I got a little hopeful of culprits getting caught soon. Because the cops could get some lead by finding the way the bomb was assembled, technology used and also if lucky they may be able to dust some finger prints off it. Sure enough the latest from the police is that they ‘may have some lead’. Mumbai Police is ‘one of the best in the world’, was observed by the famous Scotland Yard, many years back.

Any way the bad boys had done their home work well and chose the best time to do their black deeds. The time chosen was when the trains are so tightly packed that people like me would think of taking the next train. It has been understood that all the parcels fitted with explosive devices were placed in at the starting point, Churchgate itself.

It is not difficult to imagine how easy it is to leave a brief case or a gift with time-bombs on the top shelf and just wait outside casually, till the signal turns ‘go’. As the train starts to move, try to catch it but miss it, then walk out calmly and get dissolved into the streams of unsuspecting public.

My family’s brush with high voltage tension happened with my wife’s brother took the Churchgate-Borivli train from around the same ill fated time. His office confirmed that he left at 5.50pm. We were looking at the news channels all the time. He normally reaches home by 7.30pm; but he did not until 9.30pm. No telephone call from him made the situation very bad at home. As the time passed the tension multiplied many fold. To make it worse someone noticed a dead body resembling him. We were ready to go out to find him if he did not call, when he finally did a little after 9.30pm. He ultimately reached home safely around 10.30pm. He spent more than 4 hrs on his fateful return journey. And yes he was in the train that was just behind the blasted train at Matunga! All the passengers were asked to evacuate on the track, walk back to Dadar and head for the exit immediately. He had to walk from Dadar to Mahim (about 6KM) and from there finally someone gave him a lift in a traffic snarl, moving slower than a train of snails.

Next day he called us at 9.30am today to tell his powerful story. Can you believe he was calling from his office? That means he again got his usual 7.53 train from Andheri – just ‘the day after’! This is the spirit of a common Mumbaikar!

According to current reports, the death toll in the serial blasts has reached 190 plus with more than 700 injured.

Actually July 11, started with the blasts in Kashmir. Nearly 10 people lost their lives. The attack was aimed at the children and tourists. But when something happens far away from you, it does not affect you that strongly. It is like you don’t get the heat from a fire that may be blazing far away. Not for the reason of non-concern; but because there are no emotional strings with the location, environment or even people. Emotional concern and scare flares up as the people close to you, people of your city, your fellow travelers, trains or buses that you travel in are affected.

It is rather sad that most of us are not sensitive enough to get affected by the destructions else where; like in Gaza, Iraq, Serbia… but it can’t be helped, can it?

Mere Mehboob Studios

From the end of 1972 till 1985, Mehboob studios was my second (sometimes first) home. I was very friendly with entire staff, be it Raghu the canteen boy, assistants in music studio, camera attendants, lightmen. Kamil, the sound room in-charge was very close to me as we worked together for so many years. The sound recording section was a royal 1000 sqft space!
One day I asked Zahoor bhai (manager cum telephone board operator), ‘who would currently be the oldest employee of the studio?’ He said, ‘there is a lightman called Ganapat Rao’… I knew him well obviously. Next time Ganapat was passing by I stopped him and asked him to give me his autograph on my stupid telephone diary. I can not explain how shocked and elated he was… I normally I don’t wish to turn my clock back even by a day… but for such rare feelings.
Sometimes it makes me teary emotional… Khair, I got the real inner feel of those times. Can’t say it was enough; but thank goodness, to have walked the floor where Mehboob Khan, Raj Khosla, Dilip Kumar, Dev saab, Madhubala, Fali and Jal Mistry, Dwarka Divecha… created magical cinema. The realization is certainly fulfilling… Plz understand that even if I add hundreds of names from my own memory, it can never ever even nearly complete the list.

Capital Changes

it has not been raining well at all in mumbai this year. perhaps we mumbaikars are in for a shortage to sever shortage of water. there was already a news item in papers saying that “if the dry spell continues; there will be a water cut…”

it is only august right now. monsoon is still not over and if the cut come in force, one can imagine what to expect for the rest of the year. no, i am not scared. what can one achieve by getting scared or worried? nothing. so i will face it when it comes, whatever it may be. in fact i love it when there is no escape, no alternate and no way out. i don’t have to work on deciding or decoding the problem at hand to find its solution by using my lazy brain. if there is no rain so be it – let there be no rain.

recently i happen to meet four of my best enemies in a room. i felt they did not shake me up as they did last year. that time i had got disturbed even with their presence that was only expected. or to put it simply even with their absence.

i have also been so lazy in writing or blogging. in contrast i was so particular earlier. i used to feel terrible if i did not write at least 3-5 posts in a week! now not only i don’t write, i also don’t feel bad about it. things don’t remain the same. i have also changed or in other words i am also not the same, any more.

but it seems that things may be happening at a different (kind of deeper) level. but nothing is clear. i don’t even know if they are happening or i just have a feeling that they are happening. a kind of deep detachment/ disinterest has surfaced to things, to events. people i meet seem foggy in their presence, in what they say or do. as soon as they leave, they all dissolve and fade out – their faces, conversations, ideas.

it’s great to not bother about capital alphabets too.

13 Aug, 2015

Gautam and the Driver

The other day Gautam heard the story of someone taking a long walk in suburban Mumbai. He came to know how upset that poor guy was watching the condition of the pavements under his feet. It seemed to him that authorities have absolutely no empathy for the plight of the citizens, especially senior citizens. They are so vulnerable to trip and fall, hurting themselves seriously. And any fracture in that ripe age can ultimately result in his or her death…

Yesterday Gautam was coming home in an auto rickshaw. It was drizzling. He was thinking about that guy walker. Same sight was playing in front of him right now. People walking hurriedly holding their plastic bags in one hand and the umbrellas in the other but their eyes were focused on the ground. No one dared to look up straight and walk. They all had to be alert to all kinds of bumps, ups and downs, broken tiles etc on the surface right under their feet. The traffic signal had turned red at the last minute. There was going to be a fairly long wait now. Gautam decided to strike a conversation with the rickshaw driver. He does it often. In the bargain he often ends up getting enriched by experiences. So today too, internally a little playfully, but serious outwardly Gautam dragged the driver into a shockingly unlikely topic;

Gautam: If I should leave Mumbai, then where should I go? You have some place in mind?

It took quite a few seconds for the driver to register this strange topic. It certainly was very surprising for a passenger to talk about such deep personal problem to him. People mostly ask them about maps and routes or talk about driver’s village, their land, family etc. But this guy wasn’t a regular one.

Gautam continued: the roads and footpaths are so horrible here. I really feel that we are being given a raw deal by the authorities.

Driver: go to your village.

Gautam: I don’t have a village or a native place. My parents are no more and any ways they had sold everything. So, I have nowhere to go.

Driver: (looking away) go live with your children then.

Gautam: my children are here only.

Driver: then Mumbai only is fine. It is a good place.

Gautam: but look at the city.

Driver: sir, like that every place will have some or the other problem. You can’t keep running away from problems. The best city according to you will also have problems, may be of a different kind. But problems surely will be there.

Gautam: we are being treated like animals here. Can anyone think that our good money has been spent on making such horrible roads and footpaths?

Driver: (with surrender and finality in his tone) sir, as long as we live, problems will live with us. No one can run away from them.

Light turned green. He put the rickshaw in first gear and moved ahead with traffic. Gautam had earned his points.

(24 June 2013)

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