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Clever marketing and Bollywood

The Bollywood Hard-sell


Whether it's playing housie with housewives or spooking journos with fake ghosts, the Bollywood hype machine is in top gear.

All this month, Vidya Balan was busy promoting her latest movie Ghanchakkar. She came dressed in the most bizarre outfits - the kind that should get her stylist fired, if not fined. According to the film's director Raj Kumar Gupta, the colourful outfits were part of an artfully-planned publicity gimmick, designed to capture maximum eyeballs. "Vidya's character wears garish clothes in Ghanchakkar. We thought if she is in get-up at events it would add a touch of relatability, " Gupta says. "The idea was to stay true to the film and yet have a smart crack at marketing. " In another event, Gupta's marketing team invited housewives for a game of housie. And if the rain hadn't played spoilsport, Vidya would have hosted a kitty party, too.

Ghanchakkar is not the only film that leans on clever marketing. For their recent horror flick Ek Thi Daayan, producers Ekta Kapoor and Vishal Bhardwaj gave Mumbai's Film City a spooky makeover for a night event. Recalls a journalist, "It was pitch dark and we were being driven to the venue by car. There were some extras dressed as ghosts on trees. Suddenly, a female reporter saw a figure in white. After a brief moment of shock, she realised it was a gimmick. We had a good laugh about it. " Later, Ek Thi Daayan's hero Emraan Hashmi amused the media with magic tricks. Similarly, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai 2's trailer launch took place on a set resembling a Muslim mohalla while the makers of Aurangzeb held a press meet at a construction site to underscore the film's real estate theme. Then, there was the strikingly pregnant Vidya Balan of Kahaani searching for her missing husband at Khar railway station. During Raaz 3, Bipasha Basu distributed lemon and chillies - an old superstitious practice - among auto drivers while Abhishek Bachchan hawked tickets at a multiplex for Bol Bachchan.

Pretty much every Hindi film now relies on innovative marketing to attract wide audience. Top studio sparks and bright, MBAholding marketers who are driving the newage Bollywood hard-sell, feel that live events and long campaigns in the build-up to a film's release grab more eyeballs than oldfashioned print publicity. Much has changed since the game shifted to social media and other digital platforms. In a world of shrinking attention spans, only the visual experience lasts, Gupta says. "People live busy lives and unless you get them interested they are not going to buy tickets that easily, " he says. So how do you lure them? "You can't call a press conference and have the same routine - 'Can you tell us about the film?/ What is your role?' Instead, do a packed event in a mall and let your cast interact with the audience in an entertaining manner. Everyone has a good time and it ends with the audience remembering the event. Chances are they may actually go to see the film. "
That explains why studios, filmmakers, stars and marketers alike use ingenious tricks to persuade fans. All aggressive marketing is solely aimed at that much-abused trade term called 'the opening weekend'. "If you achieve that, " says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, "you have made it home".

By any measure, it was 2008's Ghajini that redefined Bollywood hype. A ubiquitous Aamir Khan carpet-bombed the market with his quirky ideas which included turning hairstylist for a day. With 3 Idiots, he took Brand Aamir to another level. Like his character Rancho, he went missing and was found in Benaras, disguised as an old man. Later, 3 Idiots out-grossed all previous blockbusters. Probably, Aamir's mantra seems quite close to Sydney Greenstreet's in The Hucksters. "Irritate them, " Greenstreet, a fastidious client, commands his ad agency. "Irritate, irritate, irritate, knock them dead, " he says, referring to American consumers.

Mahesh Bhatt who is often accused of being an unabashed self-promoter, quotes another famous refrain to make his case: "Giving twist to an Abraham Lincoln line, the Hollywood mogul Joseph E Levine said, 'You can fool all the people all the time if the advertising is right and the budget is big enough'. He believed that clever marketing can make even a mediocre film successful. "

Like Aamir, Bhatt gets deeply involved in marketing strategies of his films. For 2004's Murder, he instructed Mallika Sherawat to seduce the audience. "She made statements like, 'I am a Viagra'. It worked, " Bhatt says. These provocative remarks were deliberate. "The same was true of Jism where we emphasised lust, not love. "

Bhatt calls his small and medium-sized quickies "high concept, non-star cast films" that combine elements of noir, thriller and erotica. His approach to marketing changed after 2007's Awarapan, produced under his banner Vishesh Films. "Although a good film it got smothered by Himesh Reshammiya's Aap Kaa Surroor. That's when we realised you can make the best film but if you can't excite the audience it means nothing. " Bhatt decided to hit the reset button as far as marketing went. For instance, Aashiqui 2 was pitched to the family market, a constituency the Bhatts had overlooked since the 1990s. "Our first press release of Aashiqui 2 said it all - 'No nude is good news. '"

However, regardless of a film's advertising budget, Bhatt says the most effective buzz is word-of-mouth - an endorsement that usually comes at little or no cost. He says Arth and Saaransh, his critically-acclaimed early films, enjoyed upbeat press coverage.

"We showed Saaransh to journalists months in advance,"he says. "They liked the film and became its ambassadors. "

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