Neither bereft of wealth nor suffering a want, yet film celebrities nowadays hop, step and jump across television studios, radio stations and newspaper offices “begging” everyone to see their new film. Possibly, you could also find these “poor workers” gracing college campuses or waltzing through malls and bazaars with fervent pleas to crowds to watch their latest movie.
In stark contrast to yesteryears, present day celebrities “invade” our private abodes with folded hands, emotionally blackmailing the consumers into buying tickets of their fresh cinematic creation. If they remind some of pesky insurance agents, the assumptions are not too far off the mark!
Like puritans deride T20 cricket as pajama circus, veteran film practitioners too find these attempts to woo audiences as inane buffoonery. Though these new age calisthenics cost a fortune, yet there is no proof that the returns on investment commensurate with the expenses made on stalwarts. Nevertheless, this form of film advertisement is now well entrenched in Bollywood but looking to the fate of “Bombay Velvet”, “Thugs of Hindostan”, “Zero”, “Welcome to New York” and “Namaste England”, it is evident that costly marketing campaigns alone cannot ensure box office successes!
Except where a quid pro quo is involved, filmmakers pay TV channels or production houses, radio stations and print media for various publicity and marketing related interactions. Apart from taking a sizeable fee for their appearances, well established stars also get payments for costumes, travel and various other related fees. In fact, apart from remuneration for acting, stars nowadays stipulate specific charges in contracts to promote a new release.
Filmmaking has always been a crown of thorns and distribution too an ordeal but now the promotion of a new film is a gargantuan circus! Unlike earlier times, film publicity nowadays requires enormous fortitude, patience and deep pockets. While the usual movie hall trailers, street posters, hoardings and newspaper ads still hold good, the fad is exclusive interviews on TV, radio and newspapers, social campaigns and brand endorsements alongside corporate inaugurations, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook linked campaigns, web chats as well as participation in reality show contests. But the question is whether all these really help bring in audiences to the movie theatres?
In a recent conversation with this writer, noted filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt opined that in an era of miniscule attention spans, everyone seeks to “grab eyeballs of the consumer” since “only that sells which is seen”. As films are now produced in gross numbers like factory-finished goods, such promotions are intended to make a film’s name heard in the market place. But what is preposterous is that nearly 20%-25% of a film budget is now spent upon its promotion and big banners spend nearly ten to fifteen crores of rupees on publicity and promotion.
With unhealthy cartels also stifling the exhibition arena, the misery of small filmmakers is compounded since they need at least Rs2 crore to just push their films in public gaze. A strange paradox that though many small budget films get made within a Rs3 crore budget, yet they need a much higher spend to remind the audiences of their existence!
What a far cry from the earlier times when film advertising was a simple ritual.
Once the release date was decided, illustrators would be assigned to design a few posters of the film. Carrying pictures and names of the leading actors, the posters would also include names of prominent contributors to the creative content of the film. Thereafter, producers would print several thousand posters of the impending film and send them to various territories for display at strategic places.
Additionally, big producers would also book 15-minute slots on Radio Ceylon (now Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) or Vividh Bharati to unravel major songs and dialogues of the film. However, the most popular manner of publicity was to deploy local “vocalists” in every town who would then go around in cycle rickshaws, Tongas (horse carriages) and autos, fitted with battery operated loud speakers, announcing the virtues of an impending film. Since most films drew strength from their songs, the local anchors would also play the film’s songs via turntable in between their high-pitched announcements.
The above description may look quite primitive and pathetic to modern audiences, yet they effectively drew people to cinema halls, ensuring silver and golden jubilee runs for many movies. Of course, the old world formulae of a few thousand rupees cannot be applied today, nevertheless, what is certainly questionable is whether the modern cacophonic tricks are delivering qualitative and quantitative results to the spenders?
To me personally, the various marketing and promotional events now reek of hackneyed routines that are extremely annoying and insulting to basic intelligence.
The older stars had an aura since they were not so frequently visible and hence, audiences looked forward to their new releases.
The overdose of modern celebrities hanging everywhere from social media to consumer advertising and cricket matches to political rallies is offending in more ways than one and the sooner film stars realise that familiarity breeds contempt, the better it would be for them and their industry.
Producers too must pay greater attention to story content rather than marketing gimmicks of "begging bowls" as probably, just a couple of enthralling trailers on media platforms could arouse massive public interest.
Hollywood films are now making a huge dent in Indian box office collections despite little awareness of the lives of their stars in smaller towns of our nation.
Perhaps there is a lesson to learn for Indian filmmakers that a good product never fails to impact and the praise by word of mouth is a greater surety of success than all the publicity stunts of marketing!
(Deepak Mahaan is a well-known Documentary Film Maker, Writer and Commentator).