How Not to Promote a Movie (IANS Column: B-Town)

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What exactly is going on in the film industry in Mumbai? A feeling of uncertainty prevails. There is a general nervousness and lack of confidence. The bigger the film to be released, the more confusion arises between directors, exhibitors and others concerned.

This situation has prevailed since before the pandemic and only amplified after the reopening of the industry after the confinement. Movies fail to attract audiences. The films of the biggest stars are rejected. What is worrying is that these films are rejected en masse, without even having the privilege of the initial public who flocked to the cinemas for any film with big stars.

It would be understandable for a movie to fail because of bad word of mouth. Many viewers decide whether or not to watch a movie after getting ratings reports. But that hasn’t happened recently.

Film critics (if such a tribe exists in India) have become the first line of defense for failed films. Not only do they not accept the fact, but they try to find excuses on behalf of filmmakers and stars. Some of them said that ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ and ‘Raksha Bandhan’ failed because they were bad films. And, to think that most of those so-called critics had rated both films with four stars each!

What is happening lately is that instead of having fun watching a movie at the cinema, people, internet users, are having fun at the expense of movies and filmmakers. They are hunted down mercilessly.

The latest subject of ridicule in social media is the movie “Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva”. The film stars Amitabh Bachchan, Nagarjuna, Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. As with many other Hindi films, social media groups have taken a strong stance against the film. And there are plenty of takers for such groups and the position they take! Those connected with the movies were silent for a while. Instead, they come out with statements that get the trolls started.

Case in point is multiplex chain PVR’s social media post on Monday ahead of the release of ‘Brahmastra’ that it had already sold 1,00,000 tickets in advance. This claim was followed up by the channel saying it was offering one free ticket for three purchased for ‘Brahmastra’! Wasn’t the direction of the chain in contradiction with its own affirmation on the request of the film?

Responses to this announcement have been anything but glowing. They were humiliating, so to speak. For a film claiming to have been made on a budget of Rs 400+ crore, the multiplex channel was claiming a sale of 1,00,000 tickets on the first day. It was a contradiction. And why the discount even before the opening of the film to the public?

“Brahmastra”, between its announcement and its release on the screens, took a long time, say seven years. When you take that long, you have to be careful about what information you post. Especially in the age of social media.

That the film’s production was either not planned with foresight or things were spiraling out of control was first noticed when special effects costs began to skyrocket. As a solution, the supplier was brought in as a partner.

Later came this call for Rs 400+ crore cost to increase admission rates. This means the movie cost more than 400 crore rupees so please bear with us and pay extra. What is that? A crowdfunding exercise? Plus, it’s claimed that the movie will give you what you pay for! Now, who guarantees this, the filmmaker or the management of the cinema, who wants to increase the admission prices?

Value for money is an expression used in Hindi like ‘paisa vasool’ and it is always the public who decides. The more reasonable the admission rates, the better the chance of this happening. The 1975 film, “Sholay”, was well over budget, so should producers or theaters have raised admission prices? No, they stayed the same at Rs 2 to Rs 5 even after it became an all-time blockbuster after a slow start! There were a lot of movies that went over budget, but there was no system to raise prices at will!

Word has been said that there won’t be many promotion arrangements before the film’s release, as the budget for it has been drastically reduced. Such news tends to be trending on social media and proves harmful.

Movie promotions have gotten weirder by the day. Earlier, the filmmaker and stars launched a film promotion in Mumbai with all TV, web and print media present. Media networks being what they are today, your message reaches every corner of the world within hours. It is covered everywhere, be it any media.

Then you travel to Delhi, followed by another location, such as Ahmedabad or Pune. Follow the same routine; speak to the media. What is it for? None. Everything was covered. And, they used the phrase Road Show for this silly exercise.

A few weeks ago, the unit of “Raksha Bandhan” traveled to London and Dubai to promote the film! If a film does well in India, it also does well in these countries. If you promote your film in Indian media, it gets coverage all over the world. So what was the idea? Such ideas only come from the stars for whatever reason. A producer knows there’s no benefit to this for him or the film, but he has to comply.

Finally, what is this new temple fashion held by stars on the eve of a release? The stars never did, although the producer and director of a film went to seek divine blessings. It was very personal for them and a matter of beliefs. Now it’s more a part of a promotional strategy. The visit is well announced in advance and the media follow closely! This backfired on the ‘Brahmastra’ stars when they visited the Mahakal temple in Ujjain.

Now that the movie “Brahmastra” has hit the screens, the last stage of the promotion will start now. Trade pundits will be sure to praise the movie with half a dozen posts. Of course, they have their rates, but, unfortunately, no credibility. Then there will be critics who offer the film four to five stars.

Looks like the best minds in the film industry have stopped working. The way the film’s release strategy was handled shows a complete lack of confidence. The people involved come across as a confused lot. Why, in the first place, release this expensive film now, during a gloomy time? Why not wait for the more timely outing of Diwali?

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