A few weeks ago Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor jetted into Dubai to promote their film, ‘Ek Main Aur Ek Tu’, which is still running to packed houses in UAE cinemas.
But even before the trigger-happy shutterbugs flashed cameras in their faces, the antics of the two lead stars were already captured on film and uploaded on YouTube as part of a video blog promotional campaign.
Flashback to a month earlier and the filmmakers of ‘Players’ made their presence felt in the emirate by roping in two stunt drivers to zip around in Mini Coopers at Global Village to promote the official remake of Hollywood’s ‘The Italian Job’.
While the former film has been declared a hit, ‘Players’, with its lead cast of Abhishek Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor and Bipasha Basu, was forced to hit the emergency brakes even before it accelerated at the global box office.
However, despite the two opposing fates of these films, there is no denying that marketing gimmicks are all the rage in Bollywood these past few years.
In the one-upmanship that comes hand-in-hand with a cutthroat industry, filmmakers and actors are constantly in a state of alert to ensure their new venture rakes in the moolah and the audience during the opening week.
This is why these days we have seen Vidya Balan supporting a fake baby bump while trawling a railway station in Mumbai in search of her reel-life husband to promote her upcoming ‘Kahaani’.
Meanwhile, Bipasha and R Madhavan were burning the midnight oil and calories for the upcoming ‘Jodi Breakers’, which saw the two stars participate in a flash mob in a mall in Mumbai suburb on Valentine’s Day.
And not one to be left behind, Pakistani singer and actor, Ali Zafar has taken to Twitter to put his singing prowess to the test by announcing a concert on February 24, just in time for his film ‘London Paris New York’ to release the following weekend.
“There are so many ways we can promote our films now and we should keep finding more. When a big film is being released, why shouldn’t we tell as many people and as many times as we can to watch our films and through a number of channels?” actor Akshay Kumar told Emirates 24|7 earlier.
He added: “Markets have changed and so have the tools to market our films. So much more is going into movies now, from expense to distribution.
“While selling the movie, the producer can leave no stone unturned; it’s a product at the end of the day and it needs selling in as many ways as possible.”
Akshay is considered as one of the pioneers who has never shied away from grabbing the spotlight to promote one of his films, even appearing on reality TV shows with his co-stars to shake a hip or two.
Last year, the actor was seen travelling across India and even jetted into the emirate last year to promote his film ‘Thank You’ by hosting marriages of real-life couples.
While Akshay faced backlash during that particular gimmick, others such as the perfectionist Aamir Khan strategise for months on end to ensure the marketing strategy adopted for his upcoming release is tasteful, different and gets the media and audience asking for more.
Said Aamir: “The media’s role in a film’s promotion has changed dramatically over the years. Two decades ago, the media was never this widespread and entertainment was never the subject of national news.
“I still remember during the promotional campaign for ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ in 1988 (his debut film as a lead star), we had this one poor chap for Public Relations who would dutifully go out to round-up some journalists willing to interview Juhi [Chawla, “QSQT’s” leading lady] and myself.
“A couple of journalists finally showed up, but I doubt those interviews were ever printed.”
Aamir revealed that he also went around Mumbai, personally sticking “QSQT” posters on the back of taxicabs because the budget was too restrictive to even hire extra manpower to perform such a menial task.
“Today, marketing avenues have changed and the focus is all on creating awareness for your film in the public domain,” he said.
Aamir, who made his film debut with uncle Nasir Hussain’s film, came full circle two decades later as he launched Hussain’s grandson Imran in his home production ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’.
The marketing blitzkrieg for his nephew’s launch has become the talk of Bollywood, with Rs40 million blown on its marketing budget, according to the veteran actor himself.
Jetting around the world for radio and television spots, making a public appearance at Indian Premier League cricket finale that year and even participating in fellow actor Salman Khan’s reality game show ‘Dus Ka Dum’ were part of the core strategy.
Four years later, the nephew followed in his uncle’s footsteps during the promotional campaign of ‘Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu’, with the launch of the video blog.
Imran said at the time: “The video blog has worked well as a marketing tool for the film, but I think it goes beyond just a gimmick.
“These days filmmaking is not just about presenting a good film, but providing the audience with that extra insight into the mechanisms of putting a film together.
“People have behind the scenes and making of videos that garner airtime on entertainment channels. We simply went a step ahead and allowed fans to get the whole experience of what goes into making a film.”
So while Imran’s and Kareena’s fans saw the duo bicker and banter behind the scenes during the film’s shoot, courtesy YouTube, their journey until the film’s release was also captured on to the blog.
“It’s literally akin to taking the audience with us on a roadtrip,” said Imran.
But the question that begs to be asked is, are such gimmicks really necessary for a film’s success or can they backfire too once overkill sets in?
Ask Kareena and the actress who not only participated in the video diaries with Imran but was also part of last year’s most aggressive marketing blitzkrieg that came in the form of Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Ra.One’, said: “It does appear that gimmicks are the way to go in Bollywood. Nothing else seems to work.”
Shah Rukh had his own two-bit to add, saying: “Marketing gimmicks are important today because you have so many channels and avenues available to provide information, and ultimately, “Ra.One” was such a different film that the audience needed to be educated about it.
“In Bollywood, only ‘Krish’ and ‘Drona’ compared, so our choice to get the message about ‘Ra.One’ out was through marketing."
The marketing cost, which Khan didn't reveal, merely added to the overall price tag of what was touted as Bollywood's most expensive film, with an estimated budget of Rs1.5 billion.
But analysts say that the months in the lead-up to Shah Rukh’s ‘Ra.One’ release, the aggressive promotional campaigns, the TV appearances, the video game launches, the product endorsements, a dedicated YouTube channel for all things film related and a world tour with three premieres, simply became too much for fans to handle.
Ultimately, ‘Ra.One’s’ marketing mayhem couldn’t help its box office figures.
But Aamir Khan is one of the only few brave actors who has admitted that aggressive promoting and marketing blitzkriegs are tactics that can sometimes backfire too.
He said: “Depending on the film, it can either work thanks to all that carpet-bombing or it could work because it has strong content.
“Unfortunately, the extra media attention can sometimes turn into a double-edged sword because many people are also adopting these different marketing techniques.
“So, for your product to stand out, you have to think out of the box to cut through the clutter.”
But like everything having a flip side, he added: “Personally, I feel that if a film is good then even minimum promotion won’t stop it from becoming a huge commercial success.