x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bollywood's newest star? Marketing

As the peak film season approaches, fans face an onslaught of advertising across multiple platforms in the studios' drive for success.

Siddharth Malhotra, Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan at a promotion for soon to be released film Student of the Year in Mumbai.
Siddharth Malhotra, Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan at a promotion for soon to be released film Student of the Year in Mumbai.

NEW DELHI // Forget Shah Rukh Khan. Never mind Rani Mukherjee. Salman Khan? He's no star. At least, not compared with marketing.

Marketing is lights, camera and action in Bollywood. Singing, dancing, and even romancing on the big screen are just bit players, plots, an afterthought, when it comes to getting the word out about any film - even in India, where shrines are built by fans to their favourite stars.

According to Kandaswamy Bharathan, a professor at the Indian institute of management, Ahmedabad, the content of the film matters less than the extent of the marketing campaign.

Mr Bharathan studied the performance of 50 films released over the past 10 years and found that how much the production house spent on marketing was the biggest factor in a film's success.

As Bollywood gears up to release its biggest films during India's festive season of Durga Puja, Navratri, Eid Al Adha and Diwali, moviegoers will be faced with an onslaught of marketing campaigns as this is Bollywood's biggest moneymaking season.

Recent or soon to be released films include Student of the Year, directed by Karan Johar, a celebrity director; Jab Tak Hai Jaan, starring Shah Rukh Khan; and Aiyaa, starring Rani Mukherjee. There is also Dabaang 2, the sequel to a monster hit starring Salman Khan, on November 1. A smaller budget film getting good word of mouth is Chittagong, about a little-known revolutionary from Bengal.

The increase in mobile and internet penetration has led to the increased power of advertising for the Indian film industry, said Mr Bharathan.

India has 70 mobile subscribers per 100 people, according to the World Bank, and 6 billion mobile phones.

Ten years ago there was not nearly as many ways in which films were publicised: print advertisements, television trailers, billboards and radio play for songs from the soundtrack. The stars of major films might give an interview.

In the past five years, that has all changed.

"Today's methods are more sophisticated. Online is a huge medium," said Mr Bharathan. "There is co-branding, product placements. It is also written into star's contracts now that they must spend at least four days promoting a movie."

A recent example is Student of the Year, which has newcomer actors Alia Bhatt, Siddharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan promoting the film and tie-ins with mobile phone, car, cosmetics and hair companies.

"With so many movies releasing every week, there is so much clutter. Unless you keep shouting about your movie, you won't be heard. That shouting is marketing," Mr Bharathan said. "Films can no longer do well if they're not marketed well," added Rachel Dwyer, professor of Indian cultures and cinema at the University of London's school of oriental and African studies.

"Big-budget films allocate a great deal of money to marketing, but the marketing has to be new, and if you watch Yash Raj films [Jab Tak Hai Jaan], they change each time. Twitter, Facebook, teasers, trailers, clips are all part of it,"

She cautioned, however, that marketing campaigns would only guarantee success on the opening weekend. For a film to be a box-office hit, "you still need something to catch the imagination".

Mr Bharathan agreed that a filmmust have an engaging storyline to be a success, but said the first weekend was of greater importance.

"You want to start with a bang with the first weekend, this is critical for big-budget films. If you are able to take the success to the next weekend, then you come closer to calling a film a blockbuster hit," he said. "We are trying to determine how money spent before the film's release affects its success. What is it that pulls an audience to a movie?"

And movies are big business.

"Launching a film is not cheap," said Mr Bharathan. "And in India, people go to the movies in large groups, either with family or friends. Even for the middle class in small towns, taking a group of five people out to see a movie will cost 1,000 rupees [Dh69]."

Shruti Roy Chowdhury, 19, a student of political science at Loreto College in Kolkata, is planning to go to see Student of the Year at the cinema next week. Ms Roy Chowdhury decided to see the film after watching the trailers online and television interviews with the stars, and has already read the reviews. She will see the film with a group of four or five friends, confirming Mr Bharathan's research.

But for Ms Roy Chowdhury, the decision to watch the film is ultimately still based on an old-fashioned method - friends' and peers' reviews.

It is this good word of mouth that a marketing campaign hopes to create. Once it gets people into the cinemas, the quality of the movie hopefully keeps them coming,' said Mr Bharathan.

"When it comes to the movies, is very easy to disappoint customers. You may have a great story but if it does not align with a customer's expectations then they will talk about the disappointment they felt, and that word of mouth can destroy a film's chances.''

Soham Sarkhel, 21, a statistician and writer for a cricket website in Mumbai, said he does not usually plan ahead when it comes to films.

"I want to see how it is doing first," he said. "Then I rely on my friends' reviews and the director's previous record."

However, when Jab Tak Hai Jaan is released next month, Mr Sarkhel will put his money down, no questions.

"It's the star factor," he said. "This is a Shah Rukh Khan film. That is all I need to know."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

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