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How not to promote a film (Column: B-Town)

What exactly is happening in the Mumbai film industry? A sense of uncertainty prevails. There is an all-round nervousness and lack of confidence. The bigger the film due for release, the more the confusion between the makers, the exhibitors and the others concerned.

This situation has prevailed since before the pandemic and has only amplified after the industry reopened post lockdown. The films are failing to draw audience. The films of the biggest of stars are being rejected. What’s worrisome is that these films are being rejected wholesale, not even being given the privilege of the initial audience that used to throng the cinemas for any film with big stars.

It would be understandable if a film failed because of bad word of mouth. A lot of filmgoers decide whether to watch a film or not after getting audience reports. But that has not been happening recently.

The film critics (if such a tribe exists in India) have become the line of first defence for films that have failed. Not only do they not accept the fact, they try to find excuses on behalf of the 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 these so-called critics had rated both the films with four stars each!

What is happening recently is that rather than have fun watching a film at the cinemas, people, the netizens, are having fun at the cost of films and filmmakers. They are being trolled mercilessly.

The latest subject of ridicule in social media is the film ‘Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva’. The film stars Amitabh Bachchan, Nagarjuna, Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. Like with many other Hindi films, social media groups have taken a strong stand against the film. And there are many takers for such groups and the stand they take! Those connected with films would keep quiet for some time. Instead, they come out with statements that get the trolls started.

The example is the PVR multiplex chain’s social media post on Monday before the release of ‘Brahmastra’ that it had already sold 1,00,000 tickets in advance. This claim was followed by the chain saying that they were offering one ticket free against three bought for ‘Brahmastra’! Wasn’t the chain’s management contradicting its own claim on the demand for the film?

The responses that followed this announcement were anything but complimentary. They were humiliating, if one may say so. For a film claiming to have been made at a budget of Rs 400+ crore, the multiplex chain was claiming a sale of 1,00,000 tickets on Day One. This was a contradiction. And why the discount even before the film opened to the public?

‘Brahmastra’, between its announcement and hitting the screens, has taken a long time, say, seven years. When you take such a long time, you need to be careful about the information you release. Especially in this era of social networks.

That the film’s production was either not planned with foresight, or that things were going out of hand, was first noticed when the special effects costs started ballooning. As a solution, the provider was roped in as a partner.

Later came this Rs 400+ crore cost appeal to raise the admission rates. What it means is that the film has cost Rs 400+ crore, so please bear with us and pay extra. What is this? An exercise in crowd funding? Further, a claim is made that the film will give you your money’s worth! Now, who guarantees that, the filmmaker or the cinema management, which wants to raise the admission rates?

Money’s worth is a phrase used in Hindi as ‘paisa vasool’ and it was always the audience that decided it. The more reasonable the admission rates, the better the chances of that happening. The 1975 film, ‘Sholay’, had gone heavily over budget, so should the producers or the cinemas have raised the admission rates? No, they remained the same at Rs 2 to Rs 5 even after it became an all-time blockbuster after a slow start! There have been many films that went over budget, but there was no system of increasing the admission rates at whim!

The word was out that there is not going to be much provision for the pre-release promotion of the film, the budget for it having been cut down drastically. Such news has the tendency of trending on social media and proves to be detrimental.

The film promotions got weirder by the day. Earlier, the filmmaker and stars launched a film’s promotion in Mumbai with all the television, web and print media present. The media networks being what they are today, your message reaches all corners of the world within hours. It is covered all over, be it any media.

Next, you travel to Delhi, followed by some other place, such as Ahmedabad or Pune. Follow the same routine; address the media. What purpose does it serve? None. It has all been covered. And, they used the expression Road Show for this silly exercise.

A couple of weeks back, the unit of ‘Raksha Bandhan’ travelled to London and Dubai to promote the film! If a film does well in India, it works well in these countries, too. If you promote your film in Indian media, it is covered all over the world. So what was the idea? Such ideas come only from the stars for whatever the reason. A producer knows there is no benefit in this for him or the film, but he has to comply.

Finally, what is this new fashion of temple runs by stars on the eve of a release? The stars never did this, though a film’s producer and director did go to seek divine blessings. It was very personal for them and a matter of beliefs. Now, it is more a part of a promotional strategy. The visit is well-publicised in advance with the media following closely! It backfired on the stars of ‘Brahmastra’ on their visit to Ujjain’s Mahakal temple.

Now that the film, ‘Brahmastra’ has hit the screens, the final stage of promotion will start now. Trade experts will be convinced to praise the film with half-a-dozen posts. Of course, they have their rates, but, sadly, no credibility. Then there will be critics gifting four-to-five stars to the film.

Looks like the best minds in the film industry have stopped working. The way the release strategy of the film has been handled shows total lack of confidence. The people concerned come across as a confused lot. Why, in the first place, release this cost-heavy film now, during a dull period? Why not wait for the more opportune Diwali release?

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