The year 2010-11 could be well termed as a Renaissance year for the Hindi film industry. While big budget films such as Raavan, Kites, Action Replayy, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey and Guzaarish failed to set the Box Office on fire, smaller films such as Udaan, Peepli [LIVE], Tere Bin Laden, LSD, Phas Gaye Re Obama & Dhobi Ghat etc. with relatively lesser known stars and debutant directors (in most cases) won both critical acclaim and commercial success.
Most of these films were made at a limited budget and focussed more on their content rather than big stars and exotic locations. An interesting part is the fact that even the marketing strategy used to promote these films was quite different and subtle targeting a niche audience.
As a unique case study we take a look at 3 such off-beat films namely Dhobi Ghat, Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD) and Udaan to try and understand how an innovative marketing strategy helped in the film finding its target audience.
Any Aamir Khan Productions’ film always generates tremendous hype and curiosity given the actor’s penchant for quality cinema. If needed, Aamir could have cashed in on this very hype by promoting wifey’s directorial debut Dhobi Ghat as a film for all. However, Aamir didn’t want his loyal audience to feel cheated and adopted a marketing strategy which not many would adopt.
Perhaps, the most poignant insight came from an industry insider who notes that the responsibility shown by Aamir Khan in promoting this movie makes a case for future interesting projects to come. Had it not been promoted with such care, any young filmmaker daring to dream different would be faced with the response that these films don’t make money, period. While promoting Dhobi Ghat, Aamir Khan made it clear that it was art-house cinema not meant for those seeking a typical masala entertainer. He clearly also told people that he was not playing a lead role but was one of the 4 characters, all of whom were equally important.
Besides initially the film was to be released only in its Hinglish version but when Aamir got feelers that all the film’s English dialogues wouldn’t appeal to a lot of non-English speaking audience, he decided to dub those in Hindi too. So you had theatres all over showing 2 versions of Dhobi Ghat – one Hindi with English and one purely Hindi. Yet another marketing strategy which the makers came up with was the concept of post-cards hand-written by Kiran Rao. These post-cards depicted what went behind the making of the film and it was sent every week to members of the media.
Besides there were multiple events / press conferences of Dhobi Ghat first of which saw the focus on Kiran, the second one had Aamir and Prateik interacting with the press and finally Kiran and the two leading ladies (Monica Dogra & Kriti Malhotra) spoke to the media. When it came to promotions pre-release, Aamir and Kiran were careful but accessible giving interviews, on magazine covers, on radio stations and one never had seen Aamir open up so much about his personal life before this. All this did create the right buzz for the film and the film did succeed in finding its audience.
Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD)
The main USP of Love, Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD) was that here was a film which was India’s first film to be fully shot using a handheld camera. This very fact was promoted by the makers. Despite the film being directed by a known name Dibakar Banerjee and backed by the ‘Queen of TV- Ekta Kapoor, it starred all unknown faces who needless to say became known faces after the release of the film. In fact to make sure that the audiences connect with the characters on screen, the actors’ identities were kept under wraps and they were allowed to do press interactions only post release of the film. The first promo itself highlighted the camera as one of the key characters in the film. Ekta went all out to promote this film albeit in a different way and held pre-release test screenings, focal group discussions among the youth to get their feedback on hitherto taboo topics such as pre-marital sex etc. The best part was that these test screenings were held few months prior to the release enabling the makers to actually incorporate some important suggestions which they felt would only benefit the film. The makers also promoted the film as a shocking and realistic look at the voyeurism that exists in our country. The result – LSD shocked audiences just as it had promised to do.
After struggling to find a producer for many years, Vikramaditya Motwane finally found Anurag Kashyap, UTV and Sanjay Singh who believed in his debut venture Udaan. The story of a young boy chasing his dreams much against his stern father’s wishes was among the most loved and appreciated films of the year. It even was screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival where it won tremendous acclaim. Once again, the makers decided to go easy and focus on the content of the film rather than spending loads on marketing. The first poster of the film itself had words such as XXX, Love, Lingerie, Booze, Freedom, Kiss, F***, all of which created the necessary curiosity. Moreover in a unique way to promote Udaan, UTV Motion Pictures conducted a large scale online survey among youngsters in the age group of 12-19 years. The idea behind this survey was to get an insight into the minds of a teenager and understand their behavioural patterns. Moreover since Udaan talks about the story of a father-son relationship and depicts what a teenage mind goes through, the makers thought that conducting such a survey would be a great idea to create awareness for their film. The survey was conducted across major Indian cities such as Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi / NCR. The survey threw up some rather shocking results such as the following:
- Around 30% of teens said that if given a chance they would like to change their study stream / career
- 40% of boys had smoked in their teens
- 40% of girls and more than 50% of boys admitted to having consumed alcohol in their teens
- One out of every 5 teens (both boys and girls) claimed to have had sex
- 9 out of 10 boys and 7 out of 10 girls were ok with premarital sex
- 45% of teenage girls felt that if they got pregnant, they would go for an abortion without ever letting their parents
Besides the survey, an innovative event was held at a popular Mumbai mall where the lead protagonist Rajat Barmecha smashed a car to pulp re-creating one of the important scenes from the film. Udaan may not have broken Box Office records but a strong script and sensible budgeting surely made it a safe bet for its investors.
The success of these relatively smaller films in an industry dominated by biggies clearly has served as an eye-opener and made filmmakers realise that a strong content backed by innovative and niche marketing plan can go a long way in ensuring that the film reaches its target audience.