Netflix creates a media buzz for ‘RRR’ (IANS Column: B-Town)

Promotions for Hindi films have moved on set lines over a period. That is to say, they are not very creative or imaginative. With little change here and there, a film is promoted in the same way. The only change that has happened is because of the expanded scope of the print media and the mushrooming of television channels.

Traditionally, a PR man was appointed for every film, usually suggested by the lead star because he also worked for the star. There was little to do in the name of promotion except to deliver shooting progress reports, song recording reports and such to the trade papers for publication because, as per the understanding, the film’s distributors would send installments after seeing that the film was making progress.

There were just a few publications devoted to films; the mainstream media had little or no interest in films, except for reviewing when the film was released. Some makers asked their PR men to invite the press to shoots, the more affluent ones invited the media to outdoor locations, away from Mumbai studios.

Talking of reviews, the last job a PR man was supposed to do for a film was to approach the well-known critics in mainstream dailies. This was done more for the lead actors in the film. This helped him plug his boss over other actors in the critic’s review.

The scope of work of the film public relations man (PRO) increased with the growth of the media. The television channels and print media entertainment supplements depended on film content for eyeballs. That was the essence of their existence. Being the vulnerable and insecure lot they have always been, film folk were convinced that they needed the media and made to pay for the exposure which the media needed as much as the filmmakers did!

Ordinarily, a film’s promotion began with an announcement in the media and the trade-oriented weekly broadsheet, ‘Screen’. In most cases, it was a routine full-page insertion that one flipped through. But there were a few designers whose announcement ads stood out. The prominent among them was Amarajeet, a producer who also conceived ad designs for a select few film personalities, such as Dev Anan, Sunil Dutt and a couple of others.

Amarjeet’s style was to arouse curiosity about a film in stages. For Dev Anand’s ‘Guide’, for instance, the campaign started with a blank full page depicting only a pair of ghungroos. The following ads revealed more. For ‘Jewel Thief’, the first ad was just the checked hat that Dev Anand wore in the film, which went on to become a rage soon after its release.

Another launch ad that caught immediate attention was for O.P. Ralhan’s film, ‘Talash’. The film’s launch ad carried the banner headline: ‘A 10 Million Colour Colossus’ (it was the first film with a Rs 1-crore budget) at a time when the film industry did not talk beyond lakhs. The ad made an impact.

Ashutosh Gowarikar may have felt that his film, ‘Jodha Akbar’, would be an attractive proposal for the international market as selling Indian rights for such a huge film with Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai,would be no problem. In a first, the ‘Jodha Akbar’ launch announcement was made with a front-page ad in ‘Variety’, the international trade magazine.

The promotion moved to electronic media along with print, but electronic enjoyed the edge.The television and film portals could upload the coverage immediately, even as the print media had to wait it out till the next edition. Yet, filmmakers rightly believed that the printed word had a greater lasting impact. So, they ended up buying space in daily newspaper supplements!

I think that was a big game played by the publications. Actually, they would not amount to anything if these publications had no film material.

Film stars and filmmakers somehow don’t know where to stop. Overexposure has always been the bane of both. Some TV channels devised a special slot to show film promos. A capsule of about 30 minutes or so showing only film promos! Now, whoever sat down to watch film promos?

The best and only way was to space out your promos during some popular television programmes. Instead, the producers started outbidding each other; if one producer had booked 300 slots, the other one wanted 500! It was not about business sense, it was just the sense of superiority that the filmmaker enjoyed.

Nobody bothered who watched these promos. The only 15-minute capsule I remember which people made sure to watch was Doordarshan’s Sunday morning telecast of ‘Saptahiki’, which gave a look into the programmes of the week to follow. But, then, television was a novelty in those days.

Talking of overexposure, there were stars who performed in a dozen events for one film in the name of teaser release, song release, and so on. The other trend popular for a time was called the ‘Road Show’. The cast and crew visited a few cities to promote a film. That was an utter waste since most publications and the channels were national, not local. The electronic media, however, lapped up all such events.

But our film folk were never known to be imaginative. Using the media according to their whim did not usually pay off. Nor did creating controversy or public protests and court cases that were devised around a soon-to-be-released film. Attempts were also made to buy 5-star reviews from critics, all and sundry. Nobody believed those reviews. Our audience goes by word of mouth.

Normally, the media loses interest in a film in the weekend after it is released! And, so does the filmmaker. Nowadays, that is when the exercise begins to prove that the film is a hit. All efforts are in that direction. Concocted figures are fed to the media, who, with no means to verify, carry them happily.

Like I mentioned earlier, it is a personal high for the makers and stars. They love to fool themselves. If now the makers love to trot out false figures, in the days gone by, celebrating false/forced jubilees was the practice the filmmakers followed.

The reason for this extended discussion on film promotions is the recently released dubbed film from the South, ‘RRR’. The film made big news when it was released, but yet again, it has started making headline news in the media.

It followed the comment by the Netflix CEO, Ted Sarandos, describing the film as the ‘craziest thrill ride’. He also observed that the film had gained enormous popularity, especially in the West, after its OTT release. That was on July 3. The media thereafter seems to have rediscovered the film.

Here are some excerpts of the new promotional blitz for ‘RRR’. It may soon start a new trend.

Los Angeles Times (May 14) praised the film and reminded the people who had missed it earlier that they had a chance to catch it in June when it played as a one-time feature in 100-plus cinemas. The ‘LA Times’ also reported that the Ram Charan-Jr NTR starrer was featured in its “Best Films of 2022′.

Asianet and The Quint reported early this month that ‘RRR’ had been adjudged the second best film by the Hollywood Critics Association, leaving behind ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, ‘Elvis’ and ‘The Batman’.

Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty, called ‘RRR’ a “gay love story”, a comment the ‘Baahubali’ producer, Shobu Yarlagadda, termed as “extremely disappointing”. Pookutty quickly clarified that he had only reproduced some lines from a western review.

The ‘RRR’ director, meanwhile, chose to rekindle the North vs South debate with his observation that Hindi films had “stopped catering to the masses”.

Now, this may not be part of the PR exercise. but Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his trip to Hyderabad on July 4, unveiled the statue of Alluri Sitarama Raju, on whose life Ram Charan’s character is modelled after in ‘RRR’.

And, to top it all, the writer of ‘RRR’, V. Vijayendra Prasad, has been nominated to the Rajya Sabha in the President’s quota by the Narendra Modi government.

What sparked this sudden interest in the international media for ‘RRR’? One thinks this promotional blitz must be courtesy of Netflix. They probably want to expose their members from all over to Indian fare and this is the right film to showcase. Netflix India needs some big hits to build its subscriber base. Its repertoire has not amounted to much thus far.

One can give credit for this post-theatrical release media blitz for ‘RRR’ to Netflix. A trend worth following.

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