As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Indian feature film (cinema in India celebrated its centenary in 1996!), it is heartening to see a revival in the fortunes of Indian cinema. This is turning out be the best year ever for the Indian film industry, especially Bollywood. There has been a string of hits like Agneepath, Houseful 2, Rowdy Rathore, Bol Bachchan, Ek Tha Tiger and major films like Talaash, Dabang 2, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Son of Sardaar, are still to release in the next four months.
Each new blockbuster is raising the bar at the box office. I am sure the ` 100-crore club will become a ` 200-crore club in the next few weeks. It seems more people are watching our movies, at home and abroad. Suddenly, the mood is upbeat in Bollywood and the crowds are back in cinemas! The spectrum of successful films has enlarged to include big-bang blockbusters to edgy films like Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar, Vicky Donor, Jannat 2, Ishaqzaade and Gangs of Wasseypur, which have recovered their costs several times over. Even Hollywood and regional films are breaking new box-office
In the last 100 years, cinema has evolved considerably but what has changed dramatically is the way films are marketed. Gone are the days when erecting a few hoardings, releasing a music album and showing a trailer was enough. There would be some articles in print and perhaps a few big stars appeared on TV news channels. Now, from unveiling the first look of a poster to a premiere, every milestone is a carefully planned event. Producers, directors and stars are now paying equal attention to marketing, if not more, as they do to making a film.
A well-oiled machine comes into play as soon as a film is planned. Planted stories, tweets and interviews start appearing even before anything is finalised. There is a concerted effort to push the audience into cinemas in the first three days. So pre-release publicity is high decibel and all-pervasive.
What is fanning the publicity fire is the need of various types of media – newspapers and magazines, news and music channels, FM radio, mobile phones and websites – to get their share of eyeballs. With engaging programming, the producer gets the stars to the media, which gets premium content free, and the film gets its audience. More money accrues all around. A nice little virtuous cycle.
We are following Hollywood in its carpet-bombing technique of film marketing and a 360-degree promotion of films is now the accepted routine in India too. In-film advertising and product placement, although clumsily, is making its appearance in our films, sometimes too in-the-face and cluttered. Major advertising agencies like the WPP group (Broadmind) Lowe (Lin Entertainment), Percept (P9) and Leo-Burnet (Leo Entertainment) are targeting the rapidly expanding market of entertainment cross-promotion. Many large consumer product companies, from colas to cars, telcos to textiles and retail, are discovering the merits of brand association with films and film stars. In a win-win situation, both the film and products grab consumer attention. Fortunately, film producers, especially the big daddies like Reliance, Eros, Yash Raj, Disney UTV, Fox, Viacom, Vishesh Films, Dharma, VCP, Excel Entertainment, Balaji, Nadiadwala Grandson and others, have also understood the importance of marketing.
On-line promotion and contests handled by agencies like Hungama, Contest-to-Win and Mauj for Movies are di riguer in Bollywood today. Websites are an important sales promotion tool in the ever-expanding and lucrative overseas market. Blogs and mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter are also emerging as new and important media. From simple SMS-based contests to elaborate movie zones on Reliance Mobile’s Mobile World (big films like get over 5 million paid hits), films are becoming popular with both consumers as well as producers. Simultaneously, there is increased awareness about tapping newer revenue streams like ring tones and downloads, home video and multiple telecasts. Multiplexes and other retail chains like Pantaloon are also offering ground-activation opportunities.
In fact, multiplexes and the recent phenomenon of digital cinemas is also redefining the contours of the industry. This may appear surprising when you realise that there are currently only 1,000 multiplex screens against 11,000 single screens in India, but they account for 60 per cent of the total box office. And producers are regularly tapping into hitherto unknown funding sources. From co-production tax rebates (Houseful 2, Cocktail) to tourism incentives (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Ek Tha Tiger, Jism 2).
As we go forward, 50 per cent of a film’s revenue will accrue from streams like TV and online rights, product placements and digital downloads. Those who judge a film’s success by old benchmarks of percentile attendance are hopelessly out of sync with the times. Today, tracking a film’s journey from its inception to release is vital. Also, dissemination of news among stakeholders is important and this is where Box Office India is playing a major role. I look forward to my copy every weekend and even log in online to keep abreast with the latest.
So, along with watching your favourite movies across platforms, get used to a promotional blitzkrieg every time a major film is due for release. Remember, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! As we draw over 4 billion cinema lovers every year worldwide, we are finally getting to make some serious moolah. If first weekend makes all the difference, better exploitation will take the film to a new high. In the next three years, we will see a ` 25,000-crore Indian film industry in India. Not bad for something that began humbly by Dadasaheb Phalke a hundred years ago with less than a lakh rupees!
(The views expressed in this column are personal)