‘Rang De Basanti’: The Colour of (Marketing) Money

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Aug 8, 2019 11:12 AM
‘Rang De Basanti’: The Colour of (Marketing) Money

The year 1999 was a hallmark in Bollywood. It saw Subhash Ghai's 'Taal' become the first ever Bollywood film to be insured against losses after the insurance company in question found that its financing and production schedule were sufficiently well-documented.

Though it was a milestone of sorts, the Indian film industry was still in a very raw and rather disorganized state of affairs. "Movies per se - over the last 100 years - have pretty much been run where a producercum- director, produces and directs an entire movie. He hardly let anyone watch it, and then pre-sold it to distributors - who haven't a clue about the movie, because they hadn't yet been allowed to watch it. So, in essence, after spending 5 years of his life making a movie, the filmmaker would just go and leave it to the discretion of those people for the last fifteen days pre-release. It's the most horrific thing anyone can do for a movie", says Ronnie Screwvala, CEO, UTV Software Communications Ltd.

He continues, "The distributor didn't have a clue, because he hadn't seen the product; the director was insecure to show him the product because he thought that if he did, and the distributor didn't like it, he wouldn't pick up the movie. As a result, because everything was so hush-hush, there was no room to even give a thought to the marketing of the movie, let alone marketing-innovations."

The distributor was of the belief (and rightly so) that as a 'distributor', his job was merely to place prints in theatres; and that was just what he did. His job was not to get people to come to the theatres. So whose job was it to get people to come watch the film in the movie halls? "The producer", explains Screwvala, "would be the only one who had watched the film, and it was left up to him to decide on the amount of posters printed, and television and print ad space that was bought to promote it. There was absolutely zero innovation." The other thing - which taking today's state of affairs, seems like sacrilege - was that there was never any marketing budget set aside for a film. "When people worked out the cost of production, they'd start with working on the break-even of the movie, based only on the cost of production.

This is absurd, because it's imperitive to understand that if your cost of production is such-and-such amount, you have to add on a marketing amount before you get out there. It's like Levers saying 'Lux is going to cost me this, but I've got to add the marketing component', without working or fitting in the cost of that component before hand. No one can deny that marketing is a very important quotient in launching any sort of product or service", explains Screwvala.

"There isn't an integrated system in Bollywood; it is not a 'studio model'. In a studio model, the producer-director is also the distributor. When you have that joint ownership and are the last man standing, then you simply have to take control. Distribution as a business is a business of attracting people to come and watch the movie. Today, 20th Century Fox and Sony Columbia are not creative studios anymore; they are actually distribution behemoths. If you ask them, they'll define themselves as having the best distribution pipelines. Distribution to them means very creative marketing, great placement in distribution and superb placement post its theatre release - which includes where the DVDs are sold, television syndication deals and so on and so forth. That hasn't really happened here yet, which is why you need to allo- cate a budget", says Screwvala.

The producer-director's ideas of 'marketing' clearly weren't working, the distributor just distributed, and from the conception of the film, there were never any funds allotted to the marketing. So, where did the marketing lie? It was clearly in no-man's-land.

But that was then. In recent times (read: the last few years), the Indian film industry has wizened up to the fact that without the appropriate marketing, even a film with a Milky Way cast can be a financial disaster. In today's world of film marketing, just posters, promotional spots on television, print ads and billboard announcements are passé. It is, in fact, the smallest piece of the marketing agenda. Many film producers - including Screwvala - believe that unless you allocate nothing less than 20 percent of your cost of production for marketing, the movie industry is not going to grow. "It's a 4,500-crore industry and everyone keeps bragging about it, but the fact is that it has remained a 4,500-crore industry for the last ten years. Television started in 1992, and it's become a 16,000-crore industry from zero. The only one key fallacy is marketing", he says.

AS far back as 1975, a film-maker who broached the subject of royalty from Pidilite for mentioning Fevicol in his film was at a loss for words when Pidilite asked him why the roles could not be reversed because the company felt their brand was much bigger than the film. Today however, the tables have turned, and companies are forking out huge amounts of cash for their brands to associate with films for pre and post-release publicity.

When brands get into product associations with films, one of the first things they want is to have their products visible in-film. But film-makers are only too well aware that audiences are averse to this sort of gimmick; with 'You've Got Mail' and 'The Fast and The Furious' being dubbed by critics as two-hour long commercials for AOL and Mini Cooper respectively, they learnt their lesson.

Brand association with films is nothing new in the West, but for India it is new territory and few have managed to pull off with seamless ease and finesse. Arguably, the best example that comes to mind is the much talked about recent hit, 'Rang De Basanti'.

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