Why has Bollywood, which produces India's most valuable property, feature films, never really sought out professional help when it comes to marketing? That was the question posed by film director and chairman of Mullen Lowe Lintas Group R Balki to filmmaker Karan Johar, on day two of Goafest 2016.
Johar said, "I love where I am and what I do. But we're big victims of the herd mentality. All this advertising and promotions (of films) started with one star doing it, and everyone else followed. Over-marketing sometimes kills the product. I wish someone would change the way we market films."
Referring to the standard route involving a theatrical trailer release before meida, visits to media companies, mall appearances, and getting the stars featured (for their styling) on mainstream and social media, he added, "The entire (marketing) bubble is going to burst."
Balki noted that it was a problem facing marketing in other categories too, observing that it had to do with media proliferation, and the tendency to take the same big idea forward across vehicles. He referred to this as'358+2', with two being the ideas executed across remaining channels. He explained, "Advertising is facing a similar thing. It's very, very hard today to say what's actually working. Now we are occupying every part of a consumer's life. Research says people consume content for the content itself, rather than for the product."
Johar joked that there was a time when all his father did was take the film reel to Vaishno Devi (temple) and prayed - that being the only promotion for the film.
'A film is a film'
Asked whether he would do ad films, Johar revealed, "Not at all. I was once subjected (a decade ago) to something called a PPM."
The film was for chocolate cake and he was referred for the film by Shah Rukh Khan, said Johar. He quipped, "There were 10 people in the room. I was told Black Forest is an aspirational cake in India, as per their research. After that they discussed the colour of the jacket Shah Rukh would wear - that green was not Shah Rukh and it had to be black. To me, a chocolate cake is a chocolate cake."
When asked about making films for digital media, Balki said, "A film is a film; an idea is an idea; a story is a story. A platform (digital) is a platform. It is immaterial."
On the subject of digital films and lower budgets, Johar admitted to being 'traumatised' when asked to make Bombay Talkies in Rs 1 crore. He mused, "Digital is a word that is thrown around all over the place, without any context whatsoever. It's floating around in my industry."
"Our regional films are doing well. Marathi cinema has really evolved, it is doing phenomenally well. Telugu and Tamil cinema have been doing well. English content can never really override Indian content in a real way. But, there is a worry for cinema in general," said Johar, when asked for his views on the growth of English content, noting that footfalls so far (in cinemas) this year have dropped by 10 to 12 per cent.
He added, "If we do not empower our writers, it's going to be the death of Indian cinema."
Criticism and social media
Terming criticism in general 'a painful thing', the adman-turned-filmmaker reasoned that when there is something new attempted, the industry tends to view it based on a defined pattern of creativity, while 'the consumer is the most forgiving'.
While Johar is personally active on Twitter and Instagram, Balki stays away from social media.
The former confessed, "I can't even say the kind of things I wake up to. I am abused everyday. Your mother and social media give you a reality check. People have opinions. If you have to beat them, you have to join them or you will be left alone. You have to fight your way through the entire zone."
Offering a dramatically opposing view, Balki said, "I will not be on Twitter. For the simple reason, I don't want to. I have no desire to tell people where I am, what I am doing, what my opinions are. I find the space extremely tiring, I spend 30 minutes there and I am tired of having to absorb so much."
Oscars and Hindi cinema
Balki rubbished the idea of a globally homogenous audience, and the notion that a great film would work for a global audience.
Asked why Indian films don't do well at the Oscars, Johar quipped, "That committee?" He added, "It's wonderful to walk up the red carpet and receive the trophy, but you can't work towards that. You have to work towards empowering cinema here."
To loud applause, Johar surmised, "I am too filmy to make a Hollywood film. Give me my Hindi song, give me my Hindi drama, my beautiful heroine (sic)... I want to make Hondi films. I am an unapologetic Hindi filmmaker."