May 27, 2010

Hoax Office Hardsell

To manufacture buzz, Bollywood’s PR engines will use anything

“What would you do if your mobile number was disclosed on the worldwide web?” I’m asked this rather odd question by Bollywood PR consultant Dale Bhagwagar. “I’ll ask the service provider to change it at once,” I reply matter-of-factly. But that’s definitely not the way Bhagwagar’s agile mind, adept at turning trivia into hype for the benefit of his famous Bollywood clients, would have reacted. In fact, one of his major triumphs arose from precisely such a situation. A few years ago, when his then client Shilpa Shetty’s number somehow got leaked on the internet (he avoids telling you how), he used the incident to whip up a media frenzy that planted her firmly in the day’s headlines. Press handouts were distributed widely and TV reporters were persuaded to take up positions outside the police station where Shilpa went to file a complaint. Candid, even boastful, Bhagwagar says happily, “We used the incident very effectively to hardsell Shetty.” And then, as we sip our cold coffees in suburban Mumbai, he casually proceeds to take a call from Rakhi Sawant to advise her how her run-in with the censor board over a music video could be played out in the media. “Good publicity is good. Bad publicity is better. Ugly publicity is the best because it travels the fastest and hits the hardest. The worst of all is no publicity,” declares Bhagwagar. 

That is his motto, and indeed the motto of every film publicist in the business, though few are as brazen as Bhagwagar. They are more likely to favour sophisticated MBA-speak about “expectation management”, like Prabhat Chaudhary of Spice PR, the man behind the marketing success of Three Idiots and Ghajini. The promotion of films and stars has become a big, clever and crafty enterprise and image managers and publicity gurus are riding the wave. Some even have management students clamouring to join them and investors willing to put serious money into their once hole-in-the-wall companies. Film marketing budgets are skyrocketing, more inventive ways are being deployed to manufacture hype for a star or a film, and the media, without which none of this would work, has emerged as a willing handmaiden for the Bollywood publicity machine. “Movies are becoming commodities. What we’re witnessing is FMCGisation—movies becoming like soaps and shampoos,” says Siddhartha Mukherjee, senior VP, communications, at TAM Media Research. 

Take this week’s big release, Kites. The film’s first “look” was unveiled last year at the Cannes film festival and it has relentlessly been in the news ever since. The publicity machine has been fed stories of a Hrithik-Barbara Mori “affair”; of Suzanne Roshan walking out of her marital home; of Hrithik turning alcoholic; of director Anurag Basu’s supposed misunderstanding with producer Rakesh Roshan; of the climax of the film getting leaked in a tabloid; of a controversial kissing scene between Hrithik and a topless Mori. Last week, Hrithik got into a scuffle with journos at Shirdi; shortly after, the film got into copyright infringement trouble in Bihar; last Sunday, a glowing advance review of the film by a foreign critic started doing the rounds on the internet; and then, to top it all, came a tweet of heady approval  from none other than Karan Johar.

Is this just a string of coincidences or a variety of cunning schemes hyping the film and its stars? That such a question can be asked about so many films that have hit the screen in recent times strongly suggests the latter.
1The Hype Machine

  • Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s spat with Chetan Bhagat over denial of proper credits to him for Three Idiots
  • MNIK’s run-in with Bal Thackeray
  • Karan Johar’s apology to Raj Thackeray on the use of “Bombay” rather than “Mumbai” in Wake Up Sid
  • Kurbaan’s posters with a bare-backed Kareena Kapoor removed by Shiv Sena supporters
  • Billu Barber faces the ire of barbers’ associations. Title eventually changed to Billu.
  • Rann runs into trouble over Jana Gana Mana remix
  • Deshdrohi’s Kamaal Khan gets 5 seconds of fame because of the Marathi-Bihari issue in his film


  • Aligning Rang De Basanti with causes like the Jessica Lall case, and fatal MiG-21 accidents
  • Making dyslexia a hot topic for the causerati to sell Taare Zameen Par
  • Playing up the failures of the education system to sell Three Idiots
  • Organising college debates on the role of youth in politics to kickstart publicity for  Rajneeti

Read more HERE.