New Delhi: Even as the country gets ready for the September release of the most expensive Indian movie ever—the Rajnikanth-Aishwarya Rai starrer Endhiran that cost around Rs.150 crore to make—a small Hindi film that releases on Friday has been making waves.
Peepli Live, directed by Anusha Rizvi, is a small-budget movie that cost Rs.10 crore to make. The hype that its makers have managed to generate around it, largely through marketing, has, however, made the small movie big. Bollywood Express, part of Television Audience Measurement (TAM) Media Research Pvt. Ltd, has tracked roughly 12,500-odd Peepli Live promos aired on 20 different channels between 3 July and 31 July. That’s a total of 127 hours. “Peepli Live is a small film, but promoted like any other big-budget film,” said Siddharth Roy Kapur, chief executive officer of UTV Motion Pictures. UTV has co-produced the film with Aamir Khan Productions Pvt. Ltd. In addition to the Rs.10 crore production cost, the makers are spending Rs.6 crore on distribution and marketing of Peepli Live.
The film—a bitingly satirical look at the phenomenon of farmers committing suicide in a bid to escape their debt and poverty-stricken existence, a reflection of reality in many parts of India—has recovered its production cost even before the release. Satellite television rights have been sold to Zee TV for Rs.10 crore. And music company T-Series shelled out Rs.4 crore for music rights.
Peepli Live, with its unconventional script and no well-known faces, will release on 13 August with 600 prints across 600 screens in India.
That too is a large number, given that small-budget films release with roughly 250-odd prints. “Initially, we had planned to open with 200 screens. But given the good feedback to the promos, we decided to increase the number,” said producer Aamir Khan.
Around 120-odd prints across 120 screens have been kept aside for other countries.
While UTV Motion Pictures will distribute the film worldwide, in the UK, Peepli Live has partnered with Artificial Eye (a first for any Hindi film), a premium distribution chain that looks specifically at art-house cinema and owns the largest such exhibition chain, Curzon Cinemas. Peepli Live will release in the UK on 24 September.
The secret of Peepli Live’s success is intelligent publicity, the film’s showing at various film festivals, and Aamir Khan.
The actor who seems to have discovered the perfect ways to promote his films has been personally involved with the marketing of Peepli Live too.
From giving people “Ghajini” haircuts before the release of his movie of the same name in 2008 to travelling ‘incognito’ through the Indian hinterland for 3 Idiots (2009), Khan’s marketing efforts have been memorable.
The marketing push for Peepli Live started around two months ago. Khan developed a teaser where he poked fun at himself. The promo had a journalist standing in front of a tea stall selling “Amir” and “Gajni” chips and biscuits and wondering if Peepli Live would succeed or force the actor to sell such products. After this promo, trailers of Peepli Live started doing the rounds. These helped viewers in connecting with the main characters of the film, including Natha, Ammaji and Budhia.
However, the suspense over whether Natha, the poor farmer, really commits suicide after drawing a swarm of local politicians and the media to Peepli, his village, still continues. The film has received a positive response on the global festival circuit, including the Sundance Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival.
There has been another unintended beneficiary of the interest drummed up in the film ahead of its release.
Khan recently received a letter from the village sarpanch of a village 60km away from Delhi that happens to be called Peepli but isn’t the fictional location of the film, which was shot in 45 days in Badwai, around 90km from Bhopal.
“The letter thanked Aamir for putting Peepli in the spotlight. The real estate rates there have shot up because of the film’s trailers,” said Khan’s spokesperson.