Mumbai: Fox Star Studios’ most ambitious projects for the year, M.S. Dhoni—The Untold Story released on Friday.
The film, featuring actor Sushant Singh Rajput, opened across 4,500 screens in India and 60 countries internationally, making it perhaps, one of the widest releases till date. Moreover, the brand has pulled in approximately Rs.65 crore from brand partners, in terms of association fees and media spend commitments.
“It certainly is our most special project—given that it is inspired by a story of India’s most loved cricket icon and his journey to become the man he is today. It was like most such projects, not easy, but a privilege to be associated with. A lot of credit goes to Arun Pandey whose vision it was to make the film,” said Vijay Singh, chief operational officer, Fox Star Studios India. But it’s not just the size and scale of release that makes this biopic on Dhoni ambitious. The film has tried to recreate his journey, with painstaking attention to detail.
For instance, as Arun Pandey, chairman of Rhiti Group and the producer of the film pointed out, practically 95% of the venues showcased in the film are authentic. Whether it’s his parent’s home in Ranchi, his school or the cricket grounds. Not to mention securing permission from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as well as other cricket administrators, and cricket boards across the world. As well as video footage from broadcasters. There was also the added challenge of ensuring Rajput perfected his cricketing skills on screen. There was no faking it there, and the actor went through 13 months of rigorous training with cricket coach and former Indian wicket-keeper Kiran More, and a video analyst who would break down Dhoni’s shots—including his signature helicopter shot—into frames, explaining the transfer of weight and bat angle.
The film has also pulled in numerous brand partners looking to tap into India’s biggest passion—sports and entertainment.
“This is one film that brings those two national obsessions together. Moreover, this offers brands not just an opportunity to associate with a mega film, but it also opens doors for Dhoni himself. Allowing brands to use his name and capitalize on the association,” said Aastha Jain, senior business director, ESP properties, a GroupM company.
“Our alliances with our brands partners across categories saw over Rs.50 crore of media spends and approximately Rs.15 crore in film association creating maximum impact most effectively,” said Shikha Kapur, chief marketing officer, Fox Star Studios India.
Brands such as Gulf Oil lubricants, Lava mobile, Exide life insurance, TVS motorcycles, Reebok sports equipment and apparel, Finolex pipes, Garnier Men, Cargill Foods, Ranbaxy’s Revital, McDowells, Seven—Dhoni’s fashion brand, SportsFit World—his chain of fitness centres, Maruti Suzuki, which is launching a special edition of the Alto car to coincide with the film, Kingfisher Premium, Kotak Mahindra bank, Orient Electric, among others have partnered with the movie.
These associations have come not just on the merit of the film. But also on the merit of Dhoni, his brand equity and his long standing associations with certain brands, said Navin Shah, joint managing director of EMC Solutions Worldwide Pvt. Ltd, a branded entertainment solutions firm. “This (biopic) isn’t Sachin Tendulkar five years down the line (from retirement). Dhoni is a playing captain, of the Indian cricket team, a sport which is religion in this country,” he said, drawing a comparison to other biopics such as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Mary Kom, played by fairly well-established stars such as Farhan Akhtar and Priyanka Chopra, which didn’t create as much hype and excitement at the box-office.
“For us, as a brand which has supported Dhoni for almost a decade, it was important, for us, to not be left out of a movie that essays his life,” said Anshuman Chakravarty, head brand and corporate communications, Orient Electric, part of the CK Birla Group, which signed Dhoni on when he still sported long hair.
What adds incremental value to this film is the fact that the film has been dubbed and simultaneously released in Tamil, Telugu and Marathi. Tapping into strong cricket holds which have been firm supporters of the cricketer, especially Tamil Nadu, which supported him as the captain of the Chennai Super Kings, the Indian Premier League team.
“Dhoni is a brand that is loved by everyone, whether it’s consumers in metros or non-metros, so the association was a great fit,” said Vinay Pant, assistant vice-president, marketing, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd explaining that association was likely to help move the brand’s imagery a notch up. “While the Alto is considered (a car) for the masses, this association will help us show that it is also contemporary,” he said. The limited edition car, is inspired by the movie and will have decals with Dhoni’s signature, and his shirt number 7 on seat covers, among other features.
Such brand tie-ups are increasingly common. Industry estimates peg the branding co-promotions market in India at Rs.200crore. Indian films typically account for 75% of that amount, while Hollywood films account for 25%. While a majority of the co-promotion deals in India are purely in the form of media barters where the brands associating with the movie spend on buying media time or space in exchange for using icons, clips and images from the film in their brand promotions, a large percentage of the associations with M.S. Dhoni movie, are paid for, with an obligation to spend a certain amount of money to promote the association.
Read more: How Sushant Singh Rajput became M.S. Dhoni