If Peepli Live gains any traction at all among multiplex audiences, some credit is due to the gumption of its producer, Aamir Khan. The actor and film-maker’s innovative promotion campaign for the movie has gone some way in ensuring that Peepli Live is more than a box-office oddity. Peepli Live’s television promos mock the idea that an all-powerful star such as Khan can actually produce a low-budget satire on farmer suicides. Khan may be sending up his own image in the advertisements, but he is also reminding viewers that the movie was worth his investment.
Also Read Nandini Ramnath’s earlier columns
More Hindi indie producers need to display Khan’s intrepidness. Offbeat films are generally deemed difficult to market and are treated with embarrassment—as though the producer wished that his Rs2 crore movie starred Akshay Kumar rather than Abhay Deol. Films such as Johnny Gaddaar, Manorama Six Feet Under and Sankat City could have fared better if they had been more smartly marketed. However, the situation has changed dramatically in recent months. Last year’s Dev.D made optimum use of its psychedelic imagery and pulsating soundtrack (its eye-catching posters featured a pair of giant lips, no doubt inspired by Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). Udaan and Tere Bin Laden were extensively promoted before their release, and sailed home safely on the strength of overwhelmingly positive reviews. Movie critics are a much-abused lot, but they sometimes have their uses.
Movie marketing remains an arcane skill that yields unpredictable results. Posters and trailers aren’t enough to attract viewers any more. Kites and Raavan flopped, so what’s the guarantee that a no-name film will work? Audiences are undependable: They marvel at experimentation and praise boldness, but their encouragement doesn’t always translate into ticket sales. Film promotion is about hype rather than modesty, but what do you do when your movie has no marquee names or a winning soundtrack? The day isn’t far when film schools such as the Film and Television Institute of India and the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute of India will include film promotion in their curricula to ensure that their bright graduates churn out more than just film festival-friendly fare.
The irony is that more marketing and distribution avenues are available to film-makers than ever before. Facebook and Twitter have come to the rescue of both big and small movies, creating a fair amount of pre-release Internet buzz. Digital television channels such as Tata Sky and DishTV prolong the shelf life of a movie. However, the numbers needed to take a film from non-starter to revenue-earner exceed the percentage of Indians on Facebook. Not every “Hindie” film has a producer like Khan, whose personal commercial value can be put to good use when the occasion arises. Anurag Kashyap, who co-produced Udaan, did lend his weight to the film. But his questionable promotional tactics included showing Angoor, the semi-porn film that features in Udaan, to a bunch of teenagers and going public with a very private letter he wrote to his parents when he left home for Mumbai in 1993. Can Aamir Khan please clone himself?
Peepli Live will release in theatres on 13 August.
Nandini Ramnath is a film critic with Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org