I watch very little television, and that very little is usually restricted to news or English crime serials. But in the last few days, even I, for whom Hindi entertainment channels are just noise to surf through, have discovered that Shah Rukh Khan is Everywhere. If the man is not giving Amitabh Bachchan a massage in Kaun Banega Crorepati, he is sitting on a large sofa chatting with Preity Zinta, or parked with the jury on some game show. If on some channel, he is physically absent at the moment, then they are talking about him. If they are not talking about him, they are running the trailer of Ra.One, which threatens at the end: “3 more days to go”, “2 more days to go” etc.
Much of my youth was misspent, sitting in the dark in urban or mofussil cinema halls watching any and every Hindi film that held a gun to the projectionist’s head. Today, a quarter century later, I average about one Hindi film a year in a hall, and about two on DVD. But after this SRK onslaught (and if I, an accidental tourist, found him omnipresent, regular viewers must have been tsunami-ed by him), I decided to find out what the hell was going on. One must keep up with the world.
Film Review: Ra.One | A confused game
OK, but I don’t want to keep up with the world so closely that I want to spend hours researching Ra.One, so I limited myself to the Wikipedia entry. And I soon found my head spinning with all the numbers and deals and tie-ups and alliances and brand extensions and franchise options, that came charging at me. I had seen one of the Ra.One trailers, which seemed to be full of supermen in tights lobbing SUVs at each other and taking kilometre-long leaps, and just reading about the marketing juggernaut that the Khan has unleashed made me feel like waving a white flag: I plead unconditional surrender, now can I just go back to watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents?
Of course, they are claiming that it’s the most expensive Hindi film ever made, which is fine—an ubiquitous part of marketing Big Hindi Films nowadays is claiming, before release, that they’ve spent more gazillions of rupees on this film than anyone else ever, and then claiming, on the Monday after release, that they’ve collected more gazillions in the last three days than anyone else ever. How they manage to tabulate all the box office collections from all over India—and possibly the world (do not mention time zones)—till the last show on Sunday and make the information available for the Monday papers is of course a mystery, but what the hell, it seems to work.
But the Ra.One marketing hurricane seems to be like one of those Rajinikanth jokes taken seriously. The marketing budget is supposed to be the highest ever, the film’s promotion drive is claimed to be the longest ever. Other films have websites, these guys have a youtube channel, which apparently hosts games, and contests where participants can create their own promos (Why? Is this what economists refer to as disguised unemployment?) from clips, music and dialogues of the film. There are more brand tie-ups “than any other movie ever before” (let’s acronimise that to TAOMEB). TV and music rights have been sold at higher prices TAOMEB, there’s a full-cycle Playstation game, there’s another game you can download on your iPod or iPad, there’s merchandise—T-shirts, coffee mugs, wrist bands, watches, mobile pouches—you get the picture, plus a jewellery line, a series of laptops with customized Ra.One skin, comics in both printed and digital formats, Akon singing a song, Lady Gaga at a premiere, and so on and on. It’s being released on 5,000 screens (TAOMEB), it’s having premieres across the world (TAOMEB ), and it’s even dubbed in German (TAOMEB retires)! And it’s also being released in 3-D. Here my keyboard runs out of breath.
So I totted up all the numbers mentioned in the wiki (which I suspect is watched and managed vigilantly by the Khan’s henchmen, may they all strut around in tights some day and chuck MUVs at columnists), and I concluded that they don’t even need to release the damn thing! They can just keep marketing it, and making money, and it doesn’t matter at all whether anyone goes and watches it. OK, that may be too extreme, let’s say that it doesn’t at all matter whether anyone likes the movie or not. The hype gets you to breakeven, and everything beyond that is, well, the personal stuff that public personalities need, need like a fix—and the scale and the hunger keeps rising.
Rajinikanth, I am informed, has done a special appearance in Ra.One. This is a man who never pretends that he is actually anything other than a dark bald guy in a veshti, but, as they say, the apple that fell on Newton was thrown by him. May Ra.One get a whiff of Newton’s apple burp.