New Delhi: Its first Hindi film co-production in more than a decade has Sony Pictures Entertainment India on its toes. Akshay Kumar’s Padman, which arrives in theatres this Friday, is the first Indian film project for the company after Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya in 2007, with which it had emerged as the first Hollywood studio to produce a Bollywood film.

With Padman, a biographical take on social activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine and revolutionized menstrual hygiene in India, Sony is going as wide as possible.

“The idea is to be optimum in terms of where we want to go, we are looking at about 2,500-2,700 screens in India itself," said Vivek Krishnani, managing director, Sony Pictures Entertainment India. “It’s about reaching out and being available wherever there are audiences, and I think the hallmark of a proper distribution strategy is that you need to provide audiences the opportunity when and where they want to come and engage with your movie."

Apart from India, Krishnani said they are looking at about 600 screens overseas. Conventional markets like the US, UK, Australia and the Middle East aside, Padman is the first Akshay Kumar film to have a same day and date release in regions like Iraq, Russia, Congo and the Ivory Coast. It will also be the widest release for Kumar in countries like Germany, Austria, Netherlands and Belgium. Marketing in these regions includes associations with online database IMDb to conduct live interactions with theatre audiences on the day of release (US) and partnering with local newspapers targeting the Asian diaspora that will distribute sanitary napkins in exchange for Padman tickets (Kenya).

“Plus we’ll be looking at a delayed release in Phase II markets where films don’t usually travel to. At Sony, we have the ability to give this film that global reach that it deserves," Krishnani said.

Meanwhile, on home ground in India, the sensitivity of menstrual hygiene as a topic still makes the film a risky proposition. Industry experts point out that the exhaustive marketing campaign, with Kumar and his entertaining social reformist image, at its centre, are meant to counter that.

“Akshay is such a ubiquitous star that he’s got an audience across segments. The hallmark of this campaign is that there is something for everybody," Krishnani said.

That includes a robust digital strategy currently in progress with the #PadManChallenge where Bollywood celebrities pose and upload pictures with a sanitary napkin and nominate others to do the same, to fight the taboo. Kumar has also been releasing quirky YouTube videos, including a rap called Bleeding Rani with YouTuber Aranya Johar. The United Nations India went live on Facebook with the team of Padman and Union minister of information and technology Smriti Irani on women’s health and menstrual hygiene on Tuesday.

“I think there is a natural wave around the country where digital has permeated deep and everybody is exposed to everything. Which is why they need to reach out as far as possible because the real problems will be occurring not just in the big cities," said Saurabh Uboweja, international brand expert chief executive officer of brand consultancy firm Brands Of Desire.

Kumar, Uboweja added, is very intelligent in his use of social media, though the innovative marketing strategies may just be director R. Balki’s brainchild, a veteran adman and former group chairman of the Mullen Lowe Lintas Group.

But Sony hasn’t limited its strategies to digital. Apart from regular print and radio advertisements, there have been screenings organized for school girls in places like Gujarat. Kumar also flagged off events like the Delhi University Women’s Marathon and the Startup Carnival Franchise India. A comic show on Sony Entertainment Television called Super Night with Padman was meant to reach out to family audiences.

“It’s a prudent, smart and effective campaign," Uboweja said, adding that the one reason Kumar is so central to it is to keep costs low, considering that the film with its sensitive messaging will have limited and not mainstream audience appeal. “It may not be the typical Salman Khan grosser given that people (in India) would still pay to watch something that is purely illogical and entertaining, as compared to something that would have a social message. But the campaign is helping the film reach its potential."

Padman, which was earlier slated to release on 25 January, was pushed due to the chaos surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat. Krishnani said it was not just an act of solidarity for fellow industry members but also helpful for their own film’s prospects.

“We hope that this film touches a chord with the people in India, there is huge anticipation, and we are hoping that translates into box office," he said, adding that the studio is quite bullish as far as the India market is concerned.

“We are looking at building a progressive slate for Sony here in India, not just in Hindi but other regional languages as well. The plan is to have a healthy pipeline and at Sony we have the expertise to understand and deliver content. We’re being selective about what we want to put out, but we will be making announcements soon," he said.

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