A still from the movie Sanju.
A still from the movie Sanju.

Sanju makers go digital for Ranbir Kapoor’s acid test

Right from live streaming the Sanju's trailer launch across five cities to getting lead actor Ranbir Kapoor to take over Fox's Twitter handle, the makers have made their strategy clear

New Delhi: Their individual box office records may have remained fairly exceptional of late but the producers of Sanju are not leaving anything to luck this time. Fox Star Studios, Rajkumar Hirani Films and Vinod Chopra Films are together looking at a digital-focused marketing campaign for the highly anticipated biographical drama on the life of actor Sanjay Dutt, that releases this week. Right from live streaming the film’s trailer launch across five cities to getting lead actor Ranbir Kapoor, otherwise not present on any social media platform, to take over Fox’s Twitter handle, the makers have made their strategy clear.

“Digital has been the mainstay for this campaign followed by TV to augment reach and impact. The objective was to build conversations and scale," said Shikha Kapur, chief marketing officer, Fox Star Studios.

Fox, Kapur added, has not defined its target group by age and geography but by affinities and behaviours online. Partnerships with Facebook, Paytm and BookMyShow gave the team valuable insights into audiences with an affinity towards director Rajkumar Hirani’s cinema and other movies with similar powerful storytelling.

“This was further deepened by an understanding of online behaviour and preferences of audiences interested in Sanju over a six-month period to conclude the size and universe of the TG we wanted to look at," Kapur said.

Fox started the campaign as early as April with a roadblock on 80 channels across the Star network for the teaser launch, cashing in on the Indian Premier League traffic on TV as well as its streaming app Hotstar. Apart from getting users to try Sanju-style lip sync and face filters and post videos to win prizes, the studio also got director Hirani to post an image from the film introducing people relevant to Dutt’s life and various nuggets of information, each day beginning the teaser launch. More recently, Fox’s Father’s Day initiative involved inviting fans to post pictures with their dads captioned with #JadooKiJhappi, a popular phrase from Hirani’s cult classic Munnabhai MBBS, besides getting Kapoor to do a live video chat and share pictures from his own childhood. The chatbots or software that can interact with humans via textual or auditory methods, to reach out to fans, that Fox had introduced during its last release Baaghi 2, have now been extended to Sanju, enabling fans to book tickets or have a conversation with the protagonist.

“We were very clear on how we wanted to position Sanju. As Raju Hirani said at the start of the campaign, bad choices make good stories and this is one such story, of a man who lived many lives in one life and a story that is so unbelievable that you almost want to pinch yourself and ask if it really happened. This was the crux of the marketing narrative and everything we constructed around it," Kapur said.

To be sure, the one advantage of a digital-centric campaign is the cost effectiveness. Compared to a big-ticket Bollywood film that would spend about 20-25% of its total budget on marketing, a campaign like Sanju uses less than 10%.

“I don’t think the primary criteria is to save money, it’s about the ability to engage, crack some jokes and have fun backed by very strong messaging, in typical Rajkumar Hirani style," said Saurabh Uboweja, international brand expert and chief executive officer of brand consultancy firm Brands Of Desire. “One thing done fantastically by the makers here is that they’ve treated the concept of the movie in a hilarious way. How they are handling Twitter is very cool and relaxed, I think they are really trying to strike a chord with the audience and not just share information."

Uboweja said there is a conscious effort to connect with the younger audience who don’t just spend most of their time online but also drive entire families to movie shows. Making Dutt appear flawed, yet sensitive and relatable is also a means to reach out to a generation for which the actor is past his prime.

To be sure, the producers are not the only ones for whom the stakes are high. Trade experts are unanimously calling Sanju a litmus test for lead actor Kapoor who hasn’t delivered a bonafide blockbuster since his 2013 romantic comedy Ye Jawaani Hai Deewani. His last release Jagga Jasoos, incurred losses of more than Rs40 crore and in trade parlance ‘was an experiment that misfired and took the actor back by 10 years.’ Hirani, who is credited with breaching the Rs200 crore and Rs300 crore club with 3 Idiots and PK, respectively, has had an impeccable record so far.

“The expectations are high and the film is crucial for Ranbir who needs those numbers to stay in the game," said trade analyst Taran Adarsh. “Contemporaries like Varun Dhawan and Ranveer Singh have been delivering consistently."

Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema said the film is likely to notch up about 3,800-4,200 screens on an 80:20 ratio in its favour as Salman Khan’s Eid release Race 3 continues to run. Digital payments firm Paytm, which sells movie tickets through Paytm Movies, and has also worked closely on the marketing of the film, says Sanju has seen one of the highest advance bookings in the last six months, since it opened bookings on Sunday. Apart from tier-one cities like Hyderabad that report 55-60% occupancy for Friday, smaller cities like Jaipur, Surat and Bhubaneshwar rank among the top booking sites. Plus, transactions show that people are booking for larger groups or families.

“People are curious about the film. If the content is accepted, it can do wonders," Mohan said predicting a Rs25-30 crore opening day.

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