Bollywood Buzz

Aamir Khan’s recipe for India’s biggest blockbuster

In the weeks before the release of ” Dhoom 3″, actor Aamir Khan got a message from his dentist, who was concerned that his patient’s new film wasn’t being promoted enough.

That was exactly what Khan, who plans the marketing of his films as meticulously as he prepares for roles, wanted to hear.

“When people are concerned enough about your film that they ask you why they aren’t promoting it more, you know you’ve achieved what you wanted,” the 48-year-old Bollywood star told Reuters in an interview.

As each big-ticket Indian film tries to outdo previous box-office records, shouting about the latest premiere has become routine.

Before “Chennai Express” opened in cinemas last year, actor Shah Rukh Khan appeared on popular reality TV shows, toured several cities and ensured newspaper coverage for the film. “Chennai Express” became the highest-grossing Bollywood movie, raking in 2.27 billion rupees ($36.6 million) in domestic ticket sales.

Six months later, “Dhoom 3″ — the third instalment of Bollywood’s only action franchise — has surpassed that record, netting at least 2.7 billion rupees ($43.5 million) by employing the opposite strategy. In the run-up to the film’s release, the lead stars didn’t do any road shows, and hardly any interviews or appearances on TV shows.

Instead, Aamir Khan was spotted in public wearing a fedora — which his character sports in “Dhoom 3″ — for nearly a year before the film’s release. Production house Yash Raj Films didn’t release the official soundtrack, distributing 30-second video snippets instead.

“What was really innovative was that they held back on the music. Most movies rely on music videos for free play on radio and music channels, which ensures traction, but they took that risk,” said Shailesh Kapoor of Ormax Media, a media research firm.

Kapoor’s firm estimates that 420 seconds of “Dhoom 3″ footage were distributed in the form of trailers and song promos before the film’s release, compared with 700 seconds on average for big-ticket Bollywood movies. “Chennai Express” handed out 820 seconds of footage.

“We want you to enjoy this film in the theatre. If I have seen the song on TV 20 times and on YouTube 20 times, when it comes in the film, I have lost interest in those five minutes. But when you are seeing it for the first time, your curiosity is piqued,” Khan said.

The other reason to skimp on music previews, Khan said, was to draw repeat audiences to cinemas with the spectacle of elaborate song sequences.

“These are the two things you do — you release the songs, you get them popular and you get a big first day. You go on big-ticket shows, you create awareness of a film, and you get a big opening. We got a big opening without that — that means our tests were correct. And 36 crores (360 million rupees or $6 million) is a huge opening. You cannot go higher than that,” he said.

Figures released by Yash Raj Films this week show that “Dhoom 3″ grossed more than 5 billion rupees ($80 million) worldwide, a first for an Indian film.

Aamir Khan often teams up with film producers to brainstorm on marketing strategies. In 2008, the actor ensured that ushers and food vendors at cinemas playing arch rival Shah Rukh Khan’s “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” sported haircuts like his character in the film “Ghajini”, which released the same year.

In 2009, Aamir Khan announced a nationwide treasure hunt for fans to find clues to the character he was playing in “3 Idiots”. He was also one of the first Bollywood actors to promote films through reality TV shows, a formula he rejected for “Dhoom 3″.

“The marketing team at YRF (Yash Raj Films) was terrified. They were convinced we were doing something disastrous. They wanted to go all out, and I am not blaming them,” said Khan.

Kapoor of Ormax Media said heavily promoting a film like “Dhoom 3″ could have increased expectations or given away a plot twist, affecting ticket sales after the first weekend.

“But since there was so much mystery surrounding the plot and the film, it carried on. It is only now, in the third week, that the content is catching up, and collections are falling,” he said.

Bollywood might need to take a leaf out of the actor’s book. For an industry that relies heavily on the first weekend for most of its revenues, marketing is a crucial tool, and not too many films innovate in that department.

“We need to realize that marketing a film is as important as making it,” said Khan. “People think … our story, concept is unique, but when it comes to marketing, we will do the same thing that 25 other people are doing. It doesn’t work like that.”


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