A Minute With: Aamir Khan on movie marketing

January 9, 2014

“Dhoom 3”, the third instalment in India’s only action movie franchise, has become Bollywood’s highest-grossing film, raking in more than 5 billion rupees ($80 million) in global ticket sales.

Lead actor Aamir Khan spoke to India Insight about the film’s marketing strategy, why reality TV shows may not be ideal for publicity and what he would change about his 2005 film “Mangal Pandey – The Rising.” Edited excerpts.

How was the marketing strategy for “Dhoom 3” conceived?
When we sat down for the first time, Victor (director Vijay Krishna Acharya) and the whole team were trying to figure out what we wanted to convey for this film. And like any other film, and this is something that both Adi (producer Aditya Chopra) and I feel very strongly, what actually wants to make you see the film is the trailer. We wanted to let the creative of the film speak for itself. Over the years, certain conventions have been formed and we looked at each convention for its own merit. Do we want to continue what is happening, is it of any use to the film, or not?

(Related story: Aamir Khan’s recipe for India’s biggest blockbuster)

Which conventions did you look at?
One of the conventions is that, typically, it is believed that going on big-ticket reality TV shows gets you a big opening.

Weren’t you one of the first to do that during “Ghajini”?
Yes, I was and I am not denying that. But circumstances alter — I cannot do the same thing I did five years ago. That doesn’t mean it is relevant today. We looked at each convention in isolation. Will “Dhoom 3” benefit by going on a reality TV show — our answer was no. Because in our opinion, what a reality show essentially does is it amplifies the awareness of your film, but it doesn’t increase the desire to consume. I may be aware of your film and be very clear that I don’t want to see it. “Dhoom 3” didn’t need awareness, people have been asking us for the last three years about it. I am not saying there is no value to going on a reality TV show. If it was a film like “Peepli Live”, which is a small film — we don’t have the budgets and cannot buy ad time. Our hands are tied and I don’t have stars. So I go to a large show and raise awareness to a huge audience that isn’t even aware of the film. The other big thing was not releasing our full songs — that was a big decision we took. The thought being that we want you to enjoy the full songs in the theatre. If I’ve seen the song on TV 20 times and on YouTube 20 times, when it comes in the film, I have already seen it, I have lost interest in those five minutes. We’ve made a large-scale experience, so we want you to enjoy it like that. The other advantage was the old advantage that Hindi films had. I love “Salaam-e-Ishq” from “Muqaddar ka Sikandar”, but if I didn’t have YouTube then, or didn’t see it on TV, I would go to the theatre to watch it. People used to do that, and that is why songs had repeat value. “Dhoom 3” had “Malang”, which was a huge spectacle, and that creates a desire in you to watch it for a second time. It could, at least.

So would you attribute the movie’s big opening to content being held back?
That could be the case. When you hold back, people want to know more about it. But it’s a psychological thing, which you cannot measure. It has to be something you either believe in or not.

How much of “Dhoom 3” and its success would you attribute to marketing?
It’s everything. It is the marketing, the stars, the franchise. And after the third day, it is the content that speaks. The first three days is a combination of these three things — who is your star cast, what is the interest people have towards this film, and how you market the film. These three components will get you the first three days, no matter what the film is.

Do you think this strategy would work for your other films?
For me, there is no such thing. Every film is different. Like “Peekay” has such a strong visual component, even if there is no promo, and just a photograph, it might be enough.

When do you start thinking of this?
Closer to the film, as it grows organically. Because you need to know how the film is turning out, how it is shaping up.

You said in an earlier interview that what matters is how well you’ve managed to communicate your film to the audience. Any instances when you haven’t done that?
If I had to release “Mangal Pandey” again, I would change the name. The story is of an Indian sepoy and his British officer — it is about two friends who find themselves on opposite sides during a time of crisis. It is not the story of two men, not just Mangal Pandey. With his title, you are not prepared for the role of the other man. Also, the title gives you a feeling that he is going to vanquish the British, but that is not what happens. The title is a big deal — it resonates with your film.
The biggest learning I had was during “3 Idiots”. The title didn’t track well at all, because people didn’t know what it was called. I was told that my film wouldn’t get an opening because no one knew it was coming. It’s an English title, and people cannot identify with it. If you ask them, will you watch the Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor film, they’ll say yes. You and me will look at a Tamil film and say oh, I want to watch a Rajnikanth film, because we can’t read or pronounce the title. A lot of distributors will still tell you that English titles won’t work. We live in a bubble, and we don’t think it is such a big deal. But it is very, very important.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Robert MacMillan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay, Tony @tonytharakan and Robert @bobbymacReports  | Disclaimer: This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)

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