When Sunny Deol appeared on the Comedy Nights With Kapil show, the Bollywood actor looked nervous. So did the host of the show, Kapil Sharma.
The actor is rarely made public appearances. His profile is formed by his movies and nothing else. He is new to the marketing game that is being followed by the Bollywood producers these days.
Many top Bollywood actors, unlike Sunny Deol, have adapted to the new marketing circus.
Bollywood moviemakers find themselves competing with a plethora of distractions that occupy our mind-space. Television is blaring ongoing soaps.
The revived radio stations are blasting unlimited blabber. Video games and online videos are in our palms. And finally our friends, and friends of friends, or even strangers are striving for our attention on social media.
With so much noise, movie-makers are seeing the pie of attention for movies shrinking, which is also evident from the shorter shelf-life of movies in theatres. Until as recently as 10 years ago, movies ran in theatres for a few weeks if not months. Now, most movies are lucky to survive after their first weekend.
Trying to get attention amidst all this noise, movie-makers are becoming a noise. Every Bollywood actor, including the high-brand-value superstars, are knocking on the doors of popular television shows, to become part of their noise.
This is happening so much without exception that it is now expected. The novelty has fizzled. What was once a rarity is now a norm.
Like all advertising, the norm loses its charm. Truly, all advertising without a reason is futile. Anything without a reason is useless. If a Bollywood actor comes to a show and begs the viewers to watch their forthcoming film, that advertising has failed for its very reason.
It is like a salesman of a washing powder knocking at your door – the brand of the washing powder is unknown, but you have seen the salesman in the neighbourhood for many years. Does that approach work? Rarely, unless he is a good salesman. And all Bollywood actors suck at selling their movies.
Does anyone train them in how to sell a movie, just like they have trainers for dance, fitness and acting? No sir. Just like many industries, film industry too takes marketing skills for granted.
In their defence, television shows are struggling to earn money. They are scraping the bottom of the advertising barrel for two reasons. One, the economic recession caused the once-free-flowing marketing dollars to dry up.
Second, the new advertising rules in India have drastically reduced the airtime that could be dedicated to advertisements. So in-programme advertising is a much-loved solution for television and movie producers alike. They both are gaining from such movie promotions.
What about the viewers? Is audience gaining? Barely – to the extent that the movie stars have become more visible outside movies.
You now know more about the actors than what was once available only through tabloids and paparazzi journalists many years ago.
But do we want these actors, which are icons for many fans, looking desperate on the television shows in shameless publicity stunts for their forthcoming movies?
The blatant appearances that force these stars to go from one show to another, from one television channel to another, from one radio station to another, does not add to the entertainment value of the programme. In many cases, they are an avoidable distraction from the main programme. They appear like local politicians interrupting a cultural programme in the community.
I am not saying that these actors shouldn’t participate in television shows. Far from it. There’s an opportunity there, if the producers keep the audiences in mind. Producers can adopt an organised approach to the actors’ appearances. Organised in a manner that entertains the audience. Isn’t that the role of both: the television shows and the movies – to entertain?
With these common goals, and a captive audience, it should be easier for entertainers to create content that is both entertaining and helping the Bollywood actor’s brand.
And that’s my next point. It is the brand that sells. So visibility is good. An actor needs to be visible. But visible in a relevant way. Any Bollywood actor’s presence on television shows should primarily be with the intention of entertaining the audience. The actor’s movie will benefit indirectly.
Which brings me to my final point. And I hope Bollywood actors and producers are listening. Movies sell on their own merit. That’s the bottomline. No movie has succeeded because of heavy television appearances, or failed for the lack of it.
An actor can help bring audiences to the movie halls on the first day. After that, the movie’s success largely depends on word-of-mouth reviews. Social media has made it so easy to share feedback that movie-fans find out the worth of a movie soon after the first show.
People in cities have reached a saturation point of watching film-personalities interrupting their popular television shows. If Bollywood actors really wish to make a dent on the success of their ventures, they need to: 1. Be relevant, and 2. get away from the camera and move close to the community.
They need to visit thirsty audiences in B-towns and rural locations. This is where their presence will be a rarity and more sought. Here, audience interaction will help the actors relate better with the masses.
Let the Bollywood stars be seen dirtying their hands in community projects. It will attract good press, while also help a cause, all the while adding credibility to the celebrity’s brand.
Let them lend their voice to a social cause – a cause that’s close to their heart. A cause they truly believe in.
Let them raise social issues on Twitter – like composer Vishal Dadlani. Let them be seen in humane light, rather than in limelight as politically-correct celebrities. Let them use their brand-power to give back to community in ways other than financial support.
This is where they can build their personal brand, and this personal brand will help the promotion of movies.
Not the mindless banter in poorly-integrated appearances on television shows.