Film promotions are getting weirder by the day, not to mention lacking imagination. Stars and their PR departments usually follow a routine to promote films. Sometimes, they also indulge in creating controversy. But controversies, either created as a part of films promotion or due to outer forces, more often than not backfire.
Film’s promotion teams devise various ways to bring or keep a film in the limelight. Often, court cases are filed over trivial issues related to a film, like its name, poster, lyrics, copyrights or even the theme of the films. Such cases are usually filed from some remote, unknown small towns, and in most cases by an obscure lawyer to gain fame. On many occasions this is done as proxy by the very producer who seeks media space. But this trend has outlived its utility. The law has become wiser on such petitions.
If one talks of controversy over the title of, “Padmaavat” (2018) is a fresh example where a community objected to the depiction of their revered queen of Padmavati. She is an icon of the community besides, of course, and they had objections over the film itself.
The law says that once films are cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification, nobody can object to them. However, the district magistrate of a certain district enjoys the right to stop the screening of films if he thinks it will disturb the peace in his area. This has to be on religious ground or on the basis of harming sentiments in any other way. But, this law is ineffective when a community or a populace resorts to mob mentality and takes the law in their hand, as it happened in the case of “Padmaavat”. The film’s release was delayed. In some states, the delay was so much that, by the time it releases it had lost its momentum. Else, the film would have done even better.
“Billu Barber”, a Shah Rukh Khan movie, also faced trouble because of its title. A representative of the barber community from Mumbai, who has been successful in his traditional vocation, raised objection to his people being described as barbers. India is a country where, traditionally, people and communities have been tagged by their vocations. A lot many use their ancestral family vocations as surnames even today. Eventually, the film’s title had to be shortened to “Billu” (2009).
There was a controversy before the release of Amitabh Bachchan’s film “Shahenshah” (1988), too. The Bofors guns controversy had hit the headlines and Bachchan’s name was dragged in. People were curious, more so because the whole nation had prayed for his recovery following the onset injury in 1981 during the shooting of “Coolie”. The same lot which put him on high pedestal now wanted to pull him down. The film’s posters were blackened with ink.
The release of “Shahenshah” (1988) had to be delayed. As a trial run, a film titled “Kaun Jeeta Kuan Haara”, in which Bachchan played a guest role, was released a few months before “Shahenshah”. Tempers were running high and, finally, theatres screening “Shahenshah” had to be given police protection.
Another film that needed police protection at the cinema halls was Aamir Khan’s “PK”. The word spread that it demeaned Hindu gods. As it happened eventually, people were enjoying the film and it went on to become a major hit.
But the Aamir Khan film that suffered the most was “Fanaa” (2006). Maybe it was to promote the film or maybe he really cared for those who were being displaced due to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada, but Aamir Khan joined forces with an activist Medha Patkar, who was leading a movement against the dam for over three decades.
One is not sure how Aamir suddenly woke up to the Narmada issue. But the people of Gujarat, who had been hoping for the dam to come up for years were angry. Initially there were protests at many places but in Gujarat the film remained unreleased.
Films court controversy mainly because of an act or utterance by a star. Sanjay Dutt’s “Khalnayak” (1993) faced public ire because Dutt’s name figured in the Mumbai bomb blasts case. A song in the film, “Choli ke pichhe kya hai” also created some controversy but later it also helped the film succeed.
It is not up to a film producer or his distributor once a mob turns against a film or an actor. It is the exhibitors, the cinema owners who raise their hands first. After all, the mob will take out its anger on the cinema property, not on the others concerned. Aamir again created a controversy when he announced that his family was feeling insecure in India! The backlash was solid. This time, there was no film in contention but Aamir was removed from a running endorsement deal.
In early 1990s, the film that had to suffer due to a controversy was Shekhar Kapur’s “Bandit Queen”. The film was based on the book “India’s Bandit Queen: The True Story Of Phoolan Devi” by Mala Sen, with a claim to be the true story of the notorious female bandit, Phoolan Devi.
Of all the people, it was the protagonist of this biopic Phoolan Devi who had moved court. What was more damaging for the film’s box-office prospects was the film was already released in the cinemas and, due to the court order, had to be withdrawn midway through its run. By the time the matter was settled amicably with financial considerations, it was too late for the film to recoup the business it had lost.
Shah Rukh Khan’s “My Name Is Khan” (2010) had its share of troubles as the Shiv Sena tried to stall the film’s release. The controversy started when the Indian Premier League (IPL) body decided not to include cricketers from Pakistan in the League. Khan, who owns the IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders, advocated the inclusion of Pakistani players in IPL . That irked the Shiv Sena. As a result of Sena protests, some cinemas did cancel the screening of the film, though at other cinemas, the film was released under heavy police bandobast.
There are many such controversies related to films. And, strangely enough, they happen just when a film is due for release.
This brings me to the various controversies woven around “Chhapaak”. The film is about an acid attack survivor from Delhi, Laxmi Agarwal. Movie buffs don’t usually like such sordid stories told graphically on screen, because they go to the cinema to be entertained.
How does one create a kind of ‘havva’ around such a film? Keep it in news. Prototype promotion routine was followed, like road shows, appearances on popular TV shows and interviews where Laxmi tagged along with Deepika. The impression was that Laxmi seemed full of life and confidence in all her public appearance.
It all started with a story writer, Rakesh Bharti, taking the legal route to claim the film’s story was his concept. Claiming credit for a story has happened with umpteen number of films, when somebody, out of the blue, files such a case. Then, suddenly, Deepika Padukone springs a surprise by dropping in at the JNU campus, posing with protesters involved in the violent CAB protests with folded hands but saying nothing, either way.
Then, the rumours were spread that the name of the culprit who threw acid at Laxmi had been changed from the original Muslim to a Hindu name. Really, cocky! No such thing.
Finally, the lawyer who fought for Laxmi in real life decided to sue the makers of “Chhapaak” for not giving enough credit to Laxmi.
In the era of social media, this act of her has been a trending topic. Unfortunately, it is Deepika and her act that is trending, not the film that needed the publicity! Deepika’s JNU trip has been rewarded by the governments of Madhya Pradeh and Chhattisgaarh. However, tax exemptions don’t mean much since cinema admission rates come under GST, unlike earlier when it was a state subject.
If a film is exempted by a state, it is only to the extent of its share of GST. That means six percent — or six rupees on a ticket worth Rs 100 — and nine per cent on tickets costing over Rs 100.
Once upon a time, while film production was tedious and involved many laborious stages, their promotion was simpler. Now, thanks to technology advances, film production has become simplified, promotion has become complicated and, unnecessarily at that. If footfalls don’t happen in the name of Deepika and the theme she has chosen for her film, no promotion stunt will bring in the audience. A similar film on acid attack titled “Acid”, was released just a week ago. It went totally unnoticed. May be, that was the cue to go drastic. (IANS)