Bollywood is a different animal - the financial ecosystem of distribution makes tracking box office collections a hazardous exercise. Sure trade papers report them and some are even available online, but its rare for them to come up with consistent numbers. And the final verdict of hit/flop is rarely rationalized to consumers.
Nevertheless Bollywood buzz is fairly reliable - if you know how to track vested interests - you can reasonably ascertain the box office fate of movies.
To start with, a good movie is a necessary but not a sufficient condition (the definition of good here is entirely subjective).
Note: some of the points here are taken from a rediff interview with Trade Analyst Komal Nahta (summary points are Nahta's, blame for analysis is mine).
1. Look for big openings with action flicks
Its a hard earned lesson in Hollywood: action movies open big and fall off dramatically after the opening weekend (if you lose less than 50% of your first week audience - you are doing very well). This happens regardless of the quality of the movie or word of mouth. If the subsequent buzz on the movie is good, the movie plays longer and the fall off is more gradual. But its always there - action movies rarely raise their collections after opening week.
The most technical sophistication in Bollywood of late has arguably come in this genre. And with it comes the technique of opening big. How does one open big? There are four main things to get right.
- Get big names that can open a movie. These are names like Shahrukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya that will draw in the crowds on face recognition alone
- Make enough prints so that not a single potential ticket buyer has to go back home. This requires the building out of megaplexes that can house dozens of screens - and its been happening of late, providing the infrastructure needed for huge opening collections.
- Time your publicity. This is trickier in Bollywood than it is in Hollywood because of the factor music plays in the success of the movie (more on that later). But the basic idea is this: whip your audience in a frenzy but don't leave them hanging weeks for the final product. This requires timing and calls for hiring stars who don't mind doing endless press junkets.
- Make shorter movies. So you can cram more shows into opening weekend.
In short, if you can estimate how much a big name is worth on opening weekend, the running length of your film and how much you expect to take, you can create your marketing and print budget carefully enough to get you to the first week bonanza.
2. Go gradual when it comes to smaller movies
Another statistical lesson learned by Hollywood - chick flicks open small and run longer. They can even gain market share as they go along. This technique is also used to open smaller movies where a studio carefully wants to build word of mouth. Some recent examples are movies like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno.
And in Bollywood movies like Vivah and Jab We Met are two little movies that started small and went on to bigger box office collections purely via word of mouth and a widening of the screening audience. In India word of mouth is perhaps more powerful than in any other country with large film industries. Audiences are very opinionated, can be highly dismissive and are very rapid movers of buzz. If you have a good movie that can't hope to compete against big studio tentpoles, this very attribute of Indian audiences becomes a powerful marketing tool.
3. Think out of the box
Indian audiences have been looking at posters for ages now. And heavy rotations of cooked up trailers (mostly excuses to flash music and other bling at potential viewers) is fast becoming a tired way of gaining eyeballs. So what does an aspiring Bollywood marketer to do?
How about send your star to do a guest spot on a widely watched TV show? Here the show has to be picked carefully because your audience demographic has to be matched. The numbers on Indian TV are notoriously unreliable. But Indian producers and insiders have a remarkably good feel for who is watching the shows. This accounts for the proliferation of movie "guests" on India's multitude of reality shows.
Another innovative take: Ekta Kapoor shilled her movie Shootout at Lokhandwala on one of her TV shows by having an actor mention it.
4. Focus on good music
Indian audiences are hugely attached to music. And the advent of MTV has transformed music into a visual medium for younger generations. (There is a reason Beyonce sells more albums than Erykah Badu). Viewers will go watch a movie simply to see a song or an item number - they'll endure 3 hours of drivel to watch their favorite star shimmy for 3 minutes. Regardless of how much movie they watch - they still pay the same.
A trend well getting worn in Bollywood - make a music video entirely for publicity. This sort of makes sense. Its well known that a significant portion of the filmi budget is spent planning and executing songs - hence the birth of the item number in the late 90s.
But item numbers can be awkward to fit into a movie, so why not acknowledge that its a marketing tool by creating an item number but keep it out of the movie. Its a great way to have a full length song play on MTV or B4U while not giving much away (and you don't have to spend much on end credit graphics because the song can be reused).
5. Don't be dishonest with the audience
Not because its wrong, but because it can hurt your bottom line. A lot of times you'll see item numbers inserted into the movie featuring a major star. But once the item number is over the star disappears from the movie. Yet the song is used in heavy rotation to promote the film. This technique is basically disingenuous and can result in the ire of fans. Not only will it generate bad word of mouth for your film but could also blacklist a filmmaker.
A variation on this is to market a movie differently to multiple audiences: for example, one trailer will show the movie as a romance, another will tout it as a thriller, yet another will focus on the action sequences. Unless your movie is a true many-headed masala movie - this catch-all marketing path is a bad one to tread.
6. Pick the name of your movie carefully
Filmmakers regularly pick catchy names - and they'll often pick names that come with built in recognition like the name of a song (or a catchy chorus) in another. This is the next best thing to reusing a name (which requires costly remake rights). Catchy songs - by virtue of being deployed copiously in antaksharis - roll easily off the tongue, thus making the movie easy to reference, discuss and relate to.
This works the wrong way with bad names as well. Take Manorama: Six Feet Under for example. Given its film noir nature, it might want to appeal to urban audiences, but it had to give up wider appeal - and thats even before it was released.
- Smaller movies that open gradually are prone to piracy says Never Mind!!
- Lin's rules for going to the theater versus the DVD
- Pitu lists some of her favorite Indian newspapers
- anu g's son reports on the three item numbers in Krazzy 4
- American audiences feel obligated to support small movies says Amrita
- Joules' four additional marketing techniques - available for free!
- Sidekick puzzles over Bollywood box office reports and defends NYT
- anu g pitches in for The Hindu
- girlie girl uses Kajra Re as the best example of item song marketing
- meena wonders what the regional play is in Bollywood marketing
- cinderella uncovers fan club guerrilla marketing in Tollywood and Kollywood and adds: Invite a politician to see your movie to the list of strategies
- Bitterlemons adds four more rules