Hindi films’ ‘Super Hit’ phenomenon: Legit or Propaganda?

MUMBAI: If you know the Mumbai film business (read Bollywood), you are well acquainted with all the innovative marketing that has been making inroads into the industry. One look beyond conventional promotions and a different line of promotional action is being staged. The effort to draw audiences to theatres has never been so streamlined.

This is happening at a time when more films than an audience can chew are being released. The choice at any given weekend is endless and this makes it difficult to garner footfalls in theatres.

While an interesting mix of ideas has emerged for the pre-release marketing strategies of movies, there is little innovation for the post-release strategy. A simple solution that has surfaced is declaring the film a success and affixing tags such as "Hit", "Big Hit", "Super Hit" and "Blockbuster" and topping this with excerpts of critic ravings.

The result is that now there is a thin line between what you call strategy, gimmick, actual projection and perception. Nevertheless, if the tags affixed are really genuine, then is there an explanation for the short run that most of these films have at the box office? Is the time far when audiences become immune to such advertisements? What thought goes behind planning and placing such ads?

To better understand this, Businessofcinema.com speaks to industry professionals about this lesser known game.

Raksha Entertainment MD and Balaji Motion Pictures CEO Ramesh Sippy
"It is a hoax. Such ads help fetch good prices for satellite and home video rights for movies, help to mount next productions on grand scale and gratify stars of the movie. They are published to catch the eyeballs of the industry and therefore seen in Bombay only; it is not allowed to be put in Delhi. Moreover from my experience in distribution I know that it takes at least 48 hours to accumulate worldwide collections of any movie, so if some companies publish their three-day box office collections ads on Monday itself which is the fourth day, I do not know how they manage to accumulate data so quickly."

Studio 18 vice president marketing distribution & syndication Priti Shahani
"It will not be correct to call this a marketing gimmick, in that respect then everything a company does is a gimmick. Such strategies are for perception building, which is also a tool like any other to draw audiences to theatres. There are two ways of looking at this–Qualitative Strategy which includes good reviews and appreciation from critics and audiences and Quantitative Strategy which includes box office collections for the film trade."

"Both start three days after the movie release and last for two weeks depending on the quality of the movie. Qualitative impacts the overall collection although it is small, because most collections are drawn within three days or a week and quantitative is for the industry and has little impact on the audience," Shahani adds.

Cinemax senior vice president Devang Sampat
"Most of these campaigns are to pull audiences’ attention. The industry needs a fixed formula depending on how much a movie contributes to the entire industry and everybody in the chain, in order to declare it a hit or a super hit. Simply because a film recovers its money for a producer or distributor, does not mean that it is a hit. According to me, a film like Phoonk is not a hit per se. Its distributors and producers made money, but how much money did the exhibitors make? On the contrary, Race made money for an exhibitor, but I don’t know how much money it made for others involved. There are very few movies like Bheja Fry, Jodhaa Akbar, Jannat and Jab We Met in which everybody involved makes a profit, audiences appreciates it and are genuine hits or super hits too."

Big Music and Home Entertainment CEO Kulmeet Makkar
"When a film is declared a hit, it means that either the film has made good money and has managed to get good reviews from critics. It does not necessarily mean that the audience has liked the film."

Reliance Entertainment chief marketing officer Saurabh Varma
"Most companies do not plan a post release marketing strategy, so the easiest thing is to put out reviews or banners stating hit/super hit, which are basically no- brainer strategies and done more with the intent of perception management. Nonetheless, a film can be declared so based on different perspectives, but by and large, price of a movie and its recovery remains the main criteria for such a declaration. Also every film has a certain market and if it is liked there, then it is termed hit. Most audience reactions shown are of Bombay city and Bombay territory, which undoubtedly is most important but does not represent the entire country’s audience’s reaction."

Media & Entertainment research company Ormax media director and ex-Sahara Filmy business head Shaliesh Kapoor
"The definitions of a hit and super hit film have changed drastically. The perspective has very clearly shifted from consumers to business. If a movie’s business is good and it is declared a super hit, it does not necessarily mean that the audience has liked the film. Singh Is Kinng and Jab We Met are classic examples of this; Singh is Kinng is a bigger hit on paper but Jab We Met has more likeability. There are very few films like Om Shanti Om which achieve both- good audience response and good business."

SET Max business head Sneha Rajani
"Such declarations may be based on certain data and this can be spun in different ways- A film may be a hit in Bombay and a flop in rest of India, so this doesn’t stop them from saying the film is a hit and unlike insurance company ads, these movie ads do not have to put an asterisk mark saying ‘In Mumbai only’."

"A company declaring its film a hit is a trick of the trade and a fantastic marketing tool. But chances are that a layman may feel cheated and shortchanged. If a movie like Kismet Konnection is declared a super hit it may be because the film got a 60-70 percent opening which, not many movies are fortunate to get now," adds Rajani.

Whether a company strategises to make money by deceiving audience or deceives audience of the money made, one thing is certain and known to one and all that this will not last for long. This may perhaps be the prime reason why most producers and distributors misuse these tags blatantly to make their buck, rather than using it discreetly.

It is sad how the "Silver Jubilee" and "Golden Jubilee" system of ads which "ran successfully all over" for decades, has given way to a deceitful style of moderating and projecting a movie’s success. But one can only hope for a coherent system to emerge sooner than later from high fliers of the industry.