Publicity Hoarse

On any given Friday, in multiplexes across India, a multitude of Hindi movies, regional films and Hollywood flicks jostle for screen space and audience eyeballs.

The average Indian family is often in a quandary over which film they should spend their valuable time and income watching. Which is why our filmmakers have to resort to ingenious tactics to lure audiences by generating as much publicity as possible.

Unfortunately, the word publicity has become synonymous with controversy in movie jargon today. Many filmwallahs believe the only way to successfully publicise their movie is to create some hungama around it.

This has given birth to a strange beast called the film publicist, who is entrusted with the onerous task of engineering buzz around a movie. In simpler times, the publicist would only have to leak stories to the media about an alleged affair between the stars of a particular film. This would be adequate to drive audiences into a frenzied state of excitement and they would flock to cinema halls to see the randy on-screen couple that had been ostensibly making out whilst making this movie.

But soon the janta became jaded and were no longer titillated by such fables of film stars. Publicists therefore had to come up with more innovative ways of generating hype.

They then sent out press releases that boasted of death-defying stunts performed by our action heroes who are supposed to have leapt out of planes; bungee jumped off mountain peaks and injured themselves whilst running atop speeding trains. In truth the only stunt that most stars are capable of executing are publicity stunts.

Juicy anecdotes of catfights between bitchy heroines, tantalising tales of showdowns between rival heroes, bogus court cases and various other headline hogging nuggets are regularly planted in the media.

Film stars were once luminous and inaccessible; larger than life demi-gods of the silver screen who we hero worshipped from afar and aspired to emulate. But the current crop of actors has lost their allure and mystique by blatantly pandering to the insatiable publicity machine.

They now tweet when they visit the toilet and blog about their bowel movement. Every vacation they go on, every vehicle they purchase and every outfit they wear is immediately made public knowledge by either them or their breathless PR agency.

As with filmi histrionics, our stars need to learn that sometimes less is more. Unfortunately, Bollywood still believes that any publicity is good publicity and that in India nothing succeeds like excess.

Paradoxically, protestors seeking to ban a film, end up giving it masses of free mileage. The 95-crore extravaganza Vishwaroopam, Midnight's Children written by Salman Rushdie and the modestly budgeted David, are scheduled to release today.

It is a sad testament to our times that all three films are mired in controversy. Whilst a section of the Muslim community seeks to stall the release of Kamal Haasan's magnum opus, the film has done remarkably well at the box office internationally. Some members of the Sindhi community campaigned to delete one song from the film David whilst a Shia organisation sought to ban another. Rushdie, of course, is plagued by controversy wherever he goes in India. The resultant hullaballoo has given the producers not only plenty of heartburn but also loads of unsolicited media attention. It will be sweet irony, indeed, if these filmmakers end up laughing all the way to the bank.

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