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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 the 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 the cinema halls to see the randy on-screen couple that had been ostensibly "making out" while making this movie.
But soon, the janta became jaded and was no longer titillated by such fables. 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 while running atop speeding trains. In truth, the only stunt that most stars are capable of executing are publicity stunts.
Juicy anecdotes of catfights between 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; they were 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.