Note- Aamir Khan Decoded is a 6-part series encompassing the Bollywood superstar’s journey in the last thirty years through different phases of being a heartthrob, a method actor, an Oscar hunter, a media contributor and a money-maker.Part I of the series is here , Part II is here, Part III is here, and Part IV is here.
If there is one movie that has played the most significant part in nearly each and every phase of Aamir Khan’s (AK) career then that is Holi (1984). Marking AK’s adult acting debut Holi was a student project by writer-director Ketan Mehta who would later on assume identical responsibilities for AK’s second attempt at Oscar with Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005). Two additional collaborations were born out of AK’s co-stars from Holi, (a) Ashutosh Gowariker wrote and directed AK in Baazi which was a flagship of AK’s physical method acting[i] and Lagaan (2001) which AK produced and would give him and Gowariker an opportunity to sit in Kodak Theatre amongst fellow Oscar nominees in the foreign language category, and (b) Amol Gupte who conceived the idea for Taare Zameen (2007) Par for which AK assumed the role of a director and bagged 4th official entry of India for Oscars.
This is a solid example that from the very beginning AK always had acumen[ii] for identifying talent, push for newer ideas, modulate his acting method and strive for higher goals, regardless of his overall approach to pursue the highest accolade[iii]. There was only one thing missing in his portfolio of talent, marketing skills. Not so surprisingly, even that skill which AK would instill has a remote connection with Holi. For the novel, which Holi is based on, author Mahesh Elkunchwar wrote a disastrous ending in which (spoiler alert) a college student frustrated with ragging hangs himself from the ceiling fan, and it is this ending that made a homage/reappearance as a vital element of 3 Idiots (2009), another AK project which turned out to be the highest grossing film ever until that year[iv]. How much of that element or the film itself was the reason behind 3 Idiots being the highest grossing film is arguable, but what is well known is how much effort AK and the 3 Idiots team put into marketing that film, and it wasn’t the first such effort by AK. This penultimate article about AK is centered on the last piece of puzzle AK needed to become, perhaps, the most powerful figure in Bollywood.
It is a well-known fact that 3 Idiots broke the box office record previously set by AK’s previous film Ghajini (2008) and later that new record would be broken by yet another AK starrer Dhoom 3 (2013). Since all of these movies were released within last 6 years, an average Bollywood fan’s memory is fresh, making it nearly worthless to rephrase what is already being said by countless articles[v],[vi], [vii], [viii] and research papers[ix],[x]. If you are like me, who hasn’t witnessed first-hand account of the marketing monster in the past decade, then one hour of Google search is highly recommended. The general consensus amongst all those articles is as follows: Movie websites, Social Networking Sites (SNSs), blogs, mobile phones and games are the recent new media tools being used for revenue generation.ix Not only AK’s movies, but nearly every other actor and the corresponding movie team is following the model pushed by AK in a never-before-seen degree. There were three distinct strategies that AK employed, which stood out, during three of the aforementioned box office monsters. Prior to the release of Ghajini a 3D game was released, plus AK would cut cinema auditorium ushers his signature haircut from the film, for 3 Idiots he disappeared for a few days and a campaign was arranged to find him hidden amongst everyday people, while Dhoom 3’s marketing campaign was spread over 40 days, which involved 169 hard-copies of printed articles, 139 promo clips for TV, 455 web-based articles and 83,381 social media posts and tweetsx. Such a gargantuan campaign was literally first of its kind and surpassed ‘negative publicity’[xi] (there is no such thing, right?) over author Chetan Bhagat’s credit dispute for 3 Idiots, as the results were evident when Dhoom 3 broke the record of 3 Idiots.
Personally none of those movies made any impact, they were either loud, obnoxious, self-serving, self-patting, or self-proclaiming masterpieces which only succeeded in entertaining mass audience and end up being box office monsters. Think about it. We might agree on one thing atleast that Dhoom 3 was the worst of the lot, Ghajini definitely was marginally better, and 3 Idiots was substantially better, right? If so then why did Dhoom 3 end up earning the most? As you have guessed, it indeed seems like marketing played a major factor.
Bollywood now seems to be in the phase of adopting the last piece of puzzle from Hollywood, where even Transformers franchise has a potential to pay off big time, how much ever loud, obnoxious and self-serving the Transformers sequels are. The marketing works because the average movie-goer is nothing but a consumer, who is satisfied with movies which are a hair better than the soap operas they watch day after day. When reviews of movies like Dhoom 3 fall into ‘better than other Bollywood crap’ category is the very moment when consumer sets the bar low enough. This tendency is well understood by Aamir Khan as he continues his marketing stint with his next movie PK. The moment I saw that butt-naked poster it was evident how it should create a stir, and it did. There is no such thing as negative publicity and PK had a kick-start to its marketing campaign. After waiting almost a decade, I am a first-hand witness to AK’s newest marketing weapon for PK. One of the news channels played a segment which discussed an advanced screening of PK, attended by political figures and other popular personalities. Amongst those was Sachin Tendulkar, a cricket superstar who literally needs no introduction. When the screening was over Sachin personally gave a media interview stating ‘best movie ever, AK’s best performance ever’…as AK was standing right next to him, smiling.
I will not be surprised even the slightest bit if PK ends up breaking Dhoom 3’s box office record, because now the average movie-goer is nothing but a ‘dot’. Remember when Orson Welles’ character Harry Lime is on a ferris wheel, points to the people on the ground and calls them ‘dots’ in The Third Man (1949). Harry asks his friend, played by Joseph Cotton, “Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?” Gone are those days of such meaningful cinema, like Rangeela, Sarfarosh and Dil Chahta Hai, because who cares about the plot, film-making or acting if you can get the marketing right and if AK can get any release date he wants [xii],[xiii] then there is no doubt that he has become the most powerful figure in Bollywood and a real life incarnation of Harry Lime.