“It’s the costliest Hindi film ever. It’s Shahrukh Khan’s dream venture. It’s India’s break-out VFX film. It took five years in the making. It will change the way our cinema is perceived worldwide. It is Ra.One.”
We were sold a million such stories in the ten-month long Ra.One campaign. In the last 3-4 weeks, the campaign itself went beyond being just another marketing campaign. It became an omnipresent media property, prevailing over any and every message you are likely to encounter in a cluttered advertising scenario. The value of the marketing is pegged at Rs. 50 crores, though a large share of this comes through co-branded promotions, where the money is shelled out by brands who want SRK in their ads.
SRK himself has given it his all. He has given an interview to every possible journalist who landed up asking for one. He has done features for news channels, visited reality shows, traveled multiple cities. He’s done all that it takes to make sure that Ra.One is easily the most hyped film in Hindi cinema history.
All the effort, all the marketing muscle, was eventually designed to give the film a rollicking start over its five-day extended opening weekend. Rs. 100cr nett still remains a realistic number at the domestic box office, a good Rs. 15cr above Bodyguard’s similarly extended opening weekend. So, all worked out as per plan, right? Umm… not sure. And here’s why.
Bodyguard was a lazy, under-developed film that survived purely on the charisma of its lead star. Yet, it got average to above average audience response, and managed to survive for at least one more week after the launch weekend hype died down. The film went onto nett Rs. 141cr over its lifetime. For the content that it offered, this is an astronomical number.
If Bodyguard’s content was 30/100, Ra.One is at least 60/100. The film may have its share of imperfections, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is still better than 9 out of 10 medium to big budget films that release every month. Yes, Ra.One is a better film than Bodyguard. But those who have not liked it (and we don’t know the quantum yet) have been particularly severe on it, almost to the point of being scathing and bitter, as if SRK stole their Mojo to make this film. And I’m not talking of critics here, but normal ticket paying audiences, who happily shell out the same money on non-starters like Mausam and Anjaana Anjaani, crib for a day, and move on.
In case of Ra.One, you can be assured that they will take more than a day to move on. They will rant. They will spread the negative word of mouth. They may or may not be sizeable in number. But they will make their presence felt. After all, they were promised 120/100. So when they got 60/100, it felt like 30/100.
Under-promise and over-deliver, the general marketing rule says. Sometimes, the nature of the task doesn’t leave this option. But could Ra.One have done with at least not over-promising? At least not overdoing the over-promise? Could they have taken the option of lying just a bit lower, and let the film do at least a part of the job after its release?
Probably yes, though some will argue the juggernaut opening may not have happened if the hype was lesser. Not true. Ra.One closed its week of release with a Buzz of 90% and a Reach of 100% on Cinematix. Bodyguard was 88% and 100% at the same stage. So all the additional hype eventually was worth 2% additional buzz. Yes, Salman is a bigger star today, and Bodyguard came on the back of the roaring success of Dabangg and Ready. But if Bodyguard can touch 88% with just three full weeks of campaign, surely Ra.One didn’t need to go much beyond about 5-6 weeks of a regular, high visibility campaign to achieve its 90%.
In their zeal to reach out, Ra.One makers may have missed a trick. I’m still hopeful this doesn’t make their 60/100 film look like 30/100. We’ll know the real public opinion once we collate our exit poll rating results mid next week. But it’s a foregone conclusion that the hype may have overweighed the content in many cases.
I think Ra.One can still go onto cross Dabangg and Bodyguard’s Rs. 140-141cr lifetime. It may not be able to overhaul the Rs. 203cr nett of 3 Idiots, which is a fair result, given the huge appeal the latter enjoyed when it released, and continues to.
But long after Ra.One’s business dries up, I fear that it may be remembered as the film that was marketed so much that everyone had no option but to see it, than as a film that broke new grounds in Indian cinema, something the film can take due credit for, despite its flaws.
I’m no fanboy, but I think SRK is sharp enough to reflect upon where his campaign may have gone wrong. And more power to him to come back even stronger the next time, not necessarily even harder, though. After all, one thing Ra.One can’t be accused of is not having tried. Even if it turned out to be 60/100 in the end.