A Minute With: Shah Rukh Khan
MUMBAI (Reuters) - It doesn't look like Shah Rukh Khan needs any super powers to promote his home production "Ra.One".
Khan, 45, has been on a promotional spree, tying up with almost every major brand, releasing movie merchandise and games centred around the superhero film.
The actor spoke to Reuters about "Ra.One" and the film's marketing strategy.
Q: You've promoted this film on a lot of digital platforms. How important is the digital platform now?
A: "I think it's important because as a producer, it becomes the most viable medium internationally. While the physical marketing also happens because we have press conferences, for me, it's a good mix. And also, each of our digital partners has a great 'onground' marketing strategy. So it becomes very symbiotic. We can create a new space for entertainment, business."
Q: The marketing for "Ra.One" hasn't followed a set pattern. You created a buzz around the film almost a year ago. Could you talk us through the strategy?
A: "I had a very clear of how we’ll market it. The first clarity was that we won’t have too many images of the film. I didn’t want it to be cluttered. I didn’t want it to be a hero and a heroine and their son. This is a superhero film and we had to introduce that. Whether people like it or not, my marketing thought is if you keep something in front of people for too long, they get used to it. So there was this big fear -- when my costume comes out and me with blue eyes, will it be liked? Small considerations like this which you don’t think about while making the film, but when it comes out, people say, 'you know what, your dadhee (beard) isn't working at all'.
"It happened to me in 'Chak De'. The first time I came on TV in the promo, I got a message saying 'aap behuda aur ugly lagte hain. Ye film flop hai' (You look ugly. This film is a flop) … But if you live with it long enough, you accept it. I mean you’ve lived with me long enough and people have accepted me, so I’m OK with that. So I said the costume should come out first -- people will say it’s blue, it’s tight, x, y, z but they’ll get used to it."
"So we started in December and the first image was in all the papers and it was head mast. It should be in your face and it was so big that if you had to like it, you saw all the details and if you had to dislike it, you saw all the details. So we lived with it for a month, we kept quiet after that, we didn’t talk much about he film -- there wasn’t much to talk. We kept quiet in February, because we were working on what to do and where to place this film, because this is a family film. When we started this film, the idea was can we make an Aziz Mirza-ish film, about a husband, wife and child and then suddenly blow everyone’s mind when they start fighting. But the film should be a very simple Basu Chatterjee, Hrishikesh Mukherjee kind of a film. So there were two films in one -- the people who like the action, they’ll like it and those who like a family film, will like it too. And I’ve always made family films."
"By March, we decided to get into a partnership with ESPN Star, which is a very long partnership, till December. Fortunately for us, the India-Pakistan semi-finals happened, so the publicity broke at the right time and we got a lucky break. But I wanted it to be on channels which youngsters watch plus sports, like soccer and cricket. We began there, because talking about it in between 'Balika Vadhu' may not have struck the right chord. Of course, now we are in the 'Balika Vadhu' stage. Now we are all over the place (laughs). Wherever the women are, we are there -- that is the last phase.
"And the third part was the song. With the second image -- of the girl -- make it a little more mass-y, to let you know about the language of the film and that it is about a family. Final thing is do what the digital world likes … Gaming came in, we spoke to Sony. We decided to do merchandising."
"I really didn’t want to do any interviews for this film. You know why, because I don’t want to tell you that this movie has a hero or a heroine. I want to tell you that this movie has merchandise or that it’s on a McDonald’s Happy Meal. If you like McDonalds, you’ll see 'Ra. One' there or if you open a Coke, you’ll see 'Ra.One' there.
"That’s the kind of association I want. Instead of me going to four press conferences and say there’s a boy, there’s a girl, there’s a son. There’s a bad guy who comes out of the TV and there’s a good guy who comes to beat him. The good guy wins. And there is 'Chammak Challo'. The movie is over. I’ve done enough films to know that that is all you will want to know about this film. So I don’t want to do any interviews. I’ve told Kareena to do them. I told her you do all the regular Page 3s, and talk about your role and give your pictures and say how nice 'Chammak Challo' is and how pretty you look and all that."
"And my last strategy was that I don’t want any one to know what the bad guy looks like. You see it in the film. The film is called 'Ra.One' but no one knows what Ra One looks like. Last week before the film releases, we’ll let everyone know what he looks like. It’s not going to shake the earth, but all the facets are being revealed as a picture puzzle being peeled off."
Q: Was there any apprehension there would be an overkill of the movie and the brand?
A: "I don’t know if that happens. I don’t think you dislike something because it’s in your face. The reason we didn’t do regular publicity is so that it doesn’t become the same kind. The last rung of publicity will be city tours -- where I want to go to every interior, small city which we normally don’t go to and talk to the press there. I want to explain this film that it is a new idea, a new concept -- and it can fall flat. I want to tell them that at the heart of it, it’s a very simple film."
Q: You’ve obviously worked very hard on this film. How much is at stake here?
A: “I don’t really have much to prove. I can easily go in a comfort zone, make two films a year, hype them because I’ve signed them as a star, make them cheap and they will be big hits. I’ve done that for 20 years and I’d like to do that now. I’d like to do a small film that will be a superhit on the day it releases. In all this, many days I sit down, especially when I was injured, and I think -- when I came from Delhi, what was it that made me a star? When I think back on it, of course I got lucky and got great directors and good breaks but all that was the physical part. But what made me a star was that I could take a chance and not have anything to worry about in terms of losing."
"I used to have fear. ‘Is it going to be a hit? Is it a good set-up?’ -- and it bothers me to be so fearful. That when I had nothing I wasn’t scared of anything and when I have everything, I am what my son says a ‘scary-poo'. So I don’t want that. I want to be in a space where I take a chance. It’s not about the money or the technology or the newness. It’s all of this and more. Yes, I am overworked, I am impatient, but I am not scared. I want to know if I can take chance when I don’t need to. That’s the beauty of this film.
"I want to be in a space where I can answer in 2012, when someone asks me 'when was the last time you did something for the first time?' I can say ‘just now, three months ago'. It's been too long since I did something for the first time, so I want to do that and go back to romancing girls."
Q: You’ve said you want to know what the youth think of this film. A lot of studios are now making youth-oriented films, targeting the college-going crowd. What do you think of this?
A: "I think it’s all, forgive me, nonsense. Maybe I am outdated and wrong -- I’ll find out. I keep hearing my own directors saying 'youth film banate hai' (let’s make a youth film). You can’t keep making 'American Pie'. What do we take youth to be? Stupid?Unintelligent? They are the guys who came out for Anna Hazare and with some kind of sensibility. They may not understand the whole anti-corruption drive but they understand what’s good for the nation. We are stupid to think that all they like is lemon popsicle. Let’s make a film where everyone is wearing tight jeans and in a nightclub. I think that’s completely silly. They’ll work if they are good films, but the reason won’t be because they are ‘youthful, zany’ films."
"I’ve been young and I didn’t think I should go out and watch stupid films. Youngsters are the most discerning audience. They want entertainment, they want issues. That’s why '3 Idiots' was a huge hit. It didn’t have young actors with due respect. It’s not that everybody wants to be an engineer. It didn’t have youngsters jumping around, but it worked. Youngsters want to take back something more than just a bag of popcorn."
"'Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara' was about young people who had issues. Yes, they are travelling, they are saying funny things but they also mean business. You know, someone was saying to me the other day, why would a Hindi film hero run away from a cow? Because that’s what they are doing in the film. But that’s a 70s concept. But today’s youth don’t find that funny. In old films, you try telling a hero that he has to run away from a cow. No way."
Q: As someone who puts a lot of thought into marketing his films, what is the one thing you live by when marketing films?
A: “Two aspects. One, you need to tell people before they spend 300 rupees what the film is about. So my guilt is over. I told you my film had this. I am not hiding behind my stylish trailers. A lot of times my directors say, let’s just attract people with trailers. No, I think you should tell the story. When you buy a saree, you have the choice to feel the fabric and try it. Why should a film be any different? If you don’t like it later, I am sorry but I informed you before.
"And the second part of marketing should be telling those people who don’t plan to see the film to see the film. I find it really stupid that I should have to sell my film to you, when you are already going to watch it. You have a regular audience which comes to see the film. So the guys who like superheroes will come. I have to tell that grandmother that this movie has a 'Ra.One' and please come to watch it. The language is a little different, but I have explained it. So please come to watch it with your grandchildren. I don’t want to sell the film to those who are already sold.
"The traditional platforms will always be there, but the non-traditional ones are to attract the ones who don’t want to watch it. If there are ten people in this country who hate Shah Rukh Khan, I want those ten people to come and see it -- then I am increasing my base."
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