Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Pursuit of Bollyness - I

There are some who have the ability to catnap anytime, anywhere.

An enviable trait, unless they happen to be sitting next to you at a movie show.

Having snoozed peacefully through the crucial part of a thriller*, they awake newly refreshed, demanding that you fill them in on the intricacies of the plot.

* A Hindi movie allows a lot of opportunity for the sleep deprived, as the average flick is a three-hour long saga. At least.

Knowing they won't connect with the rest of the movie unless you do, you summon all your extempore précis skills to give an expert synopsis of the story so far, in a very audible whisper.

How the (tycoon) male action lead or the "hero" - actual age 45, playing 28, in a complicated flashback recalls how he met and fell for the yet-to-be brutally murdered (impoverished & orphaned) female lead - actual age 16, playing 22, ultimately executing violent, gory revenge to the evil doer.

Note to global readers: Yes, such movies exist. 

If you're lucky, a Hindi song starts just in time, sparing you homicidal glances from neighbours as you yak on.

Such an audience is however an exception. The average Hindi movie addict would willingly watch any movie released, over and over again, with complete attention.

Entertainment apart, Bollywood fascinates one and all.

If there is a common element that brings people together - young and old, homemaker and the career oriented, scientist and DJ, teacher and socialite, whether slumdog or penthouse millionaire, man and woman, it has to be the Hindi Movie. Or even, the Hindi movie star.

Our clients were no different.

They would simply lose their heads at the dizzying thought of attending their ad film shoot with a leading luminary of Bollywood.

Throwing caution and indeed, their budgets to the winds, they were suddenly willing to overlook a lot of past parsimony.

Having spent the last two quarters of the year haggling over not having to hike budgets, employee bonuses and even employee strength, they were categorically ready to pay obscene amounts to see their favourite film star shooting loving glances at or cuddling their bottle of hair oil, shampoo, toilet bleach, wall paint, soap or toothpaste as the case may be. All permanently frozen in celluloid. 

Just in time for boosting the bottomline, final quarter. I refer ofcourse to the balance sheet bottomline, as in, profits. Not keeping your bottom in shape by dancing to the latest Bollywood track. Don't be offended. This clarification is meant more for a certain cross section of ex-clients who may be reading this, like the one written about here, not you. Just pre-empting queries, as it were. 

In some cases, we were able to make their dreams come true - not so much we, but the media pundits who ruled all things Bollywood - the well connected ad folks and the production houses, including the occasional Bolly movie director, like Karan Sabjan who also made ad films on the side just for fun and some pocket change. Given that he had direct access to most of the top stars, he was one of our most popular and in demand ad makers. 

On this day, one of our cow belt* clients settled himself down for our next meeting. He headed a (largely) junk food company that was mid-sized, unheard of in the West zone, but popular in the North. 

* It was interesting to discover that the media world referred to the certain sections of the North and Central zone of India as the "cow belt". This may give a general impression of dairy farming, rustic poverty and the simple life, which is indeed the common man's way of life in rural India. However, the entrepreneurs that belong to the 'cow belt' are multi-millionaires to say the least. Their lifestyles are luxurious owing to the subsidies they enjoy as "farmers" and forget to pass on to their farm labourers. Modern day zamindars, they own sprawling designer farmhouses, a fleet of cars, and their wives would put any fashionista to shame given her accumulated knowledge and wealth of international designer labels. Don't believe me? Go see. No surprise that Indians hold the largest number of offshore Swiss bank accounts.  

"I want Amibath Machchan*", said Mr. Prakash, once ensconced comfortably in our conference room. His bratty offspring, let's call him Bottompincher Jatin or BJ, was busy settling his array of four cell phones in front of him. Two of them were the latest models of mobiles, just launched. Each meeting that he attended once a month, at least two of his phones were replaced by a newer model. 

* Since am painstakingly disguising all identities here, this is just to keep up with the overall theme.

Amibath Machchan also known as the Big M, is one of the leading stars here. Which is an understatement as anyone knows. For those who are visiting our planet from elsewhere in the universe and still haven't understood his significance, it would suffice to say that in certain parts of India, he had temples dedicated to him, with people garlanding his effigy. 

I looked over at LL and he at me. For once, we were in empathy. 

"Well, he's certainly the biggest", said LL. What he meant is, the Big M had been around since the last 30 (or was it 40?) odd years, having in no way eroded his appeal. Nor his price. 

He was also known as the King of endorsements. Not wishful thinking, in this case. 

A fact we were sure Mr. P was missing the significance of - financially speaking. 

"Exactly why he would be perrrrfect ji. Our sweets are the best and so is he. A best to best* tie-up, as you always say, ha!", countered Mr. Prakash. "Besides, he's doing Badur's ads! If he doesn't mind selling their hair oil, mosquito repellent and Gawd knows what else, then he should certainly have no problem with our brand. Everything of superb quality! What say Jatin?" BJ, jolted from his unmoving gaze at his new palm pilot, nodded. 

* The term we used was 'leader to leader'. Not quite 'best to best', but I guess Mr. P had absorbed the point well, which is the important thing. 

Badur was Mr. Prakash's pet bugbear. Now, we happened to have heard only last week from Karan Sabjan, the exact amount Big M had negotiated for the Badur campaign for a two year exclusive. Nothing less than Rs. 12 crores. Or 120 million. 

Mr. Prakash's new brand wasn't even selling that much yet. Realistically it wouldn't, even for the next 5 years. 

This was going to be difficult. There was no way of breaking it gently to Mr. Prakash. 

He was one of those obstinate ones who once having made up their minds, considered it unthinkable to change it. Failure on our part to follow his decree would mean loss of face for him, and loss of revenue for us. Why? Because he'd drop our consultancy like a hot brick. 

Bitten by the Bollywood bug, he'd have to be weaned off some other way. It was easy to guess why he'd succumbed. All the top actors were on an endorsing spree, from male innerwear to outerwear, shoes to hair gel, perfumes to pens. Small wonder that Mr. P felt the urge to take a flying leap onto the celebrity bandwagon. 

"Okay, we'll see what we can do", said LL, taking the easy way out. 

I let my jaw get back to normal position before the client could notice. 

We'd ended the meeting satisfactorily. I backed out of the room, making sure never to face my bottomline, er, behind towards BJ. The small matter remained however, of signing up Big M for Mr. Prakash's cow belt brands. 

If A. Machchan could be called the King of Endorsements, and M. Jackson the King of Pop, then that would make LL the undisputed King of Manipulation. 

If anyone could do this, he could. It was time to wag the dog. 

To be continued…


Beta said...

Ha Ha. Suspense, I like it. Now you have moved from satire to satirical thrillers. Cant wait for the next one.

Annoymously said...

:-) Glad to hear it!

Why do i get the feeling am riding a tiger with this one?

Let's hope the wait is worth it.

Anonymous said...

eagerly waiting for the concluding part.

Annoymously said...