During the promotion of Chennai Express, Shah Rukh Khan sportingly did every stunt possible to sell his film. He wore a lungi, spoke bad Tamil, visited Rajnikant’s house and did impromptu jigs with besotted maamis. On a reality show, Farhan Akhtar marketed Bhaag Mikha Bhaag in a unique way– he made the young contestants drink glasses of milk to be as strong as the legendary athlete.
Aamir Khan appeared as a cop on a crime-based show to promote his film Talaash. From Ranbir Kapoor to newbie Varun Dhawan, they do everything from appearing on a soap to whipping up a souffle for a show.
In reality, it’s their film publicist who is having the last laugh. Every star promotional appearance is a part of a canny film publicist’s master plan. They pull the strings, and the stars simply fall in line. These new-age image gurus, armed with mass communication/PR degrees and impressive marketing strategies, are tech savvy. And they are trained to meet the pressure from the media. Salman Khan’s latest good boy image can be attributed to his newly acquired publicist, Reshma Shetty, who apparently masterminds his endorsement deals, media news and TV shows. Priyanka Chopra, who was going through a rough patch during the infamous Shah Rukh Khan episode reportedly turned to Spice PR to get her out of the mess. On this note, we bring you three top publicists who are currently riding the Bollywood marketing wave.
It takes a week to convince Monika to give me an interview. “I don’t want this publicity as I am passionate about my work and very happy in my space,” she insists. Finally, she gives in to my persistence. She has been a PR consultant all her life, and started her career with the Taj Group of Hotels in Delhi. In 2006 she set up her own public relations consultancy and worked briefly as a publicist for Sony TV and Sab TV.
Then and now: Her tryst with film PR happened when she was hired as Yash Raj film’s in-house publicist when they went into a studio module. She handled 12 films, from Dhoom 2 to Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. After that, she was the personal PR of actors like Konkana Sen Sharma, Sonam Kapoor, Soha Ali Khan and Dia Mirza. She was also part of the launch team of Colors channel. “We work with individuals and handle films on a project basis. Today, I am solely managing the Yash Raj talent publicity,” she tells me. So Rani Mukerji, Anushka Sharma, Ranveer Singh, and everyone from Arjun Kapoor to the newest entry, Vani Kapoor, are on her radar. But her team also handles the publicity of channel V and film projects like Imitiaz Ali’s Highway and Heropunti. So what’s her success mantra? “You need to love the job and build a rapport with the actors. It’s a relationship based on trust. We are instrumental in helping them further their dreams. I like to concentrate on the positives, work without egos and by doing that, equations change immediately,” says Monika. According to her, she makes it a point to part ways with an actor on a friendly note and as a result many have returned to work with the team.
The rulebook: She says launching new faces gives her a definite high. “You are responsible for showcasing them to the world. It’s a huge responsibility,” says the publicist who currently manages YRF finds like Parineeti Chopra, Sushant Singh Rajput and TV host-turned-actor Ayushman Khurranna. The real interaction with stars happens during such promotional travels, when she learns about them,like how some love local handicrafts or Italian food. “While travelling with Rani (Mukerji) for a tour abroad, we came across a fan club that called themselves Ranians. They keep track of each activity of hers and their love for her was staggering. They had come with scrapbooks full of pictures and memorabilia,” she recalls. Her work ethics are simple – straight talking, no gossip and being completely honest with your client. “I draw a line. I am very clear that my relationship is purely at a professional level. That is good for a long standing association,” she quips.
She is the brain behind Emraan Hashmi’s ‘serial kisser’ image. Parul Gossain of Parul Gossain Associates (a team of four women) has worked with some of the biggest production houses in Bollywood and is currently the in-house publicist of Vishal Baradwaj Productions. Having done a Masters in Journalism, Parul was MTV’s first publicist when they launched in 1996. Film publicity came much later in 2001, with Lagaan, where she handled the promotions single-highhandedly. Mallika Sherawat was her first client followed by Randeep Hooda, Emraan Hashmi, Pritam and Amrita Rao.
Then and now: “Today, stars play a crucial role in a film promotion. For the last eight years, producers have allotted a separate budget for marketing. Media has increased, there is internet, TV, social networking sites, countless publications, and the competition is sky high. So in that respect it has become a lot easier for film publicity,” says Gossain.
Skill set: The role is defined during the promotion period. “In most cases, I don’t try to maintain a personal equation with them after work. Whatever promotion we have to do, ultimately the film will speak but we have to make sure we do our work on time. Today, the actors realise the importance of interviews. My biggest high was to see my name on the credits of my first movie, Vishal Baradwaj’s Omkara. It’s equally gratifying to work with fresh faces and see them reach the top of the ladder,” says Gossain.
On the job: Gossain recalls how Emraan Hashmi used to get so hassled about being projected as a ‘kisser’. “That was part of our strategy and it worked. It’s complete team work. You learn about the stars,their likes and dislikes by being around them. Initially, I used to get anxious about dealing with their moods, now I don’t bend backwards to please them,” she says. Gossain is all for working in good films, which has a message and an unusual story. She admits to doing quality films for lesser money. “We have a butcher’s image in the media. But it is important to note that we have to deal with many egos, mindsets, deal with different demands on any given day. So in a way this ‘image’ is a defense mechanism,” laughs Gossain. Their firm collaborates with UTV, FOX, T-series and Balaji Films. They also did promotions for Robot in the North. “Rajnikant surprised us. He simply wasn’t interested in interviews. Just his name is enough to draw crowds,” she recalls, adding, “A good PR is equivalent to a newspaper editor. We need to have good news sense and the ability to market every film in a different manner.”
The year was 2007. Aamir Khan’s first directorial venture, Taare Zameen Par was all set for release. Khan and the media were then going through a tumultuous relationship. Two months into the promotion and Spice PR, headed by Shilpa Handa, came on board. The rest, as they say, is marketing history. “Our team tracked every road map to build bridges with the actor. We were on a mission to make him accessible to the media. Aamir ensures that we treat image management as a science. So a well-defined strategy is needed to come up with innovative solutions for promotion,” admits Handa. It must have been a herculean task, considering Khan is famously picky about everything related to his work. Having worked briefly at the marketing division at Telecom India before making her foray into film publicity with Hum Tum, Handa admits film promotions are all about communication. “With stars, the important thing is to be on the same page as them. It cannot be a dictatorship. We are the bridge builders and not the speed breakers. Any marketing strategy is a collaborative effort,” she maintains.
Heavy duty clients: Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani, Deepika Padukone, Anil Kapoor, Farhan Akhtar, Shahid Kapoor, Siddharth Malhotra, Shraddha Kapoor and Esha Gupta
The rulebook: With Spice, there is always a conscious effort to get small good cinema as well as big popular films. Last year, Handa and her team did the marketing for three Khan films – Talaash, Ek Tha Tiger, Jab Tak Hain Jaan. “It was a challenge to handle the work of these three actors who are known to be brilliant marketing brains. We were able to find a niche market for each of them. It’s crucial to adapt into that star’s style of work,” says Handa. They have proved lucky for Deepika Padukone whose career graph zoomed after she tied up with them two years ago. Handa admits marketing different genre films give her a high. “We were showcasing a film like the Gangs of Wasseypur along with Oh my God and The Ship of Theseus. The varied genres needed a lot of creativity.” In fact, for The Ship of Theseus, Handa recalls using a never-before marketing strategy of only resorting to the internet, through bloggers and Twitter.
Skill set: Handa admits handling crisis is the key. It is said that during the promotion of 3 Idiots, when its producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra spoke rudely to a journalist, the Spice team immediately cautioned him to apologise, thereby saving the situation from getting worse. Handa brushes aside any claims of having a say in breaking or making a star. “We bring the view pointer on these stars. We show their best side in a better way,” she concludes.
– Neelima Menon