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Vol. XXI No. 11, September 16-30, 2011
Publicising films, then and now
(By R.V. Rajan*)

My first exposure to village life was at the age of seven when I went to stay with an uncle, who was an Assistant Station Master at a small station near Gooty on the Bombay-Madras route. It was also my first exposure to a ‘touring talkie’ where, under a thatched shed, the villagers saw old movies sitting on rickety chairs or simply lying on the ground in front of the screen. There were two shows every evening and every Friday the film was changed.

The publicity for the new film started a few days before release. A bullock cart or a jutka pasted over with posters of the film would move slowly around the streets of all the villages nearby. The driver of the cart would make announcements through a portable public address system and an assistant would distribute leaflets on the new film to passers-by and houses along the way. If the touring talkie could afford it, a band would also accompany the cart, playing music to attract crowds. In addition, posters of the new movies, giving show details, would be pasted at all vantage points. Cinema slides featuring the forthcoming movies would also be shown in the ‘touring talkies’ during breaks.

Kamal Hasan.

Resourceful producers subsequently started using imaginative ways to promote their films. S.S. Vasan of Gemini Studios was a giant among them. He was the first to introduce the concept of big banners and hoardings to promote his multilingual extravaganza Chandralekha. It was also one of the mostly highly publicised movies till then, various media being used. Vasan is considered the father of the giant film hoardings on Mount Road, with which Madras was associated for a long time.

Apart from experimenting with vertical posters for his movie Gumasthavin Penn, Vasan also used direct mailing campaign for his movie Sansar. For the film Avvaiyar he printed special invitation cards with highlights of the film and distributed them door to door; accompanied by a band. It was like an invitation to a wedding and he ensured that the novel idea was written about in all print media, which, of course, generated a lot of interest in the movie.

Playing the songs of a film outside or in the foyer of the cinema hall and distribution of song books containing the lyrics of the film’s songs were other methods used to publicise a film in the pre-Independence days.

The concept of showing ‘trailers’ was introduced in the mid-1950s to promote new English films. The idea was quickly adopted by Indian movies. Projecting trailers of a new movie in a Group’s cinema theatres and in multiplexes is done even today.

Over the years, the Press has been the primary medium through which new movies have been promoted. While paid advertisements are common, plenty of stories about a movie and its stars began appearing in the media with the muhurat of a movie, generating free editorial publicity. Gossip about the leading pair and tidbits about happenings on and off the shooting floor were used for this purpose. Sometimes even a controversy between the producer and director or a director and the stars was passed on to newspapers and magazines to keep the movie in the news.

More recently, with the advent of music cassettes, an audio launch of the film (tape/CDs containing the songs of the film) held a couple of weeks/months before the actual release of the film at a glittering function has become the launching pad and a regular publicity effort for the movie to follow. Between the audio launch and actual release, stories about the making of the film, and interviews with the stars and the director appear in all the media in an effort to create curiosity about the film. It helps to keep the title of the movie at the top of the mind of potential cinema-goers!

While most producers use time-tested methods to publicise their movies, Kamal Hasan tried an interesting experiment to promote Virumandi in ‘B’ and ‘C’ markets (semi-urban and rural areas). It was a two-in-one concept aimed at publicising the highlights of the movie and, at the same time, fighting the unauthorised DVD menace.

Local cable TV channels, featuring local news and events, are very popular in the districts/ mofussil areas across the country. The actor entered into a deal with several cable operators in Tamil Nadu, providing them a 30-minute capsule of a special programme. The capsule featured the highlights, selected sequences, songs etc. at the end of which he would appear on the screen, appealing to the audience to see Virumandi in regular theatres and not on a DVD, if they really wanted to enjoy the visual experience of the movie. He supplied such free capsules to the cable operators every week for a fixed period. The cable operators were delighted to get a free programme and would telecast it several times during the week, creating a huge awareness for the film in B and C markets. Even paid publicity would not have got the kind of curiosity and interest that this novel method got for this movie!

Another idea which has caught on in recent times is the concept of promotional tours featuring the director, stars and other important technicians going around big cities, promoting the film through road shows to audiences at theatres screening the film, big malls and even colleges. This helps generate a lot of free editorial publicity in the print media. The impact is greater when the shows are co-sponsored by popular TV channels. Many reality shows are used for this purpose.

In these days of multiple shows in multiplexes, instant communication through Twitter, Facebook and social media has helped create a new form of word-of-mouth publicity, which can make or mar a film’s success! There are ‘sms kings’ who keep ‘tweeting’ their views to friends even while they are watching a movie! Small budget films with good storylines but limited budgets for publicity have found the social media generating instant and widespread word-of-mouth publicity, helping them hit the bull’s-eye in the Box Office!

These seems to be no end to the ways to ‘sell’ a movie to the public.

*The author can be contacted on: or mob: 9840392082.


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In this issue

Marina's elevated road plans now abandoned
Chipko at Nandanam
Publicising films, then and now
Two men of letters
From the Madras Week Blogs
Growing awareness of City's past

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan


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