Like the thickness and design of a wedding card tells you the depth of the pocket and taste of the sender, the quality of the brochure used to help the exhibitor in making up his mind about the film,” reflects film publicist S.K. Pankaj on the gradual demise of film brochure. In the pre-Internet era, publicity material was crucial in spreading the word about the film, both in the trade and the media. Oldies in Delhi’s Daryaganj still talk about the rich booklets adorned with stills, synopsis, character sketch and lyrics of songs that teased them into buying Mughal-e-Azam, Sholay and Kranti. “Internet changed it all. From the first poster to the trailer, everything comes online. Now, even if I take the information from the Net and put it together on a piece of paper to help the journalists, many roll their eyes as if I have refused to grow with times,” quips Pankaj. “A brochure costs anywhere between Rs. 200 and 1000. Today, only those producers who want to show off their financial prowess, go for brochures. So you can find Sachiin Joshi spending big money in promoting duds like Azaan and Jackpot,” says a publicist on condition of anonymity.

“It is not about cost cutting,” argues Rahul Nanda, the topmost publicity designer in the industry for last two decades. “The budget of marketing has gone up but it is being used injudiciously. Taking a star to a mall or feeding a non-existent controversy to the Press is not going to help always. Digital is trending these days and anything in print is considered to be passé. I don’t agree with it because people still take print very seriously. Even for a mediaperson, the brochures used to provide all the information at one place and more importantly it was authentic.”

For Nanda, the brochures are not just piece of information but also a work of art which take the message across. There was a time when on the inside pages of the brochure, the stills faded into synopsis to create a bond even before the release. “I remember I made a brochure of Black for Cannes with the information written in Braille on Rani Mukerji’s face. Then, the brochure of LOC was presented in the form of a coffee-table book,” he reminisces.

Son of late Gulshan Nanda, who produced films likes Kaajal and Kati Patang, Nanda says the demise of the conventional producer and the entry of corporate houses in the film business have has changed the course of publicity design. “We no longer have passionate producers like Boney Kapoor or for that matter Vashu Bhagnani who started what I call guerrilla marketing. And the family-run film businesses like Yash Raj are also following the trend set by corporate houses, for whom it is a job that the marketing team should handle. They don’t see any aesthetics in it. If you are promoting Guzaarish, the theme of the film should shine through. Merely putting the faces of Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai won’t do. But a 25-year-old MBA with a background in FMCG doesn’t get it. If he tries to be creative, he will come up with an idea that has already worked somewhere in the world and push you to work on it. At times, I have to deal with 18 such guys for one film. They are not looking for shelf life. They are interested in the three-day business and move on. If I contact the director directly, they don’t like it and consider it as trespassing in their territory. They are not interested in creativity. For them, delivery is the key and I am reduced to a vendor for them who pushes the cause of traditional media,” Nanda grins.

Yes, the creativity is increasingly getting lost in the corporate jargon. “The industry is not realising that in the process, it is losing out on a huge market in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where Internet is still not meant for leisure and perhaps that’s why we have not been able to tap these areas. Billboard is another way to reach out to the masses and television is still doing it successfully but the corporates want billboards only in Juhu and Versova so that they can massage the ego of the star and the CEO,” laments Nanda.

It is not that the publicity designers are not trying to reinvent but it happens when you have an actor-producer who is ready to invest time in little details. A couple of years back, Aamir Khan Productions sent postcards to media houses with hand written text by Kiran Rao sharing the anecdotes about Dhobi Ghat and the characters. Then, Saif Ali Khan pushed for a graphic novel to carry the thought of Agent Vinod forward. Krishna DK and Raj Nindrou came up with a refreshing comic strip for 99. Nanda himself designed a comic strip kind of brochure to promote Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahaani.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t reach the people who really needed it and remained more of a marketing gimmick.

Recently, for the publicity of Madras Café I had put the map of Sri Lanka on the brochure. The CEO of the company producing the film didn’t like it, perhaps because it was making the film controversial but it was artistic. Had John Abraham and Shoojit Sircar not come to my rescue, the idea would have been scuttled.” Nanda says, like any art work, cinema also works on iconography and the right icons presses the right buttons in the minds of the exhibitors, the mediapersons and the audience.

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