Tag: movies

3 Days at the 2019 European Union Film Festival of India

eu film festival 2019 india

Reddit is one of the sites that I frequently visit these days, even more than Letterboxd and Twitter. And it was through the r/Mumbai community there that I came to know about the India edition of the European Union Film Festival (EUFF), a platform that showcases the best European cinema has to offer to the Indian populace and which is organized in several cities across the country every year as part of the ‘Europe in Your City’ programme through a partnership between the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (Directorate of Film Festivals), the Delegation of the European Union, and the consulates of respective European member states in India. It was in its 24th edition in 2019 and hosted 23 films from 23 European countries across eight cities between 24 June and 26 September. I managed to catch some of the films in Mumbai at the prestigious Films Division of India. This is an overview of my experience at and a recommendation of the festival for those who are interested in watching both little-known and popular European movies in a festival setting.

The European Union Film Festival of India

Abbreviated as EUFF India, it is one of the few annual film festivals celebrated in India. Although it is difficult to trace the history of the fest online (its website is new), it is safe to assume that it was started as a way to showcase European art of cinema to the cine enthusiasts of India and thereby bridge the gap between the artists from the two states. There’s no denying that it might even be a diplomatic activity aimed at strengthening the relations between India and the EU.

Films Division for euff 2019
A poster of EUFF India 2019 at the Films Division building

The 2019 edition was the 24th year the EUFF was celebrated across eight Indian cities: Chennai, New Delhi, Goa, Pune, Puducherry, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Mumbai.[1]Interestingly, Mumbai was not in the list for the 2018 edition and it ran in eleven other cities. It was not there in 2017 either. The period of about three months is also reminiscent of how seriously the organizers take the event, using the resources offered by the Government of India for the screenings.

That is why the the entry to the festival is free of cost. Delegates are only supposed to be present at the screenings (the Mumbai screening details is mentioned in the last section here) and enjoy European cinema the best way the artform should be enjoyed in, without censorship and the poor behaviour that is rampant in mainstream theatres.

Special mention to Wishbox Studio for the beautiful EU Film Festival website design and merchandise. As you all know, I am a stationery fanatic and I am not ashamed to admit that I managed to take two cool-looking coasters home.

According to the EUFF website, the annual event is meant to celebrate the vitality and diversity of European cinema and culture. The films are a heady cocktail of romantic comedy, period drama, mockumentary, satire, and socio-political thriller.

My Experience at EUFF India 2019

I, for one, can attest to that fact about the cocktail as I managed to catch 11 of the 23 films that were screened. I attended 3 days of the festival and spent over 9 hours of courageous cinema marathon with 5 back-to-back films on the first day. It was the first time that I did that, an event that I’m told is common for film critics. In a way, I broke my own record of 3 films at the 2018 MAMI MFF, a feat that involved films Widows (2018), Climax (2018), and Leave No Trace (2018). It was exhausting to say the least but when I went to bed that night, it somehow felt good.

euff 2019 india screening
Before the start of the second screening on 21 September

I could not attend the entire festival because of work and some personal commitments. But, it was still fun. I liked the way the screenings were organized, very punctual, and a better crowd that the ones you find at MFF. It was not without its fair share of spectacles either. After the screening of the Austrian film Styx (2018) on 22 September 2019, a squabble broke out between a few viewers which quickly turned into a heated spat in Marathi. A group of elder enthusiasts began accusing a group of youngsters for being a nuisance. The former group got angry when the young men denied any wrongdoing. And it ended with the interference of the officials, even as the audience began preparing for the next screening.

Unlike at MAMI – the only other film festival I have attended so far – there was little time between the screenings. Although most of the titles were between 90 and 100 minutes of running time, it became really difficult to grab a bite between the shows. That is why you always carry some energy bars and a water bottle for a film festival. (Looks like it’s time I devise my own guide as I wait for the 2019 edition of the MFF.) But if you want it right now here’s a nice little guide by Berlin-based travel blogger Adam doling out some great tips to follow while at a film festival.

If finding time for lunch or evening snack is difficult, convincing your body to maintain its posture and not fidget for streaks of 90+ minutes with small intervals between them is where you’ll need a bit of practice and the ability to deviate from your lifestyle (diet and rest preferences). Active film festival attendees around the world (who visit the Big Three or other big ones like Sundance and TIFF) can do this without much effort. I have read stories.

european film festival schedule
The 2019 Mumbai schedule put up at the Films Division building

If you are a disciplined person who eats on time and sleeps on time, then I’m afraid attending film festivals is going to be tough. It is usually very difficult to cajole the fest organizers to push a 2 PM show by an hour because it overlaps with your lunchtime. If you are friends with the organizers and somehow manage to do it, let me know in the comments. I’ll execute your bragging rights.

It should be noted that due to a lack of popularity, none of the screenings I attended were houseful. But that was a relief because in most cases I could enjoy the films in silence with no disturbance from fellow viewers. Most of the audience were discerning and did not engage in activities that are barred from my own imaginary theatre if it is ever built.

Films Watched

I caught the following eleven films at the 2019 EUFF India (in the order of the viewing):

  1. Bubblegum (2017, Bulgaria, dir. Stanislav Todorov)
  2. Tulipani (2017, Netherlands, dir. Mike Van Diem)
  3. The Troupe (2018, Hungary, dir. Pal Sandor)
  4. Diamantino (2018, Portugal, dir. Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt)
  5. The Charmer (2018, Denmark, dir. Milad Alami)
  6. Drifters (2015, Sweden, dir. Peter Gronlund)
  7. Styx (2018, Austria, dir. Woflgang Fischer)
  8. Ashes in the Snow (2018, Lithuania, Marius Markevicius)
  9. #Female Pleasure (2018, Switzerland, dir. Barbara Miller)
  10. Me and Kaminski (Germany, 2015, dir. Wolfgang Becker)
  11. Maria (And Everybody Else) (2016, Spain, dir. Nely Reguera)

As you can see, the festival also focuses on old films that are supposed to be essential viewing from those specific countries. Some of these European states are not prolific producers like India or the USA, which is another point that the original 23-film list conveys. You can see the entire list for the 2019 edition here on IMDb. The sole documentary on atrocities on women in the 21st century was also a good watch. It should be essential viewing for today’s youth.

euff 2019 films brochure
Two of the films I could not catch

My favourite film out of the lot is Diamantino, which is a satire on government propaganda and cloning experiments as seen from the perspective of an innocent, disgraced footballer whose life has an uncanny resemblance to that of Cristiano Ronaldo who is a Portugal national…

I also liked Me and Kaminski, Maria (And Everybody Else), and The Charmer. All great stories with a touch of uniqueness. (And I also kept wondering why there was no film from the UK. The Brexit deal is still not in motion so technically the UK is still a part of the EU. Right?)

Overall, EUFF India was a fun experience for me. I watched more films than I had originally intended to and was able to do it without any hiccups. I also got to explore tony Pedder Road, Cumbala Hills, and Mahalaxmi areas of Mumbai, which I have not been exposed to much. If I could, I would have attended the fest in its entirety, but that is something that I intend to do for MAMI MFF 2019 as well as for the upcoming 10th Jagran Film Festival (starts 26 September 2019) in Mumbai and the 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa (starts 20 November 2019).

Guide for Future Delegates

The entry to the European Union Film Festival is free. Only people above 18 years of age are allowed as the films are not censored. Most of the titles I watched in 2019 had some sort of nudity and sexual content in them with one film (The Charmer) going a bit over the top. It also did not have disclaimers, which is another quality I love about festivals.

All films are with English subtitles.

If you are interested for the 2020 edition and if they run it in your city, keep an eye on their website and social media profiles. They (EU in India) are quite active on both Facebook and Twitter.

Plan your itinerary before and make sure you reach the screenings at least 10 minutes before to get the seat that you want. Other than, it’s just basic film festival etiquette. The location for Mumbai is given below. The most economic way to get to the venue (if its Films Division in future editions also) is to get down at Grant Road station in the Western line of the Mumbai Suburban Railway (local train) and take the #155 Limited BEST bus to Cumbala Hills Post Office. Good luck. TN.

Featured image courtesy: EUFF India

Update: Added bus route option to get to the EUFF venue in Mumbai. (27 September 2019)

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Interestingly, Mumbai was not in the list for the 2018 edition and it ran in eleven other cities. It was not there in 2017 either.

List: Dumb Things People Do in a Movie Theatre

people watching in movie theatre

I am currently attending the India edition of the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) in Mumbai and it is during one of the film screenings last day that I got the idea for this article. As the title suggests, there are dumb things that people do while they are watching a movie in complete darkness. And here I am going to list them out without much description.

  • Murmur
  • Take a photo of a shot in the film with a flash
  • Slide unlock their mobile (with the brightness usually higher than average)
  • Return a phone call after it has rung for a few long seconds
  • Make a phone call
  • Get up and leave*
  • Do something on their smartphone
  • Chew something
  • Get up before the end credits have finished rolling up
  • Stand in the aisle
  • Bring their kids who are clearly not interested in cinema
  • Take a selfie in the middle of a show
  • Laugh or clap more for than the accepted time span (the upper limit is 3 seconds unless you are at Cannes)
mobile flash taking picture movie theatre
Guess the criminals / © jonlarge/Creative Commons

I have to admit that *I have gotten up and left from quite a few movies because they were just too bad to endure but in film festivals this just happens a lot, especially if the entry is free. But there’s no reason why anyone would engage in any of these activities while watching a film. While I get why someone would want to take a photo of a scene in a film (for film Twitter, of course!) and I know they must have forgot to switch off the flash. But what I don’t understand is where is the sensitivity and common sense? Engaging in any of these just goes against the idea of going to the movies. One would rather binge-watch on Netflix at the comfort of their home if they also want to chat with their friend or munch on popcorn all at the same time. This is why we need stricter cinema theatre rules and regulations.

It surprises me more to see such type of behaviour even in film festivals where it is assumed that the audience is more serious and sensitive with the art and their fellow enthusiasts. But I think it is safe to assume that none of these festivals are secure from this type of dumb behavior from its patrons. Be it TIFF or Berlinale or MAMI.

Maybe I am dumb for having pointed them out and spent 30 minutes writing this stub. TN.

Featured image courtesy: Jake Hills/Unsplash

When I Run My Own Cinema Theatre…

rules and regulations of an ideal movie theatre

…I will officiate the following rules and restrictions. Patrons will be required to follow this cinema theatre etiquette charter and will be automatically agreeing to them as part of the ticket purchase.

  • Network jammers will be installed with a power radius of 300 meters to prevent mobile communication of any form inside and around the auditoriums.[1]According to the Indian Telegraph Act, the use of jammers by private establishments is illegal in the country. In special cases, an approval from the Cabinet Secretariat can be procured. Friendship with folks with political influence will then be put to use or the jammers will be installed and architecturally cloaked into invisibility during the construction of the theatre (Private entities can’t use jammers: Govt – Nivedita Mookerji, Business Standard, 17 July 2015) Patrons will be informed about this beforehand; heck even the tagline of the movie theatre will be: at Nair Talkies You Only Watch Movies
  • Show timings will be followed strictly. If a movie is scheduled to start at 8 PM, it will start at 8 PM. As in, the reel/copy supplied by the distributor will be switched ON, and lights will begin to dim
  • Auditorium doors will be closed ten minutes before the show timing. Latecomers will be sent back with a full refund (minus processing charges) or with a facility to reschedule their visit at no extra cost
  • Ushers will make sure patrons occupy their seats five minutes before the start of the show. Uncooperative persons will be shown the exit door without an alternative and without a refund
  • National anthem will not be played before a show; not even the 20-second shorter version or even if certain political outfits or moralists-activists threaten to vandalize my theatre or actually do it[2]According to the Union home ministry of India, “state governments have conveyed that at present there are no protocols on playing national anthem at public places.” Further, the Supreme Court of India in its 9 January 2018 verdict stated that it is up to the cinema hall owners to decide if they want to play the anthem or not. (National anthem in cinemas likely to stay ‘optional’ – Rahul Tripathi, The Economic Times, 19 June 2019)[3]I will decide not to play it.
  • No intervals regardless of the duration or type of the movie
  • Loo breaks will be discouraged and patrons will be strongly advised to make a visit before the start of the show. Emergency nature calls will be allowed but the names and Aadhaar card numbers of these people will be recorded in a database maintained and owned by the theatre. Three strikes will mean lifetime ban
  • There will be no canteen or cafeteria services but freestanding water fountains (mounted water dispensers) will be installed outside the auditorium entrance and exit gates and corridors
  • Complaints from patrons about other patrons (loud talking, snoring, obstructing the view, sexual activity) will be taken seriously and dealt in the same way as those taking loo breaks
  • Special couple seats will be designed (and located towards the end of the auditorium to keep prying eyes or the morality nazis from looking) to encourage platonic but silent and non-disruptive canoodling to heighten the movie-watching experience. Those involved in sexual acts will be warned but not banned because I understand and can confirm that sexual urge (i.e. the urge to procreate) is the second-most strongest human instinct (after that of survival)[4](It’s Normal! – page 112, Chapter 10 – Unsafe Sex (Sex and Illness), Dr. Mahinder Watsa, Penguin Books, 2015). Couples, regardless of their intentions, will be required to sit in these seats only unless all of the available ones are already occupied
  • People (kids) below the age of 13 years will not be allowed irrespective of the type of the film being screened. (If a child is turning 13 on the 20th of August he will be allowed to watch a movie in the theatre from the 20th)
  • No advertisements will be shown and instead movie trailers will be screened before a show. Trailers of Indian regional films will be preferably played over that of mainstream ones
  • Patrons will be mandated to enter the auditoriums freehand. They can choose to either safely dump their personal effects at the security or come directly without bringing anything other than their entry ticket (Film critics will be allowed to carry a pencil/pen and a paper). This essentially means mobile phones will not be allowed
  • All patrons will be frisked (by retired security professionals who have had at least three years of stint in airport security or in the immigration/customs department of India) before entering the building and the only things that will be allowed inside the auditoriums are listed below. Everything else will need to be dumped at the security and which can be collected after the show
    • the entry ticket
    • candies and toffees and mints not weighing more than 10 grams
    • water bottles
    • 3D glasses (depending upon the show)
  • Intoxication of any type will not be allowed inside the building; films without disclaimers will be encouraged
  • Patrons photographically caught littering will be permanently banned without preamble or the ability to contest it
  • Audio and video equalizers will be continuously moderated throughout a show. No show will run on preset or general settings of the entire auditorium, including that of the air conditioning, the humidifiers, and the ventilation
  • There will be no restrictions regarding clothes, footwear, and eyeglasses
movie end credits mandatory
All patrons will be required to sit through the end credits
  • All patrons will be mandated to sit through the entire end credits roll even when it’s not a Marvel movie so that they can sit and appreciate those behind the camera as well as cool down from the in-movie experience
  • The entire building will be friendly to all types of people above the age of 13 regardless of their physical capabilities or incapabilities
  • Theatre staff will be made up of people hired through a lenient recruitment process which will importantly not assess the candidates based on their sexual orientation, caste, religion, or the quality of their exposure to films. Freshers will be trained by me.

But since no one will come to this theatre due to the restrictions and it will be a loss-making enterprise altogether, there will be no such establishment opening till I suddenly become a billionaire with the ability to bankroll such an enterprise without additional capital support and political influence. TN.

Featured image courtesy: Karen Zhao/Unsplash

footnotes   [ + ]

1. According to the Indian Telegraph Act, the use of jammers by private establishments is illegal in the country. In special cases, an approval from the Cabinet Secretariat can be procured. Friendship with folks with political influence will then be put to use or the jammers will be installed and architecturally cloaked into invisibility during the construction of the theatre (Private entities can’t use jammers: Govt – Nivedita Mookerji, Business Standard, 17 July 2015)
2. According to the Union home ministry of India, “state governments have conveyed that at present there are no protocols on playing national anthem at public places.” Further, the Supreme Court of India in its 9 January 2018 verdict stated that it is up to the cinema hall owners to decide if they want to play the anthem or not. (National anthem in cinemas likely to stay ‘optional’ – Rahul Tripathi, The Economic Times, 19 June 2019)
3. I will decide not to play it.
4. (It’s Normal! – page 112, Chapter 10 – Unsafe Sex (Sex and Illness), Dr. Mahinder Watsa, Penguin Books, 2015)

Mumbai Film Festival: A Waiting Guide

It’s been nearly six months since the last edition of the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) concluded and I am finding it difficult to wait out any longer for the next one. Especially with Cannes releasing its official poster for 2019 featuring a tribute to late French filmmaker Agnès Varda as well as folks on my Twitter already starting to build up on TIFF 2019. It was difficult enough to see critics reshare opinion pieces of their favorite and not-so-favorite movies they caught at Sundance this year. And then our own MAMI came out with a tweet that sent a tribute to the late legendary Indian filmmaker Mrinal Sen on 10 April, and I just couldn’t control. Yours truly is filled with misery these days.

Mumbai film festival 2019
Poster for the 21st edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star / © MAMI

But, thanks to cheap access to the Internet and theaters nearby, I have somehow managed to find a way to sustain the gap – which almost feels like an eternity – between the festival editions, October through October. The key, they say, is to stop thinking about it, but good luck doing that if you are an active social media user. And if you are someone who follows the film fraternity (for whatever reasons), you are bound to become miserable over the 12 months. More so if you are disturbed by the wave of low-quality movies that have come out of Bollywood in 2019 so far. Why Cheat India, Total Dhamaal, Mere Pyare Prime Minister, Junglee

If you think you are in a similar situation, don’t worry. I have found a few ways to keep myself occupied till the week-long festival comes back, scheduled between 17 October and 24 October this year. If you can manage to find a buddy then nothing like it. Schedule a day and a time, grab a few packets of instant popcorn, and fire up your home theater to end your hectic days with doses of filmy smack. Here’s how…

Waiting Out the Next Edition of the Mumbai Film Festival

Since the 2018 edition was my most successful in terms of catching the movies that I actually wanted to, it has become even more difficult to exist and function knowing that October is so far away. I often think about my days at the festival and how I managed to watch both the opening and closing films for the first time in three years. Talking to a few acquaintances that I made in 2017 and 2018 made me realize that I am not the only one.

Here are a few things that I have been doing over the past few weeks to make for the cinematic hunger that has suddenly dominated me.

Watch and Complete Previous Editions

In 2018, there was a guy who watched 27 films in six days. This is like an unachievable record for me. Because there’s a limit of four movies per day (that you can book online against your MAMI ID), and this guy booked three extra films by standing in queues. That’s five movies back to back between 10AM and 10PM, each at least 150 minutes long. I would be doing better if I had that kind of commitment for anything in my life.

But that’s not the point. The point is that if you are like me – whose record is a measly 13 per festival – then you have a lot of films to go back to. You’ll have even more if you skipped any of the recent editions of the festival because there are upwards of at least a 100 titles that are screened per year.

I am personally going to try and catch all the pending movies of the 2018 edition. I also created an ambitious list on IMDb so I have a headstart here. If you are looking for inspiration, here is a list of lists –

Lists to Catch Up Old MAMI MFF Movies

Other than these, IMDb itself has a separate section of films that were nominated/awarded in the festival. Have a look at the lists for as back as 2013 here.

Catch Up on MCU or GoT

Now I know that not everyone is a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or TV shows like Game of Thrones, but if you are and if you have been putting them aside for long, now is the time to catch up.

The latest Avengers installment is scheduled to release in a week’s time. Which makes April the perfect time to complete the three phases of MCU that lead up to it. Same for GoT as its final season is currently running on HBO (Hotstar in India).

If none of these franchises interest you, there are numerous other shows and movies in various genres available for consumption. Obviously. So go to IMDb or Letterboxd and take a look.

MAMI Year Round Programme

This should have been on top of my list. Because it is MAMI’s own way of answering the hunger of cinephiles after they are done with the festival every year.

The Year Round Programme is a subset of the MFF where MAMI organizes screenings (often premieres) of new movies and web shows at their partner theater network (PVR) throughout the year in Mumbai and Delhi. Access is free; members only have to sign up separately for the programme (on their website), wait for email invitations of new screenings, register their interest (as soon as possible because of the limited number of seats), and then wait for the confirmation.

If you’re an early bird and/or first-timer, you have high chances of getting a seat. On the other hand, if you get a confirmed seat and don’t show up, it will be hard for you to show your loyalty to the sweet MAMI people again.

The Year Round Programme hosts a lot of cool movies and web shows as MAMI directly partners with the producers and distributors. For example, their last show in Mumbai was the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, in association with National Geographic. In the past, they have screened Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, Sonchiriya, Made in Heaven (Amazon Prime Video), Green Book, and Stranger Things (Netflix) to name a few.

Made in Heaven at MAMI
A photo from the recent screening of Amazon’s Made in Heaven in Mumbai © MAMI

It’s a great initiative by MAMI because it gives a form of community to the participants. And more importantly, a way to stop missing the festival.

Embrace the Academy Awards

Or any international awards for that matter. I like to keep a track of the Oscars – winning films, nods, snubs, long shots, everything – and then predict which ones will win when the night comes. Unfortunately, I have never been able to watch all movies let alone predict correctly. But I still have at two lists prepared and ready:

These will be enough for at least 2-3 months from now, depending upon the number of titles you have seen already.

If Oscars are not your thing, you can pick any of the major international awards like the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Independent Spirit awards, or even Filmfare and Indian’s National Film awards. The idea is to continue watching films to keep the spirit high and constant. Heck, you may also consider the Razzies.

r/bollywood

This might come as a surprise but let me at least make a case. The amount of information that is exchanged in this small Reddit community of Bollywood lovers is just breathtaking. All types of news, trailers, and trivia are discussed there every day by users from around the world.

They even have polls of new Bollywood releases, and unlike popular opinion, have constructive discussions that you can take part in. The community is also actively moderated, which means no spam, no advertisements. Just plain Bollywood worship.

Go and have a look here: https://www.reddit.com/r/bollywood/

Young Critics Lab

This is not for me, but for people who are between the age of 18 and 25. If you are that young and still interested in cinema, the Young Critics Lab organized by MAMI every year will be a beautiful opportunity.

It is a short workshop for young students and professionals who want to get a little hands-on training about the basics of film criticism. The club’s favorite and National Award-winning critic Baradwaj Rangan conducts the workshop between July and October. He is sometimes supported by an international film critic. 2016 saw The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw come to Mumbai for the class while in 2017 (when I attended), TIME magazine’s Stephanie Zacharek made an appearance.

I wrote a detailed article about YCL last year which I think will be enough to push you to sign up if they host it this year. Keep your eyes and ears open in May/June when they usually announce it.

Prep

Lastly, and this is not very relevant here, there’s Sujay Kulkarni’s fantastic take on how to prepare for the festival. Writing for VICE, he captures the very essence of the festival – from ticket booking to finding obscure films outside of your watchlist to getting from one venue to another – in so less words.

Take a look as you revisit your own time at the festival last year… or five years ago. Whichever suits you.

Stay Tight

There is no doubt that the MFF has transformed into a national phenomenon if not a global one. Last year the ticket price was INR 500 (approx. $7) which surely helped increase the footfall. And with so many new members looking forward to the 2019 edition, I’m sure it will be grander this time.

The MFF is now officially open for entries. If you are a creator, you need to sign up and submit as soon as possible. Check out the website for more details. If you are unsure if your film belongs to MFF, check out the rules and regulations here. And don’t forget to follow MAMI on Twitter becausethat’s where the action is.

Here’s to six more months of hope-filled anticipation. TN.

The Chronology of Modern-Day Film Promotion

One of the main purposes of my active social media use is to be on top of news and promotions related to the Malayalam film industry. I follow most film folks on Facebook not because I like to comment “Sir oru like tharumo!” (Sir, can I get a like (on this comment) please?) but to keep track of new ventures, industry stories, and collaborations. And over the past few years, I have observed few things in online film promotion. Things that turn me off.

A Trend in Online Promotion of Films

There is a new trend of digital film promotion in Mollywood and other Indian film industries. Bollywood does it too, in fact, even more strongly than its contemporaries. Most top-lining films usually start off their online publicity with sending a press release, planting a news story, or having some of the crew share status updates about the new project on social media. At the same time, most production houses choose to create and launch standalone pages on various social media platforms, notably on Facebook.

Thamasha Malayalam movies Vinay Fortt
The “first-look” poster of Thamasha / © Happy Hours Entertainment

An example would be the recent announcement of an upcoming film titled Thamasha, produced by Happy Hours Entertainment, and starring Vinay Fortt in a role that looks like it is spun off from his comical character in the 2015 hit romantic comedy Premam. The announcement – which, as of 15 April, has engulfed a part of the Malayalam social media after it was shared and reshared by the people close with the cast and crew – came alongside a poster featuring Fortt. It’s a great announcement and one that achieves its intended goal: pique its audience’s interest. But the problem is that it may not be the first look poster even though the announcement says it is.

Unda malayalam movies 2019
The unofficial “first-look” poster of Unda / © Moviee Mill/Gemini Studios

Take the poster of another upcoming film, the Mammootty-starrer titled Unda (2019). This was released a few months ago when the filming was still underway. There were no major announcements and this poster somehow made an entrance into the social media, probably through its two Facebook pages (here: Unda The Movie and UNDATheFilm). The film’s IMDb page also sports this poster (because I added it and the film’s PR never bothered to take a gander). As someone who depends on the Internet to extract updates about new Malayalam films, I took this poster as the first look image. Because a first look (often abbreviated as FL by agencies who run the handles for these films for the sake of hashtagging convenience) does not have to reveal the first look of the main actors. It is not to be taken literally. Instead, a first-look publicity image should give out the unique vibe of that film, and this one by Unda actually did, again making me very interested in the project. Then, I don’t understand why there was a need for another first look (see further below).

All of this makes me wonder about the chronology of film promotion in this digital age. Here’s a list that I came up with recently, inspired by a comment by a Reddit user (u/nandusdas091) on r/Kerala, and exaggerated to stay true to the nature of this website.

Chronology of Digital Film Promotion

This focuses on the Malayalam film industry; a list of events that occur one after other in any modern-day promotional campaign for a film that has enough budget to produce and disseminate publicity materials.

  1. Rough first look or a media story planted in an unverifiable news site
  2. First look announcement (#firstlook #<title>loading #getready)
  3. First look (usually a hand of the lead star, a prop if it’s a sequel or a series instalment, or the title design)
  4. Motion poster announcement
  5. Motion poster
  6. Sneak peek
  7. Character posters #1 through #5 (of characters that have less than 5 minutes of screen time)
  8. Teaser announcement
  9. Promo teaser (also sometimes erroneously titled as prologue teaser), or
  10. Teaser (without any characters)
  11. First song (lyrical)
  12. Screenshot of the teaser video trending on YouTube
  13. Character posters #6 through #30 (the last one is usually of the lead actor or of a character that should have been kept secret)
  14. Promo poster featuring an inflated number of views that the teaser received in the last 24 hours
  15. Reshares of mentions in the media and by other actors not involved in the project
  16. Audio launch announcement/trailer
  17. Posters containing random birthday wishes for the cast/crew
  18. Teaser reaction videos (disseminated through unofficial, partner networks containing wannabe YouTubers)
  19. Audio launch at an Ernakulam 5-star banquet hall (usually owned by one of the crew members) with the highlight being a life-sized disc held by everyone excluding the music producer
  20. First video song
  21. Trailer announcement
  22. Teaser to the trailer
  23. Trailer launch at a Trivandrum 5-star banquet hall
  24. Trailer appended to major film releases of that weekend
  25. Trailer on social media by a popular actor not involved in the project (a day after it appears on the big screen)
  26. Screenshot of the trailer video trending on YouTube
  27. Trailer reaction videos
  28. Poster featuring an inflated number of views the trailer received in less than two hours
  29. Random stills posted by top cast and crew (with at least half a dozen hashtags)
  30. Poster containing greetings for an eligible festival or public holiday
  31. Cast and crew interview videos
  32. Poster featuring some unknown and useless record broken by the trailer
  33. Poster featuring a list of achievements by the teaser, the trailer, and the audio jukebox
  34. Final official poster with the ensemble cast appearing on it
  35. Film success trailer (two days after release)
  36. Film success celebration photos (at another Ernakulam hotel three days after release)
  37. Making-of videos to get some boost in the revenue of the production company’s YouTube channel
  38. Posters featuring inflated box office numbers
  39. Item dance video (optional)

Current State of Affairs

Here’s a peak example of what I’m talking about: a Facebook status update posted by the FB page of Unda, Khalid Rahman’s second directorial. It is true that I was triggered to write this article upon seeing this update on my feed. But I have been observing this digital film publicity chronology for some time now to validate the need for such an article.

Unda Malayalam movie 2019
A status update by the Facebook page of Unda

Every film – and not just Malayalam-language features – that is projected to at least foot its making cost is following this trend. And going by the volume of engagement on the above post from a page that has upwards of 5600 followers (at the time of publishing), it’s working.

But as a consumer of cinema who is at the receiving end of these brazen, tasteless promotions, it turns me off hugely. You may suggest that I start unfollowing these pages of films and film personalities and production houses, but then what about the downside? It’s a catch-22 situation all right and I can alternatively choose to change the settings on Facebook to receive only highlights. But if I did that, who exactly are they trying to attract and engage?

If everyone thought like me, the engagement would automatically go down, save for the pages of those films with actors who have fan associations so big and powerful the title of these associations are known in Kerala and neighbouring states by their acronyms (e.g.: Prithviraj Sukumaran’s POFFACTIO). It would not really work.

The Risk of Overpromotion

They say any publicity is good publicity, but that’s not true anymore. Look what happened to a recent upcoming biopic of a politician. It had all the right ingredients, and also received a mass of negative press because of its association with a political party, but it was still stalled for release because it would potentially violate the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which is in motion till the end of 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Overpromotion – which is quickly influencing the Kerala film industry – does not always work. It can act as cannibalization after a certain point, turning off the discerning audience to the point where he stops caring. After a while, the promotions will stop having an effect on its target audience as people will shun the digital campaigns and consider movies based on star value, interest, and word of mouth. (The last one is still one of the biggest factors in global cinema, with examples from Bollywood like Stree (2018), Tumbbad (2018), and Andhadhun (2018) loud and clear.)

I do not agree with executing a 39-point marketing strategy on social media because it is dumb. It can act as a deterrent more than it can as a magnet. Of course, an active official profile on Facebook or Twitter would do good to educate the audience about an upcoming project, especially to act as a standalone profile for when someone searches for it to find more information if the film is not yet live on Wikipedia and IMDb, that is. But going overboard with it can sometimes be risky and cost-ineffective.

It may be a tactic used by social media management agencies (who usually work remotely) to bill their clients extra (for all the man hours), but we must look at the bigger picture and see where exactly this type of promotions is going. Is it some kind of a groundbreaking marketing strategy that demands a deeper study? No. Is it a novel approach? No, everyone does it and has been doing it for some time now. Is it effective? Maybe. In 2019 so far, films like Lucifer, Oru Adaar Love, and Madhura Raja succeeded in pulling it off and getting the seats filled, notwithstanding their consequent critical or box office successes. But there are others – like 9, Praana, and June – that deployed similar but largely ineffective campaigns.

Bringing It a Few Notches Down

Same goes for films that think out of the box, do something unusual, and still fail without even getting credit for trying. A case in point: When Rohith VS’s Iblis (2018) launched an online game as part of its promotions, it did not aid much in attracting any more audience than it would have without the game. Its Facebook page had over 20,000 followers and yet the game-related posts received measly engagement, and Asif Ali is still an actor with some fan following. It fared comparatively well with its series of posters, one of the best we saw in 2018.

The splash screen of the game titled World of Iblis / © nologomedia

Which is why it is important to also attribute the success of such granular marketing campaigns to a film’s star value. In fact, this star value has more to do than the stunts themselves. You don’t see such campaigns being run for films that feature an actor who doesn’t have an official fan association. Think of the marketing tactics by the PR team of a film starring Mohanlal and then compare it with another having lesser-known actors like Sreenath Bhasi, Shane Nigam, and Soubin Shahir. Even though the quality of a film eventually decides its success rate, such viral social media promotions help the producers mint more money during the deciding first weekend. And it is evident that it is working. Which is not the right way to do business.

Then there are films like Premam that make do with a few characterless posters and a song to market itself and break some actual records. TN.

Update: Updated information about the two different Facebook pages for Unda. (15 April 2019)