There was a time, not a long time ago, when our dear vibrant world of Bollywood loved any kind of publicity- positive, negative, sensational or all the three. In fact since the eighties, Bollywood increasingly started believing more in negative publicity than the positive one. The positive ones of course included the rumours of affairs between the hero-heroine of an upcoming film or a sensational equation between the heroine and the director of the film. Gradually but cleverly, the publicity shifted to more ‘grey’ areas around the good-old eighties when the idea of super-stardom was slowly fading. Remember ‘Silsila’ (1981)? The Yash Chopra film banked heavily on the rumours of an extra-marital between Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha, so much so that even the casting of the film was changed. Although after much sensationalized reports and stories about the making of the film, Silsila flopped.
Then there was Khal Nayak (1993), which made headlines as soon as its controversial ‘Choli Ke Peechhe Kya Hai’ started playing on radio. The film, though had a thin story, worked on the box office, courtesy the Choli song and Sanjay Dutt’s performance.
Aamir Khan, among all other things is a very clever marketing man. His films usually worked on the box office due to the carefully chalked-out publicity campaigns he ran. His films like ‘Fanaa, PK and Dhoom3 worked following the skillful combination of negative and positive publicity. Dirty Picture (2011) clicked with its already much-talked about and trashed poster. But after 2015, the negative publicity, so dear to the Bollywood strategists, took a dangerous turn with the sets of Padmaavat (2017) being damaged by a right-wing group. But it made a huge impact on its earnings and a not-so-good a film By Sanjay Leela Bhansali became an overnight hit. Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil(2016) too found itself surrounded with some negative publicity. Although Karan Johar at one point found himself at the receiving end of the criticism for having Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in the film, it did well on the box office despite being a below average work by such a successful young director.
But after Padmaavat (2017), the negative publicity started boomranging at the box office. Well, blame it on the Boycott trend and cancel culture, so much in fashion today and our hyper ‘touchiness’ for every or any thing, that a thing meant to arouse the curiosity of the audiences turned out to be a dark shadow looming large over the film. So much so that by the time Laal Singh Chaddha came to be released in 2022, Aamir Khan officially condemned the negativity lashed at the film and the actor on social media and urged people to watch the film.
The film did not do so well at the Indian box office but its OTT opening and overseas earnings were quite impressive. The Laal Singh Chaddha experience was heart-wrenching for filmmakers and audiences alike. Many who were taking part in the ‘boycott trolling’ on social media, distanced themselves from this trend, though many more are still active and tried to run a ‘boycott’ trend for Shah Rukh Khan’s much anticipated ‘Pathaan’.
The concept of negative publicity campaign seems to be losing its steam now at least as far as Hindi film industry is concerned. The filmmakers and actors are now increasingly becoming aware of the fact that negative trolling of any kind on social media is no longer positive for a film. The optimistic thing is- the ‘boycott Pathaan’ trend couldn’t click for long on social media and the film’s trailer and songs (although very average) garnered a huge viewership as well as curiosity.
With the King gracing the silver screen after many years, it is anticipated that positivity will finally prevail over Bollywood and the box office will once again be buzzing with good news for the filmmakers.