[pullquote id= “lhipull” class=”right_pull”]An extraordinary film… probably the most brilliant film to have been made in India in decades – Anurag Kashyap[/pullquote]
Indian cinema has been more or less dominated by commercial flicks making a 100 crores (1 Billion) at the box office. While the new benchmark is at 200 crores, a movie like Ship Of Theseus comes out from nowhere to shake up your soul. Written and directed by Anand Gandhi, the title that alludes to Theseus’ paradox, is a film that explores questions of identity, justice, beauty, meaning and death through the stories of an experimental photographer, an ailing monk and an enterprising stockbroker.
Ship of Theseus (SoT) has been produced by Recyclewala Films, a company established by the film’s director Anand Gandhi along with Sohum Shah who also acted in the film. After winning praises across the globe, SoT was released in India with Kiran Rao as the presenter and UTV as distributors. Considering the genre of the movie and the lesser known star cast, the film had to be promoted in a real smart way to reach out to its niche audience.
“A film like Ship of Theseus can be conveniently bracketed just as a small, indie, arty kind of film, which are only seen by the film festival kind of audience or at the most are only good enough to be seen on a television or a laptop through torrents, etc.” shared Apan Singhal who manages digital marketing for Recyclewala Films and was associated with the movies promotion on social.
Further he added that, “There is a big hesitance among the audience to pay and make the efforts to go watch such films in theaters even if they may be interested in it. Also the film deals with philosophy, something that is usually not expected of films. There is a belief that if something is serious or philosophical, it cannot be entertaining which is not necessarily true, and certainly not in the case of Ship of Theseus. ”
Movie promotions and integration of social media
The movie promotions started about two months before the release. In the initial phase, the intention was to create awareness about the film, then curiosity and anticipation in the follow up to the release. Apan shared with me over an email that since the movie had no conventional marketing attractions like big stars and songs, the team decided to play on the strengths – the film’s content and the appreciation it was getting from whoever had seen it.
This helped the team to reach out to the right audience for a film like SoT, instead of an audience coming to watch the film for something that is not central to the film. Hence was the choice of social media as one of the primary mediums for promoting the movie.
“Using social media as the primary medium for the film’s promotion was thus a logical decision as it’s a medium which you can’t manipulate as its directly in the hands of the audience and if they come across something that excites them, they’d be more than happy to carry our communication wherever they can,” added Apan.
The promotional initiatives primarily focused on the thematic content of the film and its central characters on social media. ”We posted stuff to engage the audience with the ideas that the film deals with while also inviting their thoughts. The promotional features particularly focused on the film’s central characters as we wanted the audience to identify with them for them to be interested in their stories,” shared Apan, while talking about the campaign strategies on social media.
One thing that helped the marketing of the film in India was the anticipation among cinema enthusiasts as SoT had already been showcased at a number of film festivals and screenings where it got tremendous appreciation. So the job was to highlight the things that have been said about the film from those who have seen it, which included filmmakers, film critics and cinema enthusiasts. The below screen grab gives a hint of one such content shared on Facebook.
Engaging on other platforms beyond social networks
Apart from engaging people through their own social media platforms, the team also reached out to film clubs, groups and discussion forums on the web. “This proved to be really fruitful because most of these forums were more than happy to promote the film on their platforms as they all were really excited by the content of the film,” Apan said while talking about other online mediums used during the promotions.
The movie also got support in terms of creating awareness for the film on social media from dedicated film bloggers and cinephiles. To further reach out to them, a conference in Mumbai was held exclusively for internet based film media, film bloggers & cinema enthusiasts. During the same time, to reach out the non-Mumbai based film bloggers/enthusiasts, an online video conference via Google Plus was conducted along with Kiran Rao and Anand Gandhi too.
Besides this, they wanted to tap the mass that might not be the regular cinema going audience but would be interested in ideas and thoughts the film deals with. The team held special screenings for influential people in the fields of arts, literature, science, sociology, philosophy, etc.
“We felt that the people interested in these fields would definitely be interested in a film like Ship of Theseus. We were really glad that all these people loved the film and spread the word about the film on their social media platforms so we could generate awareness and enthusiasm for the film even with non-conventional cinema going audience,” shared Apan.
With social media serving as a tool to directly interact with the audience, fans of the film were asked to contribute art inspired by the film, and stand a chance to win the film’s poster signed by cast/crew of the film, for which the team got a great response (One such artwork done by Manoj Nath is at your right.) “We could also feature a lot of their artwork on our social media platforms which further inspired people to share more artwork inspired by the film with us,” informed Apan, while talking about the very few contests they had for the movie since the idea was to focus on the content and let the fans spread the goodness about the movie.
UTV too promotes the movie on social
Apart from the official presence of the movie on social media, UTV the distributors of the movie in India, which has a massive presence on social, also promoted the movie on its Facebook and Twitter page. “We ran several contests on Facebook and Twitter. Our paid ad campaigns on the film were targeted to reach out to people who would be interested in films of such genres,” added Shikha Kapur, Executive Director, Marketing- Studios, Disney UTV.
With the film about to release, the obvious attempt was to create enough awareness about the film’s release on social media. “It often happens that a lot of people may miss out on a non-mainstream film they want to see just because they may not get an opportunity to even know when and where is it playing in theaters,” shared Apan. With the release date nearing, the team ran a daily countdown where the objective was to share interesting trivia about the film to generate curiosity for it.
He further added, “Our aim was to focus on a strong call to action for people to watch the film in theaters, where all our online communication also provided them with exact details of where and when the film is playing in their respective cities (for which we used location based citywise targeting) and the link where they can book the tickets online.”
Vote for your city – Facebook app
Finally due to constraints the movie was decided to release only in 6 major cities since getting a film released in smaller cities was difficult for a movie like Ship Of Theseus. This led to the creation of a unique initiative called ‘Vote for your city’ where people from any city can vote online to get the film released in their city.
For this a Facebook app was made by UTV’s digital agency Media2win. It was the first time that audience in India could participate in getting a film released in their city.
“When we decided on the campaign, we were fully aware that people who would vote for their city will not necessarily go on to buy tickets to watch the film. However, considering we were experimenting with a platform release for the first time in India, it gave us a good sense of relative demand from different cities. At the same time, it helped to create a lot of buzz in the social space,” shared Shikha, while talking about the decision to create a Facebook app.
‘Vote for your city’ initiative created an excitement among the film’s enthusiasts from different cities and proved to be a great success as the film was eventually released in 37 cities. “Through this campaign, from an initial release in 6 cities, the film went on to release in 37 cities in three weeks. The box office response is there for all to see. Since the marketing for this film was mostly dependent on social media, we can safely assume that it contributed extensively in the film’s success,” informed Shikha, while talking about the amazing response. The campaign proved beneficial since it gave the anxious audience in different cities an opportunity to watch the film as well as promote it to get the film released in their city.
Post release engagement on social
Post the film’s release, Apan shared that they have been engaging with the audience with features from the film like quotes, ‘making of’ and deleted scenes. “We have also been conducting video chats for the audience with the film’s director Anand Gandhi where they can directly interact with him about the film. Our aim is to make a permanent connection with the fans of the film through our social media platforms,” shared Apan.
I am waiting for the DVD to come out in the market, as I am yet to see the brilliant movie. Ship Of Theseus has created a dent in Indian cinema while setting a new benchmark for content based movies. Additionally, the marketing team has made a point that with limited budgets and interesting ideas, you can reach out to the target audience.
“After the success of SoT, we believe that platform release works well for niche films and will benefit if done smartly. And for such initiative, online campaigns are the best medium to reach out to the right audiences,” added Shikha and I couldn’t agree more.