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Mallika: Bollywood's first star with hype, hoopla

By Priyanka Khanna, IANS

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There's a slight jingle at the Indian box-office owing to the above average first week collections of a small-budget film and Bollywood's media managers and publicity whiz-kids are enjoying a whole lot of cheer.

After a prolonged dull phase, the box-office has warmed up to veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt's latest venture, "Murder", but the real excitement in the trade is how the publicity blitzkrieg has possibly found its first indigenously tailor-made star -- Mallika Sherawat.

The female actor, who is being hailed as the new star of Bollywood after "Murder" opened to impressive initials, is seen as the industry's first successful attempt in creating a star, say observers.

While in the West, media and marketing managers have always played a major role in making or breaking a star, in the Indian film industry star genes have played a dominant role.

Mallika, who has no family connections to Bollywood and is definitely less endowed in the looks department than an Aishwarya Rai or a Bipasha Basu, has got her share of fame riding squarely on shrewd media management.

Beginning with her first film "Khwahish" which did not live up to its hot and steamy promos, Mallika became a darling of the press for her bold and sassy interviews.

She became a self-appointed crusader to bring sex out of Indian closets and aired her views on any and every available platform in the print or electronic media.

"She gained an enviable instant recall status among viewers. Many might not be able to recall her face but know her as the 17-kisses girl," said a star manager of Lintertainment.

Producer Bhatt summed it up best when he said: "Mallika is a brand."

Now with "Murder", with its unabashed skin show and lust content, she has made up for the disappointment felt by audiences for "Khwahish". Clearly, the difference in promotion of the two films is key to their respective commercial performances and is a lesson for film publicists.

"First-timer Anurag Basu made trailers that said it all, leaving little to the viewer's imagination," said Komal Nahta, editor of a trade guide. The promos played on elements of sin and sleaze as the selling points of the film and the captions were as bold and brazen as the film itself.

As if that weren't enough, Mallika used every print and electronic medium she could to actually tell the world that the film would shock viewers. It is this honesty in the film's promotion that bore fruits for its producers and distributors, he said.

As a result, though box-office collections of "Murder" began to slide over the week, Mallika was declared as a star that had arrived. Only time will tell whether she is able to capitalise on her newfound success or squander it.

Nevertheless, publicity, packaging and marketing has come of age in Bollywood.

Today, every film has its own website and runs contests and quizzes on mobile phones and the Internet. Traditional mediums like posters and promos on radio and TV are being driven by principles like right positioning, 360-degree branding, viewership segmentation, identifying target groups and defining their socio-economic status.

Said Bhatt: "It's not that film-makers have suddenly become market-savvy.
It's the increasing competition that has led to the need to not only promote films a little more seriously, but even to give their form of art a defining tagline."

But Bollywood has a long way to go against Hollywood where an average film spends around 50 percent of its budget on marketing against the 10 percent here. The dilemma is compounded when two of last year's biggest hits ("Koi... Mil Gaya" and "Kal Ho Naa Ho") as well as flops ("LoC" and "Boom") were the most hyped films.


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