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Bollywood has a new king

What makes the blockbuster Bollywood film "3 Idiots" and others so smart? Smart marketing, yaar.

Just a few years ago, Bollywood movie releases were preceded by leaks of salacious details of the romantic liaisons between the male and female leads. “Today, that is so passe,” says Bollywood publicist Archana Sadanand, CEO of Imagesmiths. “Audiences are smart and have cottoned on to such cheap tricks.”

So filmmakers are innovating. Sadanand led the promotion of "Paa," the movie in which megastar Bachchan plays Auro, a character suffering from progeria, a disease that produces rapid aging. The team maintained top secrecy over Bachchan’s completely uncharacteristic look and role in the film. “We managed to strip Mr. B’s overwhelming persona and make his character Auro the key element,” she said.

Rapid changes in media are also playing a role. The Bollywood-chasing media has grown from a couple of glossy magazines to hundreds of media outlets, including television channels, magazines and websites dedicated to Mumbai’s moviemaking. “Each medium is a potential marketing tool and it would be stupid not to use them all,” says Bachchan.

Producers bankrolling Bollywood projects are jumping in as well. Sidhwani of Excel says promotions have come a long way since the days of his first film 10 years ago, the blockbuster hit "Dil Chahta Hai" (What the heart wants).

Sidhwani admits he did not put any thought to post-production with the pre-multiplex era release of that film. But things are vastly different with his new one, the much-anticipated Karthik Calling Karthik that's due for a late February release.

Sidhwani says marketing has become more important because of the clutter of movies and a more discerning audience. “To draw the globally-aware Bollywood movie watcher into the multiplex with a desire and urgency to watch your film is becoming a task for creative minds,” Sidhwani said. The competition is stiff and movie-goers have a choice between four to six new releases each month, Sidhwani says.

But while smart promotion draws in the first rush of fans and leads to word-of-mouth, even the zaniest, slickest marketing efforts do not guarantee success if a film lacks substance, says Sadanand.

The outsized promos of the mega-budget "Blue," tagged as India’s first underwater film, promised action and adventure. The movie did not deliver, however, and sank without a trace.