Bengal Leads – at least in a promotional campaign starring the ultimate dream merchant, Shah Rukh Khan. The video has all the trappings of a make-believe Bollywood masala movie – stunning visuals of the hills in North Bengal, the Sunderban forests and the Bay of Bengal and a soulful rendition of Rabindranath Tagore’s “Banglar mati, Banglar jal (Bengal’s soil, Bengal’s water) by Bollywood singer Shaan. In the midst of it all, King Khan’s dialogue delivery is immaculate: “There is something special about Bengal”.
The commercial, directed by National Award-winning filmmaker Aniruddha Roychowdhury shows Khan emerging Batman-style from the dark and handing over a golden magic ball to kids. With a tagline — “Notun Bangla, Progotir Bangla” (A new Bengal, a resurgent Bengal) – the film showcases different avenues of investments in the state — education, medicine and information technology. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s association with the campaign has been quite deep. Apart from convincing the superstar, she has apparently advised the crew on the visuals as well.
Khan, whose association with Bengal has so far been restricted to Kolkata Knight Riders, is doing the commercials for free. “SRK is our brand ambassador and has given his valuable time free of cost,” says Nandini Chakravarty, secretary, information and cultural affairs department. The campaign, which will be launched within a fortnight, will be followed up by a series of department-specific ads to highlight the state’s potential. The cost of the campaign has however been kept confidential.
Will Khan’s projection of a resurgent Bengal convince people, given that the only “lead” the state has taken in the recent past has been to protest against the reforms policies being pursued by the Centre? Will brand SRK be able to attract industry to a state which has hardly seen any fresh investment proposals during Mamata Banerjee’s regime?
Veteran image consultant Alyque Padamse isn’t hopeful. “Campaigns are good if the products hold value. Lately the incumbent government has not been able to put the state on track. Even the glamour quotient of SRK will not be able to boost the current government's image.” he adds.
Others say the state government had better things to do. Author Sunil Gangopadhay says it’s a ‘silly exercise”. “The government has a host of important issues to address rather than spending money on ads,” he says.
Ad film maker, Prahlad Kakkar, however, sees some positives. Citing the example of Amitabh Bachchan’s Gujarat tourism ads, Kakkar points out that the campaign has done wonders for the tourism industry in Gujarat. “It is surely an impetus to lure investment and tourists to the state,” Kakkar adds.
There is one caveat, though. “SRK’s image is going to make a positive appeal to the audience and is going to benefit the government in its mission to promote Bengal as an investor-friendly state. But such television commercials come with promises for its target audience and the promises will have to be fulfilled by the government,” Kakkar says.
Image artist Wally Olins was earlier roped in by the Left Front government to develop a core brand idea for Bengal. While working on the project, Olins had said that branding was partly about seduction, but had also cautioned that the idea being projected should be real.
Olins completed his project, but it was never implemented as the government had changed in the meantime.