The Dirty Picture, released on 2nd December, 2011, has left behind a string of broken paradigms, but it has reiterated a trend in the Brand Derby. It proves that a successful brand launch is as much about the product as it is about the marketing. The Dirty Picture was the most successful brand launch of last year as rated by those surveyed.
Going against the grain of Hindi movie success formulae, The Dirty Picture became a blockbuster with a female actor in the lead, a domineering and sensual one at that, and with a censor certification of ‘A’ or an adults-only film. Such a film, without an actor who commands grand openings, wouldn’t fill more than 40-50 per cent of a theatre earlier. ‘The Dirty Picture’ opened to full-houses in both multiplexes and single screen theatres, with around 1,500 prints including dubbed versions. The Hindi edition alone garnered Rs 8.5 crore on opening day, with the rest bringing in another crore. It went on to gross up Rs 115 crore from India and Rs 10 crore overseas. Though the film proved that it packed quite a punch with the acting, music and script on release, the production team at Balaji Motion Pictures did not leave anything to chance.
News about The Dirty Picture started making its way to the press 2010 onwards. Looking back, it was the team comprising producer Ekta Kapoor, director Milan Luthria and script-writer Rajat Arora, who got together for another movie, close on the heels of the hit, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai. But what kept grabbing headlines of national and regional media earlier were the subject of the movie and the preparations of the lead actor. The title piqued the curiosity of both critics and the general audience further.
The movie was first claimed to be on the life of Silk Smitha, which was the screen alias of the actor Vijayalakshmi of Andhra Pradesh. Known for her racy roles in south Indian movies in the 1980s, she would draw in audiences with her sensual avatars which, at times, bordered on soft porn. Her mysterious death in 1996 was allegedly a suicide due to depression, financial problems and alcoholism. The movie was even released on Silk Smitha’s birth anniversary. Later, The Dirty Picture team retracted its initial claim and said the movie was based on the lives of the free-spirited and sensual women actors of that era. But by then, the word was out and buzz at its loudest din.
The team began discussing the movie from 2010 in the media. By April, 2010, the actor to play the lead was disclosed as being Vidya Balan, who had played either cerebral or demure in most of her films before 2011. ‘News’ about Balan’s reservations about the role’s emotional scope and later, a raunchy sartorial theme and weight gain to portray the sleaze aesthetically, trickled in through 2010-11.
What had started out as a script for a small film on soft pornography of the 80s took on a bigger scope with women’s empowerment and the pitfalls of exponential stardom. By mid-2011, Kapoor was already claiming that her movie on a sex siren’s rise and fall would bring her critical acclaim and bag a national award for Balan. The film’s first trailer released in September 2011 notched up 8,00,000 hits on YouTube in the first month.
Tanuj Garg, CEO, Balaji Motion Pictures, says, “We began our campaign four to five months before the release. We were fighting a mental block against female-led films and needed longer to build up the pitch.” The team knew that keeping the promotions to just the metros could limit the film’s appeal. To reach out to the B and C towns, such as Lucknow and Chandigarh, Balan appeared on a Hindi magazine, Manohar Kahaniyan. The team arranged for Balan to visit small towns and pick out a saree from a local shop. A local tailor would then stitch her a blouse to go with the saree, in keeping with the sartorial theme the movie’s posters depicted. Tusshar Kapoor and Emraan Hashmi stayed in Patna for promotions.
Garg says the film’s title worked as an attention-grabber though the ‘dirty’ was more symbolic than actual in the movie. “We wanted the film to be a brazen entertainer. It may have seemed raunchy but that was never our objective. We wanted to recreate the 1980s’ moviedom, including the Jeetendra-Padmalaya era. The movie had strong emotional underpinnings but was not preachy about women’s empowerment. We wanted to leave these for the audience to take home, from beneath the veneer of kitsch and romance that got highlighted pre-release,” he adds.
Hindi film industry’s trade analyst and editor of Koimoi.com, Komal Nahta says, “The movie’s script is also a hat-tip to the return of action movies. Now stylish action films with over-the-top dialogues are back. As for the theme, because of its handling, actors and music (the song ‘Ooh la la, Ooh la la’, for example), it has managed to give an insight into how the industry works, when other films on the subject have missed the mark.”
The movie has now spawned off announcements of a number of biopics on Silk Smitha. The Dirty Picture brought in around Rs 40 crore in net earnings for its producers after taxes and distributors’ share. With a cost of production of Rs 21 crore (Rs 8 crore on print and advertising), that spells as Rs 19 crore of profits. Satellite rights sale amounted to an additional Rs 11-12 crore.