A dedicated team of eight to ten works tirelessly to get Shah Rukh Khan or SRK through the myriad promotional events, endorsements, press briefings, gaming events, TV show appearances and interviews with the electronic media. The public relations agent ensures that the actor is kept supplied with pots of hot coffee and journalists stick to their allotted time slots. His make-up man fusses over him for a fresh round of paint and a change of shirts. Another attendant ensures that SRK eats his roasted lean cuts regularly. With work stretching to 18 hours every day, SRK says that he needs the pampering to keep him going until October 26 when Ra.One releases in theatres. “Distinction between night & day waning… Having dinner at 6 am but energy levels still high,” he tweeted on October 3. The night before, SRK had appeared on three reality shows to promote his film. Sitting in a five-star hotel in suburban Mumbai he looks confident, in fact cocky. SRK sticks to his promise of one cigarette during the half-hour interview — there are no signs of nervousness and pre-release jitters.
Actually, a lot rides on Ra.One: Big money (Rs 200 crore) and SRK’s reputation as the King of Bollywood. He hasn’t had a single release in the last year and a half. During this period, Salman Khan has given three films that have done domestic collections in excess of Rs 100 crore: Bodyguard (Rs 147 crore), Dabangg (Rs 140 crore) and Ready (Rs 120 crore). In contrast, none of SRK’s films has touched the magic figure of Rs 100 crore in domestic ticket sales. While Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) did Rs 87 crore, Om Shanti Om (2007) sold Rs 79 crore and My Name is Khan (2010) did Rs 72 crore. Aamir Khan’s last two films, 3 Idiots (2009) and Ghajini (2008) too did over Rs 100 crore — Rs 204 crore and Rs 114 crore, respectively.
Hasn’t he been left behind in the sweepstakes? “Whatever the naysayers may write, I am still King Khan, and you may call me any name. Even my bad films draw collections that some of the so-called good films don’t,” SRK puts up a brave front. “If the film does not pull through, then the wedding season is round the corner and I can go and dance in a few weddings to earn back the remainder. A couple of films and endorsements and I will be good.” That’s exactly the reason why Ra.One needs to do well. Endorsements and invitations to perform at functions come only so long as your films do well. In the world of celebrity endorsements, word is out that SRK can be signed for Rs 4 crore, down from his peak of Rs 7 crore. With almost 20 brand endorsements, there is no way SRK can let his star (read Box Office) charisma fade. “SRK as a brand has not grown the way others have grown,” says Kwan Entertainment & Marketing Solutions Managing Director Anirban Das Blah. “You see SRK less as an actor and more as a businessman, while others like Aamir, Salman and Hrithik (Roshan) have maintained that actor status.” His last reality show, Zor ka Jhatka on NDTV Imagine, sank without a trace.
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Ra.One is being produced by Eros International. On top of the Rs 150 crore spent on production, it has spent another Rs 50 crore on marketing. That brings the total investment to Rs 200 crore. The satellite rights were sold to Star TV for Rs 35 crore almost a year back. T Series has bought the music rights for another Rs 15 crore. More could come from sale to the digital media and pay-per-view television. “Almost 70 to 80 per cent of the cost will be recovered from pre-licensed content before the film hits the theatres,” says Eros CFO Kamal Jain. The rest of the money needs to come through ticket sales.
SRK expects Ra.One to do 25 to 30 per cent better in collections than his last release, My Name is Khan, which had collected Rs 72 crore in India and Rs 86 crore abroad. While cinema tickets are moderately taxed overseas, in India the incidence is as high as 60 per cent. SRK’s calculations may help Eros break even, though trade analysts say the film needs to collect around Rs 250 crore in India and abroad. “For SRK, a lot is at stake both personally and professionally,” says film distributor Suniel Wadhwa. SRK acknowledges that his personal fortune is at stake. “When I started out, I told my family that the movie would cost me much more than a Bollywood film and I may even lose money on it. They backed me,” says he. “While we have gone over-budget, in fact nearly five times over the original amount, I know it’s not an unrecoverable amount.”
Eros does not want to take any chances. It has finalised plans to release the movie in 3,000 screens across India in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, and this includes the 3D version in 300 screens. In addition, Ra.One will release in 400 screens globally, and will have simultaneous releases in the Far East as well as several European and Latin American countries. It will also be dubbed in German and subtitled in several languages. SRK’s magic really works abroad. Even SRK’s fiercest critics admit that he has an amazing fan base outside India and there is a pent-up demand to see him after a long gap. For instance, My Name is Khan was a huge hit in South Korea. This time round, Eros wants to release Ra.One in 30 screens in Taiwan and more than 100 screens in Korea — unheard of markets for Indian films till recently.
In overseas collections, in fact, SRK is miles ahead of both Aamir and Salman — none of their films has done even half of My Name is Khan. In 2007, SRK was awarded the Order of the Arts and Literature by the French government for his “exceptional career”. He was conferred the honorific “Datuk” by the Malaysian government in 2008 for “promoting tourism in Malacca”. The next year, the University of Bedfordshire in Britain gave him an honorary degree in arts and culture. His statue can be found at Madame Tussauds (in wax) in London, the Musee Gravin in Paris as well as in Hong Kong and New York.
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The problem is domestic collections. Producers say SRK is an urban multiplex phenomenon, while almost 70 per cent of collections come from single-screen theatres in smaller towns and cities. This is important for another reason: Multiplexes get a higher share of collections from the producer than single-screens. While multiplexes take 50 per cent of the collections in the first week, single-screens are happy with 40 per cent. If it runs more than one week, the terms become more favourable for the producer in single-screens than multiplexes.
SRK’s producers are not making any compromises on Ra.One. The movie is a technological marvel and has raised the bar on VFX technique in Indian cinema. The film has over 3,500 shots, which is even higher than Avatar (2,700 shots) and Rajnikanth’s Robot (2,100 shots). It has used a crew of over 5,000 from India, Italy and the US for this. “Money is important, and let’s not try to lose money. But you should not sacrifice quality for profit. Ra.One is a calling card for technology,” says SRK.
He has also launched a digital marketing blitzkrieg with Ra.One — from YouTube channels to social games. Do you see shades of Aamir here? “I have been asked if I am trying to compare marketing gimmicks with Aamir. Why should I? I have a film that hasn’t ever been attempted in India; it has the best talent working on it and is as good as Hollywood films. I don’t need gimmicks,” he says. “Marketing the film online was always the plan but if it is going to be compared with what my peers have done, then I think I am doing things differently.”
SRK says some of the digital initiatives he really believed in go with the film’s DNA. “I knew I wanted a digital presence through games because I know how kids today, including my son, love to game on mobile devices. But the association with Google to have a dedicated video channel, social games where players can buy goods and play, promoting music and content on Nokia devices happened because my team agreed with me that it was the best way to go for Ra.One to connect with the youth who are the target audience,” says he.
A little over six months ago, Shailja Gupta, the head of digital and merchandising at Red Chillies, SRK’s production house, came up with a blueprint of what can be done with Ra.One. From games to online advertising, she had it all covered. The Red Chillies team then approached UTV Indiagames to design a social game based on the film. The logic was that social networks are big among the adult youth, and this would serve the dual purpose of marketing the film as well as entertaining users in the digital space. “The best part is that the game is independent of the film and will have a life of its own even after the film. UTV Indiagames is promoting it across platforms and even Facebook, which is simply fantastic as I don’t think I could have tapped them through traditional means. When I got my son to play the game on mobile, he was hooked to it; if the game could get him interested, I know it will interest youngsters on social networks. Also, the film is based on the classic good versus evil plot, making it an ideal premise for games, I believe,” says SRK.
But the bottom-line is, will the film make money? “Every film has its own space. With so many movies crossing Rs 100 crore (in collections) within the first few days, I understand that the business has grown and such returns do exist,” says SRK. Around Christmas will release his next film, Don 2, which has also been made on a budget of Rs 150 crore. The two films account for one-fifth of Bollywood’s annual production cost. For Bollywood’s sake, SRK just can’t afford a flop.