Gone are the days when the film's first look was referred to as trailers. 80s was the time when a few random shots from the films, mainly coming with a combination of a romantic track, a comic track, a rape sequence, a fight sequence and a few dramatic dialogues used to make for a rather lengthy promo. There wasn't much variety in store as everything was way too predictable (and in process something which was actually wanted by the audience).
Things started changing in the 90s, though the end result was not as stylish if one looks back to see how things stood then. Still, an effort was being made and while the masala elements still remained intact; better cut promos with some inkling of the film's theme was put on display. At least random shots were done away with and there was more narrative feel to those few minutes that detailed the context of the film.
Of course it all became pretty organised with the turn of the century. One can pick, choose and blame corporate houses for the current mess that Bollywood is in from the business standpoint. However, one can't deny the fact that it was due to some planning and focus from bodies like UTV and EROS along with desi production houses of Yash Raj Films, Dharma Productions, Nadiadwala Grandsons, Boney Kapoor and of course the maverick Ram Gopal Varma which changed the way 'trailers' looked.
It was now the time for an altogether different way of pitching the film to the audience. Gone were the days of 'ek gaane ki line daal do, ek romantic scene dikha do, thodi comedy ka touch de do, heroine ka ek emotional scene rakh lo' mandate that made for a promo. It was the time to work hard on the first poster of the film. After that, there was a 30 seconds teaser that did its job of, well, just about managing to tease the audience into speculating what the film was all about. And then the theatrical promo was unleashed, something that was good enough for audience to decide in those two and a half to three minutes that whether the film was going to be a worthy trip to the theatre or not.
Worthy trip did I say? That's because this was now the era of multiplexes. A film was not going to be a 'chalta hai, time pass hai' affair any more. 'You deliver well in those 3 minutes and I will step in, else forget it', is what an average man (who willing to shell out Rs. 300 for a single ticket) was ready to say. No wonder, there were also instances when promos were being cut before the film itself (can you believe that?). Some of those instances were Milan Luthria's Deewar (Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Akshaye Khanna) and Sanjay Gupta's Kaante (Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Suniel Shetty) when the first look made such a rocking impression that there was immense curiosity to see what the film was all about even though the film's real shooting still remained.
The power of 180 seconds
No wonder, in the current times, a maker is most concerned about what to show in those 3 minutes. He did all to make those 120 minutes of a movie's playtime exciting but it was sheer sacrilege if every second didn't count in the theatrical promo. It had to be edited, re-edited, thought, re-thought and worked upon with even more vigour than the film by itself. Really, I know of instances where film makers have spent 50 days to shoot an entire film and then spend 30 days in cutting the first promo. Whoever said that the editor's job was easy?
The man who led the bunch was Ram Gopal Varma. For someone who at one point in time was making half a dozen films simultaneously and carried the vision of having an independent corporate world of his own in place, Ramu's mandate for his team was to get the 'First Look' perfect. Period. There were no negotiations, no arguments, no difference in opinions. What was required was to have those few seconds count and get the audience in. No wonder, even though his films from that time - James, Darna Mana Hai, Road, Gayab, Vaastushastra, My Wife's Murder or Mr. Ya Miss - didn't turn out to be hits at the box office, his promos were superhits. The only film where he really faltered with the promos? Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag. And we know the fate of the film as well.
This is something that the biggest of the makers will also agree i.e. a 'First Look' has to be bang on. None other than Mani Ratnam would agree as well. The 30 seconds teaser with (body double of) Abhishek Bachchan jumping into a river worked but the promos that followed didn't. In fact whether it was the song promos, dialogue promos or the action promos, there were confusing signals all around. As it turned out, it was not the fault of the promo editor here. The film itself was confusing and hence the poor guy didn't have an option to cut a promo from the material made available to him. However, ruthless audience got it all and that reflected in the average opening that the film took.
The trick works
The promos failed in Raavan though in comparison the game was played quite well by the makers of Kites. They too knew the product that they had in hand so the magic lied in revealing those elements about the film that could entice the audience in a big enough manner to ensure a good enough opening that would dilute the (expected) damage. The trick worked as Kites took a phenomenal opening at the box office, courtesy the well cut promos that highlighted the action sequences of the film that led to and adrenalin push.
In recent past, the film which kept its options open was Housefull. It's 'First Look' took a great deal of permutation and combination to be put together. The first promo had Akshay Kumar seemingly troubled with three wives. The eye catchy promo caught the attention of the audience and just when they started thinking that this was Garam Masala revisited, an entire new set of promos was unveiled that brought to fore the ha-ha-land that Sajid Khan had created with his actors.
The ones who got it right
Another team which has always been known to be pretty active when it comes to unveiling the right 'First Look' at the right place and the right time is Yash Raj Films. There was a time when they had 4/5/6 films on floors (till 2-3 years back). Hence it was a ritual that whenever a film of theirs released, the promo of one or perhaps even two of their upcoming films was tagged along as well. Time and again they worked and helped raise immense curiosity amongst audience. The film may be poor (Tashan) or good (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) but the promo always worked. The only instance where it didn't work was in Chak De India and that showed at the box office. The film's opening was quite disheartening and it was mainly due to the strength that Chak De India carried coupled with Shahrukh Khan's path breaking act that helped it succeed at the box office.
Corporate houses, which typically have 5 to 6 films in different stages of production at any point in time, continue to be conscious about correct promo for the kind of film (in terms of genre, scale, star cast) which is being made. No wonder, a small film like A Wednesday is pitched differently than a biggie like Raajneeti or Love Aaj Kal. And when the 'First Look' is uninspiring, case in point being Aladin, Drona, Veer, What's Your Raashee, Delhi 6 and 8 X 10 Tasveer - all of which failed at the 'First Look' stage itself.
No wonder, one looks with bated breath with what films like Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (boasting of the best cut promo in the current season), Khatta Meetha and Aisha have to offer. These are some of the films where the 'First Look' has managed to make such a huge impact that it would be overtly disheartening if the final product doesn't make an equally big mark. Also, in the coming months, one looks forward to see what do Salman Khan (Dabangg), Siddharth Anand (Anjaana Anjaani), Ram Gopal Varma (Rakta Charitra), Rohit Shetty (Golmaal 3), Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Guzaarish), Ashutish Gowariker (Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se), Anees Bazmee (No Problem) and Farah Khan (Tees Maar Khan) would have to offer.
The clock is ticking but it is the second that counts!