This week, actor Dulquer Salmaan became the first star from the Malayalam industry to get 5 million Likes on Facebook.
Mohanlal, who is the highest paid star from Kerala, and has won the National Film Award for Best Actor twice, has 4.4 million Likes.
The Malayalam industry typically makes low budget films when compared to the Tamil and Telugu industries. Consequently, film promos also tend to be more conservative than the splurging and aggressive marketing that the bigger industries indulge in.
Over the years, Malayalam stars seem to have understood the reach of social media and the importance of online film promos. Many of them do Facebook Lives and actively engage with their fans, sometimes writing heartfelt posts about subjects outside cinema, too.
TNM spoke to Basil Elias, Dulquer Salmaan's social media manager since 2012, to understand the relevance of the online space for stars to remain visible to their audiences.
Basil is a nurse from Perumbavoor who currently resides in Australia with his family. Describing the social media job as part-time, Basil says that it's his passion which brought him to the field.
"I used to be a huge fan of Mammukka. So I used to have a collection of Dulquer's personal pics and details even before he entered movies. When Dulquer started movies, I was crazy about him and started a page to publish his photos. Initially, he was hesitant and many of his friends warned me that he didn't like his personal pics being published. But soon our paths crossed and we got on like a house on fire. And the rest as they say is history," says Basil.
In a previous interview to TNM, Gokul Nath G who used to market actor Nivin Pauly's films, had lamented the lack of interest producers in the Malayalam film industry show towards film marketing.
"In the Tamil and Telugu industries, marketing has a place in the film's budget. In Bollywood, when Shah Rukh Khan signs a film, he also commits to the marketing aspect of the film. That's the format in which these industries run. But Mollywood is quite old school," he'd said, adding that it was only after 2013 that people started to take such promotion campaigns seriously.
Basil predicts that the next few years will see a huge push in social media marketing for films.
"Social media marketing wasn't particularly important for Malayalam movies because Malayalis have always liked to get their movie news through traditional sources, i.e. newspaper reviews and the good old word of mouth. But with increasing penetration of social media platforms into every Malayali's life, it is becoming increasingly important for Malayalam movie-makers to spend on social media marketing. I would think that in the next few years, at least half of all marketing spends would go into social media marketing," he says.
Though Dulquer is active on social media, he hasn't given too many interviews. The star is popular in Kerala as well as Tamil Nadu and will soon be making his debut in Bollywood and Tollywood. Does Basil employ different techniques for promoting brand Dulquer according to industries?
"Not really. We have been extremely careful to keep Dulquer's social media strategy as true to his nature as possible. He personally captions all his posts, adding the original DQ touch to everything he does. So what you see on social media is really an extension of his personality. That is obviously not about to change. We will probably tweak our social media outreach program to meet the needs of Bollywood but other than that nothing major," shares Basil.
Celebrities often become soft targets and are at the receiving end of hate campaigns. Sometimes, there are also attempts to scuttle a film by deliberately writing negative reviews. Basil acknowledges that such incidences do take place, but says that it's better not to respond.
"As with all good things, some people misuse social media for their personal desires and vendettas. We try and steer clear of all controversies. But in the unfortunate event of a smear campaign, we choose not to respond because we believe it's important to rise above such pettiness," he says.
Currently, Dulquer has the highest number of followers on Facebook, Instagram and Google +. He's third on Twitter with 891k followers.