Unlike Bollywood or the Tamil and Telugu industries, Malayalam producers are too old school and don't think of marketing at all.

Why doesnt Mollywood market itself better Asks the man who helped Premam go beyond Kerala
news Mollywood Tuesday, January 17, 2017 - 13:09

Gokul Nath G gets annoyed whenever someone says he promotes films. "Promoting films is just a small component of what happens. What I do is film marketing. But down south, everybody refers to this as promotion."

At 23, Gokul has been part of an impressive list of film marketing campaigns, including the blockbuster Premam. Speaking to the young man, it's clear that he lives and breathes films. 

"I've always been fascinated by films. And cricket. I've never missed indulging in either all through my life," he smiles. 

Even as a schoolboy, Gokul recalls watching many films and says that his family never discouraged him from going to the theatre. Coming from Haripad in Alappuzha district, Gokul's craze for films meant that he was a regular in the cinema halls.

However, there were a few good films that he missed, that he later caught up with on CD or DVD: "I'd wonder how I'd missed watching these and how nice it would have been to see the film on the big screen." When he made this comment to his cousin, who is a journalist working with a newspaper, the latter remarked that the film was probably not marketed right.

"That's when I started thinking about this. I happened to get introduced to Alphonse Puthren and the team which made Neram and I realised that they too were people who took this seriously. The audience is everything. Your job is not done once you make a film – you have to make sure it reaches those you intended it for," avers Gokul. 

Neram, starring Nivin Pauly and Nazriya, a bilingual shot in Tamil and Malayalam, marked his entry into the field. Since then, Gokul has been involved in the marketing of all of Nivin's films, so much so that people rag him, asking if he’s going to spend his life marketing only the young superstar's films. 

Receiving a memento from Renji Panicker during the 100 days celebrations of Jacobinte Swargarajyam.

Along the way, he decided that he needed to know more and did an MBA in marketing to understand business strategies better. He'd previously been restricted to online promotions but has since entered into full-fledged marketing. He's currently working with a Mumbai-based production company called Nishada and has also invested in the company. Apart from this, he also takes up projects in an individual capacity. 

"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," Gokul points out, adding that it's difficult to get stars to promote Malayalam films. 

It's only after 2013, Gokul believes, that marketing has been taken seriously in Malayalam cinema: "It's not that marketing has never happened before. When Manjil Virinja Pookal (1980) came, it was a film that nobody expected would run for more than a week. But the producer and the team was involved in marketing the film – they made announcements about it on public sound systems, which used to be popular then, and it eventually became a hit."

However, such innovative campaigns have been too few and far in between: "Even now, very few producers include a budget for print publicity and other such things. They tend to be old school."

Gokul speaks of how Tamil films are aggressively marketed, ensuring the film's reach to the audience. "Everyone in the South knows about Tamil movies but how many know about Malayalam films? It's a very small non-Malayalee audience outside the state which knows these films or follows them."

With Nivin Pauly.

Under these circumstances, Premam's success not only in Kerala but outside of it was phenomenal. The film ran for over 200 days in Tamil Nadu. How did this happen?

"I did the marketing for this film along with Sandeep Varma, whom I consider to be my guru," Gokul says. "I learnt a lot from him during Neram. For Premam, he pointed out that there was no suspense or any major events in the film. The selling point was the feel-good factor and that's what we had to capitalise on."

Accordingly, the marketing team came up with a plan for the film. They created an interest campaign for the film by releasing the title along with a "logo". "And then we released two video songs. The aim was to present the film as the story of a young lover-boy and nothing else. Alphonse had a clear vision about the film, he knew how he wanted the film to be projected, what about it would draw audiences to the theatre. He didn't even want a trailer."

Since Alphonse had already made Neram in Tamil, he already had a network in place. This was used to market Premam as well in the state.

"In Tamil Nadu, after the first week, the number of theatres running the film reduced. But slowly, with word of mouth and publicity, the film picked up again. We marketed the film a lot on social media. We used to ask people who'd watched the film to write and review it on Twitter. Even when the pirated version came, the people who watched it liked the film enough to go and watch it in the theatres again," exclaims Gokul.

However, Gokul is clear that if the product is not good, no amount of marketing can sell it. And from his experience with Action Hero Biju, he realised that the converse is also true: if the product is good, it can trump even negative publicity.

This home production from Nivin Pauly, directed by Abrid Shine, opened to poor word of mouth but this was a targeted campaign run by hostile parties, Gokul believes. 

"I saw a negative review which was posted just half an hour after the film's first show began. I was shocked," he recalls. As the negative reviews kept coming, the team was worried that the film would sink three days after its release. However, the team shifted gears for the film's marketing. 

Abrid Shine and Nivin Pauly committed themselves to promoting the film and agreed to the new plan, however hectic, with all sincerity. "If they hadn't done that, we couldn't have saved the film. Even though many of these negative reviews had been posted from fake accounts!" says Gokul.

With director Ganesh Raj, Vineeth Sreenivasan, the marketing team and cast of Aanandam.

It isn't only the big star films that Gokul is interested in. He was involved with the marketing of Aanandam, directed by Ganesh Raj. This campus film was the director's debut and had a cast of fresh faces. "This wasn't a film for a family audience. It was for a very young crowd... the campus crowd. So we designed the film's campaign around that," explains Gokul. 

Vineeth Sreenivasan, the film's producer, went on a blitzkrieg promotion across several campuses, visiting around eight to nine in one day. "It was quite stressful. I had to get him out of every campus quickly so he could go to the next one," laughs Gokul. He also talks about the hard work put in by the young actors, the many days they spent with barely any sleep, as they went around promoting the film on a hectic schedule.

"The film has completed 100 days now. Without this kind of marketing, this probably wouldn't have happened," says Gokul.

Currently, Gokul has several films in his kitty, ranging from Nivin Pauly's upcoming films like Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela to projects by newbies like Naam and Kadam Kadha. He is also likely to market a Hollywood film soon.

Already, the younger generation of stars and directors have expanded their appeal with the kind of new themes and styles that they are exploring in Malayalam cinema. With smart marketing, Mollywood might soon see an era when its cinema achieves the kind of widespread popularity outside the state too, which it richly deserves.