Three plus five equals undercutting?

Marketing tactics in India for movie promotions have been getting rather alarming in the recent past. Every channel showcases the lead pair ( or trio ) judging competitions, giving interviews, speaking non stop about how great the forthcoming movie is . But, what I find perplexing  is inaccurately proclaiming a false verdict regarding the movie status post release. A false propaganda which is steadily increasing and definitions of a “hit” no longer being restricted to BO figures. I must hastily add that this culture has been more prevalent in the south indian regional networks where BO numbers are not very transparent. And with the rest there are more questions being raised about valid BO numbers.

Innovative marketing tactics are important. What Mr Bachchan did for PAA was innovative. He dressed himself up as a school kid with a school bag and a water bottle. We got the idea, we were curious. Then he commented for a cricket match, something that no actor has done before, we wanted more. Then he gave interviews in his “Auro” voice, which made sense as he had spoken that way the entire time in PAA. However, if I saw more of Mr Bachchan as Auro I would have reached saturation point.What Aamir did for “three idiots” in contrast has been bewildering. Why was he running across small towns dressed as an old man and making this into a seven point game? Did his garb have any connection to the movie? Yes, it was different, but what was the connection? It did raise everyone’s curiosity. Then Aamir was followed madly by the press and the rigmarole never did end.Does the promotion have to be so idiotic? Probably so if an “idiotic” movie demands it. Then he wanted to also promote his movie in an army base in Chennai!It is a good thing that the army denied any involvement with this idiocy. It is no laughing matter, really.

Chetan Bhagath the writer of “five point someone” has now woken up suddenly. He is rather peeved that his name was not in the opening credits of  Hirani’s recent release “three idiots” amongst other accusations including that of the movie being based largely ( 70% )on the book with no importance being garnered to him.I gather that the importance is meant only in the financial sense. Is this another marketing campaign? I seriously nod my head in the affirmative. An avid reader of Bhagath’s is bound to watch the movie to compare notes. An avid cinema goer is bound to buy the book to compare notes. It is a win, win situation for both. Is it possible to promote movies and not controversy? It is possible to promote both with the media acting as a fine catalyst and folks like us eating out of their palms.

Here is the letter from Chetan about his stand.

Dear All,

The 3 Idiots story credit issue has been making some noise now. The news is coming out in bits and pieces, and I think it is important I clarify a few things. Yes, clearly, the makers of the film have been unfair and thousands of my readers have been saying so. I am aware of this, and this is not an issue that has ‘just come up’. I’ve been grappling with it for two years, but kept silent about it.

The only reason it has surfaced after the movie’s release is because Five Point Someone has a few million readers, and when you copy a popular story claiming it as ‘original’ and ‘completely different’, people are going to find out. People did, and so did a lot of media journalists.

The case is as simple as the makers claiming the story as their own, and clearly it is not. Pre-release, the makers made press statements like  the movie is only ‘very loosely’, ‘2%-5% inspired by the book’.  After release, those who have read the book and seen the movie (and frankly, I think those are the only people who have the right to comment) find the film to be an adaptation of Five Point Someone. The setting, characters, plotline, dramatic twists and turns, one-liners, theme, message – almost all aspects that make up the story are from FPS. Yes, there are some changes, any adaptation requires that – but it is no way an original story. Leading movie critics have privately admitted to me that the film is 70% the book. Still, don’t take my word for it – go read the book, watch the film.

I, frankly, was shocked to see this. This is because I was also fed ‘this is an original movie’ line a lot. I wanted to see the final script – it was never shown to me. I wanted to see the film before release – it was not shown to me (even though trials had been done for  people).  What’s more, the makers had called me to their office and pressured me several times to withdraw my ‘Based on a novel by’ credit, which was by contract. They told me they’d replace it with something like ‘initiated by’ – a credit that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. I still told them that if the film is indeed original, I’ll happily withdraw the credit, but somehow the promos don’t tell me so. I asked them to show me the film and they fell silent.

Soon, they started doing media promotions for the film, and kept me completely out of it (you’ll never find me in an interview with them). Crores was poured into publicity on shutting me out and cementing the fact that 3 Idiots is not based on Five Point Someone. However, the book had been read by millions of people and the FPS buzz just did not die down.

Ten days before the release, I was called into their office. They said ‘we should be friends now’. I said I am always up for friendship, and the success of the film is good for me as well. They also said, and I quote verbatim ‘even though this is an original film, we have given you a great credit, right upfront. After all, we love writers and a king should treat another king with respect. You are family’. I believed them.

I called my family before release, and told them all not to expect FPS. I even gave a few interviews where I said don’t expect FPS.

Then I went for the premiere. My family sat in the theatre shocked, as sequence after sequence came from the book. 2%-5% means 3-6 minutes, and I had told my family to look for the few FPS moments and note them. However, there were so many that it became impossible to keep track. The plot line was same – people meet at ragging, the first class with definition of machine, the friends separate, Alok (Raju) moves with Venkat (Chatur), Ryan (Rancho) helps Alok’s father, Alok rejoins group etc etc. From Alok  (Raju) jumping to stealing the papers and calling out from Cherian (Virus’) office – the book came alive on screen. I was surprised and happy that FPS has made it in such a grand way.

However, my family had not spotted my credit in the beginning (there was none) and they were feeling let down. A screenplay associate credit to VVC had a prominent upfront placement. The story credit was not shared with me. And yes, all the office talk of a ‘king treated like king’ was a white lie.

I knew they had played with me, and that ‘based on a novel by’ credit, which they were legally bound to give would be hushed away at the end – with the clear intention of making sure people miss it. And indeed, it came after the junior artists and still photographer of the movie, and zoomed away fast. My own mother missed seeing my name, and for that she cried after seeing the film. I told her it doesn’t matter, as people know FPS. But yes, that hurt me a lot.

I went up to the makers after the premiere, and they said it is a hit so chill and forget about it. I guess I could, but it is hard. Only a writer or a creative person knows how this feels. I am one of the lucky ones that people have read FPS. Imagine the fate of other writers in Bollywood. Anyway, I came home and thanked God for making my story reach so many people.

Upon the film’s release – my mailbox and twitter account, literally became flooded. Fans and readers wrote stunned mails. They had seen the makers’ interviews which had denied FPS links and they missed seeing the credit on screen. I kept quiet, though I did send a message to the makers telling them audience reactions. They did not respond. Soon media journalists saw the film. They called me and said they have to do a story on this as they are on my side. I tried my best to avoid them. However, many have helped me in the past and I can’t avoid their call forever. One HT journalist from Delhi called, and asked me how I felt about the credit. I used one word – I said ‘strange’. And that’s when the news exploded.

This my friends, is the story. Meanwhile, the makers have accused me of seeking fame – when clearly it is the other way round. They’ve taken my story to make fame for themselves, and shut me out of it. I know my readers will spot it immediately. However, the film also reaches millions of other people who do not read books – and they deserve to know who wrote the story. And that is why I am talking about this issue (and I admit for people who’ve read the book, they may wonder it’s so obvious so why I am going on about it).

I hope my explanation helps. I do have a few additional points to make.

  1. This has nothing to do with Mr. Aamir Khan – while the makers are fronting him to talk about the issue (as he has the credibility), this is not about him at all. I am a big fan of Aamir and he has made my story reach people. However, he was told by the makers not to read the book, and he hasn’t. Thus, he cannot comment on the issue in a meaningful manner. The media should stop questioning him. When I met him, both of us were told that the movie is original and not the book. He was asked not to read the book – and I wasn’t shown the script. Go figure.
  2. I don’t need this kind of fame – It doesn’t do anything for me. Like I said, I am lucky to have channels to express my opinion. Other writers don’t. I can’t tell you how much it hurts when this happens.  Imagine someone takes your child, dresses him up and tells the world it is theirs.  I’ve felt the pain for two years on this issue but I kept silent on it. I can’t help it if millions have read the book and see the movie upon release and spot the issue themselves.
  3. I don’t want anything from them – They’ve taken the story credit. Let them keep it. All Bollywood award functions have an award for ‘story’, apart from other categories. They’ll collect it all year around and feel good about it. I didn’t write the story for awards. I wrote it as I felt I had something to say about the education system and the race for grades. I have my fans’ love and I am more than happy with it.
  4. The odds – They have an army of people to promote their side of the story, crores of media budgets and are sparing no efforts to bring me down. The only thing I have is my fans, and  the truth. But then, the truth is Krishna, and the Pandavas had only that while there was an army on the other side. Remember who won that battle?

Some people have told me that I should keep silent. I did try to be silent but didn’t work. Also, people say this is how Bollywood works. Sorry, I disagree. Not all Bollywood works like this. There are a lot of good people too. And every event like this helps change things for the better. And that is what I am all about anyway.

I urge you to not believe me at face value. Read the book, see the movie – and like the movie says – think for yourself and decide.

I want to thank the media journalists who are supporting me. Yes, the makers on the other side have a lot of stature – but truth comes above stature – that’s the first rule of journalism. I salute you for having the courage to stick to that. Our country does have free press, and thank God for that.

Like I said, I don’t need anything. Even if I have no more movies made on my stories or nobody wants to read my books and columns, I’ll happily join ISKCON and dedicate my life to Krishna.

But I will not shy away from the truth – ever.




22 Responses to “Three plus five equals undercutting?”

  1. Sharmila, I haven’t read the book nor have I seen the movie, but from Chetan Bhagat’s letter it seems that the makers of ‘3 Idiots’ have tried to make him the 4th idiot.

    • Melwyn – I am not sure if Chetan is the idiot or we the public are the 4th idiot in this dimension. I just find this whole account really strange.

  2. Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

    Yes Sharmila,I tend to agree with what Melwyn has said.In the morning I heard Amir speaking and clarifying about his movie and disassociating Chetan from it.At that time I too felt it may have been done to acquire fame and would have been a publicity stunt by Chetan.But now after having read his letter,I feel sorry for him and also for Amir who is being confronted to face the heat.

    As regards to what you have said about Amir’s way of promotion,I heard that he had gone to look for his mothers house and to buy some property there in Varanasi,as reported by the TOI.

    If you had kept up with his blog,it would have given you the real idea behind this sought of promotional technique.

    • Salman – Thanks for this. Yes, I understand that this promotion was a game and whoever spotted Aamir got a point based on clues. The one who got seven points won. But still, what is the connection with the movie???

      • Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

        You never know may be the winner may have been invited to the premiere!!!!!This may be,an innovative style of popularising the movie…….And what do you say about Chetan….is he what he has written or we should believe Mr.Perfectionist

      • Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

        And what am I hearing his now.Mr.Chopra lost his temper while interacting with the media today.There is something fishy in there…..

  3. Salman – Yes, it is all so fishy.Whatever is happening has most surely taken marketing to an all time low level for sure.

    • Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

      Mr.Chopra have come up with some apologies early in the morning at Noida.I am really perplexed…….who is the culprit.The innocent face of Chopra this morning and also that of Amir turns meagainst Chetan.But his letter again baffles and puts an exertion to ponder over his sincerity.

      What do you think Sharmila??????

  4. Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

    Mr.Chopra has come up with some apologies early in the morning at Noida.I am really perplexed…….who is the culprit.The innocent face of Chopra this morning and also that of Amir turns meagainst Chetan.But his letter again baffles and puts an exertion to ponder over his sincerity.
    What do you think Sharmila??????

  5. Good topic to have a blog on but would have loved to see more comments. Anyways… here is my point of view for you to read 🙂

    To begin with I guess Aamir was successful in his marketing plan but travelling across India. I agree it didn’t make any real sense as it was in no way related to the movie. But I guess his idea was to get in the news and with the kind of media we have, he was sure it will be a successful campaign. And his plan worked, media (the 4th idiot in this case) followed him and his stories blindly and was given extensive coverage. Being in the news is marketing by itself. Someone should have made sense of this and asked a simple question to Aamir as to how and why this kind of campaign was carried out. The answer would have been an interesting one.

    With regards to Chetan Bhagat’s controversy, I agree that it is a marketing gimmick by both parties. Chetan Bhagat’s claim that he never got a script to read is false. I just saw his interview (which Chetan gave before the movie was released) and he himself admits that Raju Hirani has narrated the entire movie script to him two to three times. Also I understand that there was an official contract between Chetan Bhagat and the makers. Giving credit for the story would have been a part of the contract for sure. I would say it should have been sorted out before the contract was signed. There is no point making a fuss now. It would also be interesting to see as to where was Chetan Bhagat’s name in the movie Hello, which was also based on one of his novels. If it was more or less at the end, then there was no issue with that as the movie tanked.

    Salman: The apology from VV Chopra was only for the way he spoke to a journalist. “Shut up” was the word used and he was sorry about that and not the controversy or to Chetan Bhagat.

    Rights were purchased from Chetan Bhagat and he got the money he deserved and what was promised. What is the whole fuss about credits now. I would say chill now and be careful next time if you think you got a bad deal!

    Happy new year all 🙂

    • Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

      Ya thats what Deepan,even I saw the interview.Its manifest to whom the apology was made.NOT TO CHETAN OF COURSE.He saidhe does not even wanna meet him

    • Deepan- You rightfully point out that there are many loop holes in Chetan’s tirade against Chopra et all. But, publicity off late has reached its nadir levels, something not witnessed before. I still prefer the traditional word of mouth, rather rare nowadays.

  6. Thamks deepan n happy new year too!
    Wil write more in a bit but agree with all your points

  7. hi sharmila,it sounds insane when chetan says he was quite for 2 yrs….for what??the movie to be released and to verify the content and to gather the momentum for his book ..well it’s a win – win for both sides as u put it rightly..well there are similarities which cannot be ignored and i personally feel credit should rightly be given to chetan as it’s due though to discredit his rights they have modified or twisted the tale but they didn’t succeed well.Chetan deserves it and i do agree with u on nobody’s a saint.regards and new year wishes.regards

    • Happy New year Vikas, Yes Chetan had two years to mull over the contract and the script!..Probably deserved the credit but if he did not read the contract carefully, why would he wait till the movie is out to claim fame? Is it because the movie was talked of more than the book?

  8. Good, bad or ugly, publicity is after all publicity. And when you are getting it for free, what could be a better deal? Damn the sensibilities of the readers and the viewers, damn the morals and ethics, the public is meant to be taken for a ride and dumped at your convenience. And the media, always ready to play ball as long as it helps them grab eyeballs. Super smart! So who are the idiots?

  9. Sharm- 1st of all Happy New Year to u & yours.
    2nd – haven`t watched the movie but from what I understand, 31 is about this trio in an engineering college who split after graduation. Years later 2 of them set out in search of the 3rd across diff cities (the 3rd character is Aamir- Rancho). Hence he went to diff cities & the challenge was to spot him.
    Have read the book ages back & to quote the TOI – has no literary merit. Have also heard the book itself was `inspired` by Snapshots from Hell about gruelling years at an Ivy League Grad school.

    • Pavithra – Hi, a very valid point indeed. I agree with the “literary merit” point fully. The writer has suddenly woken up to the fact that the movie is being talked of more. Either way, I think both parties are out to leverage this situation to the hilt.

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