By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, July 6 (IANS) They chat, tweet and share pictures, but behind the social networking of Bollywood celebrities lies a lot of business. Filmmakers and actors are taking to websites like Facebook and Twitter to take the pulse of viewers and involve them in projects.
From directors Prakash Jha, Mahesh Bhatt and Shirish Kunder to even megastar Amitabh Bachchan - all have tried to use the social networking medium to take suggestions for titles, posters and marketing plans from viewers.
Onir went a step ahead by inviting crowds to fund his project "I Am".
"The interaction with the audience through social networking mediums has helped, but to get them involved even deeper, I think it is a wonderful vehicle to tell people...'I made this film for you. Now can you guide me where I am going wrong before I actually put it out in theatres'. I think it is quite masterly to involve the people...it's democratically correct!" Amitabh told IANS.
Much before the release of his recent film "Bbuddah...Hoga Tera Baap", the 68-year-old took to his blog bigb.bigadda.com to seek help from his "extended family" to market the movie and put his fans in touch with co-producers Viacom 18 Motion Pictures to facilitate their ideas.
When Prakash Jha and Mahesh Bhatt were in a dilemma while choosing the posters for their respective films "Aarakshan" and "Murder 2", they resorted to networking sites to take the final word from viewers.
"There was a disagreement between me and Mohit Suri on the main poster of the film. We thought the best way out is to show all the posters to the people of the country and let them select one. Mohit and I'll blindly go ahead with the people's opinion," said Bhatt, adding: "At the end of the day, posters are for the people; so let them tell us which the best poster of the lot is."
Jha feels this process of connecting with the audience is "revolutionary".
"Social networking is becoming very attractive for filmmakers like me. We released a two-and-a-half-minute trailer of 'Aarakshan' online and thousands of people saw it and gave their feedback. These activities create a following, which translates into audience for the film. It is revolutionary - overnight you are everywhere," Jha told IANS.
Beyond the marketing and publicity, Facebook and Twitter helped Onir raise a third of the funds for his Rs.3 crore movie "I Am".
Actor Parvin Dabbas settled for the title "Sahi Dhande Galat Bande" after he sought the help of the Twitterati at the behest of Anupam Kher. Editor-turned-director Shirish Kunder continuously referred to his followers on Twitter to decide on the cast and crew of his upcoming film "Joker".
"Who should be the heroine opposite Shreyas Talpade in 'Joker'? Who should be the lyricist for 'Joker'? Who should be the music director for 'Joker'?" are some of the questions Kunder posted while finalising the team for the movie.
Even the small screen is looking at the virtual world to reach out to audiences and involve them through digital initiatives like online polls and games.
"It's a basic rule of marketing - to co-create with consumers. If they don't know enough about a film or a show, there's a possibility they won't watch it," Nikhil Madhok, senior director (Marketing and Communications) of Imagine TV, told IANS.
"Also, with a certain amount of feedback, one can customise according to the majority of the viewers' tastes and rope in their interest. There's no better sense of gratification for viewers than to be involved in something themselves."
It also helps celebrities to connect directly with their fans, says Amitabh, who never misses posting messages on his blog.
"Everyone thinks in the outside world that public figures are cocooned idiots who live in these ivory towers and don't care about anything or anyone else. I think that concept is wrong - we are not like that. But we have never had an opportunity or a means to connect with the people. And now that we have, I find that a great advantage," he said.