Aamir Khan, Indian actor and director, member of the international jury of the Berlinale 2011, arriving at the premiere of True Grit. Photo: Siebbi via Wikiedia Commons; CC license.
Aamir Khan, Indian actor and director, member of the international jury of the Berlinale 2011, arriving at the premiere of True Grit. Photo: Siebbi via Wikiedia Commons; CC license.

If there is someone who knows how to market films in Bollywood, that is Aamir Khan. From the day he did his debut film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak Aamir Khan has been using his marketing brains to work out the success of his films.

Released in 1988, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak was a low budget film that could not afford to spend a lot on advertising. But Aamir Khan did not leave a single stone unturned to market his film. Aamir and his co-star and dear friend Raj Zutshi took the posters of the film and went to the autorickshaw drivers on the streets asking them to paste the posters on the autos.

The young and handsome Aamir Khan actually approached random people asking them to watch his debut film. No wonder since the release of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak there has been no looking back for Aamir Khan.

As Aamir has climbed the ladder of success he has perfected his art of marketing as he has learned to use the various tools at hand but he has not done away with the personal touch that has been the hallmark of his brand building exercise.

Focus on physique

The recently released Fat to Fit video on YouTube that has taken the internet by storm and has got around 600,000 hits in four days shows how Aamir Knows exactly the art of grabbing eyeballs.

Aamir, who plays a wrestler in the film Dangal, increased his weight to 97 kilos to play the older version of his character.

The video shows how Aamir Khan put on weight by eating samosas and other junk food and then he works out rigorously and attains that toned look to play the young wrestling champion. It took two years to make the film.

This video has done for the film what a thousand trailers, teasers and interviews would not have done. It has instantly made people interested in watching the film. We will not be surprised if the opening day collections instantly cover the making costs of the film.

This is not the first time Aamir has transformed his body so drastically. He has done that before for Ghajini. The film had two distinct parts where in one part he is this good-looking corporate tycoon and in the other part he is a man with short-term memory loss, who is on the hunt for his girlfriend’s killer.

The poster of the film right away got everyone’s attention and the film was a runaway hit. There was no denying the fact that Ghajini was a well-made film and had the best performances from Aamir Khan and actress Asin but the actor did not wait for the content to speak for itself.

Just before Ghajini was released Shah Rukh Khan’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was playing in theatres. Aamir cashed in on the footfall by installing life-size cut outs of Ghajini in all multiplexes. He ensured that extensive events were organized, which were attended by him, prior to the release of the film. He did not stop from turning barber himself and giving youngsters the Ghajini haircut that soon became a rage and also the rolled-up- sleeve-and-waistcoat look that he promoted fervently. So long before people had watched the film they were already flaunting the look of the film, thanks to Aamir’s intelligent marketing technique, the film had become the talk of the town even before its release.

From bulky to skinny

From the bulked up Sanjay Singhania of Ghajini the very next year Aamir Khan played the role of a skinny college kid Rancho in the superhit film 3 Idiots that took on the education system of India.

When I had interviewed Aamir Khan then, I had expressed my skepticism at his playing a college student at the age of 44.

Aamir had said: “I think I have pulled it off. When you watch the film you will know.”

Aamir’s college kid avatar in 3 Idiots is one of the most-talked about roles in his entire career. And in every interview, every event Aamir ensured that he talked about how he played a 20-year-old at 44, stoking people’s curiosity enough to make them want to watch the film. Aamir disguised himself and toured the length and breadth of the country that made headlines and his small touches were posters behind auto rickshaws that said: “Capacity three idiots” or writings on the wall that said: “Are you an idiot?”

Controversy is king

Aamir Khan’s films Lagaan, Mangal Pandey: The Rising and Tare Zameen Par had controversies that Aamir Khan cashed in on. Although Mangal Pandey was one of his few films that tanked at the box office but the controversy around it did help ticket sales. BJP leaders called for a ban of the film because it showed Mangal Pandey, the man responsible for starting the revolt against British rule in India, visiting the home of a sex worker. They felt that facts have been distorted. This helped the film stay in the news longer.

In fact, before the release of Lagaan, the film that got an Oscar nomination, British Actress Rachel Shelley told the press in her country that she was very unhappy working with an Indian unit because she found them very disorganized and she developed an itchy back because of an unwashed corset. Aamir promptly told the Indian Press that he would sue Rachel but eventually he never did that.

Coming to Taare Zameen Par. The story was conceived, written and initially directed by Amol Gupte and Aamir was the lead actor and the producer of the film. There were creative differences between the two of them and Aamir took over as the director as Amol Gupte left.

Although Aamir maintained that they parted ways amicably Amol Gupte lashed out at Aamir in interviews. This constant skirmish between the two of them helped to keep the film in the news through the entire making. Something that Aamir, with his sharp marketing brain, probably felt would work in favour of the film. And it certainly did.

Lastly, the controversy around his nude poster in the film PK where he just holds a transistor to just cover himself, did bring a lot of flak from the media and critics but once again it worked in favor of the film.

The latest tactic

Aamir Khan’s Dangal comes on the heels of Salman Khan’s superhit film Sultan, which is also based on wrestling. So it is inevitable that people would think that Aamir is trying to ape Salman. To counter this, Aamir started inviting friends home and showed them the film asking for feedback. But what actually happened was this ensured word-of-mouth publicity for the film and people kept talking about how Dangal is totally different from Sultan.

Amrita Mukherjee

Amrita Mukherjee is a freelance journalist and author. She has worked in esteemed publications in India and Dubai and she blogs on women's issues at www.amritaspeaks.com.