EXCLUSIVE: Neeraj Joshi, marketing head of Zee Studios, explains how he generated EXCITEMENT for Gadar 2: “Jab main truck ke upar Sunny Deol ko Raj Mandir ke bahar khada karta hoon, aur jab wahan law-and-order situation hota hai…”

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Gadar 2 has emerged as a blockbuster, collecting Rs. 419.10 crores in just two weeks. The credit of course goes to the extreme popularity of the sequel and its lead star Sunny Deol, action and patriotic scenes and Anil Sharma’s superior direction. But one can’t deny the fact that the marketing strategy adopted by Zee Studios also played a crucial factor in generating excitement. Bollywood Hungama exclusively spoke to Neeraj Joshi, head of Marketing, Zee Studios, to understand how they nailed the marketing so well.

How difficult was it to promote Gadar 2 when you began working on it? After all, at that time, no one really had an idea how big it would turn out to be
When we have the sequel to such a legendary film in hand, you have to live up to the legacy and not take people for a ride or take their time and attention for granted. At the same time, we should offer them something that is expected and yet go beyond. It was like a challenge along the lines of Jurassic Park! Agar hum part two banayein, toh ab main aur kitne dinosaur dikhau? But at the same time, dinosaurs are essential. When we started working, we realized that there was a latent demand for something like this, especially with the way South films dominated the box office scenario. We realized that hum desi hero dikha hi nahin rahe hamare filmon mein.

Sunny Deol poured his heart into promotions. He usually doesn’t do so. How did you convince him?
I still don’t know how I convinced him (laughs). He knows what the powers of his characters have been and that doesn’t include just Tara Singh. We believed that if he led the campaign, it’ll not just help the film but it’ll also help his brand and what people are expecting out of him. I told them that with all due respect to his attempts in doing experimental films like Chup (2022), which are good and every artist should attempt different genres, but I asked him that ‘Lekin Bharat aapse kya chahta hai’? He agreed and said, ‘Toh fir humko marketing bhi woh type ki karni padegi’.

Usually, we end up doing ‘India marketing’. With Gadar 2, we opted for ‘Bharat marketing’.

The mural of Sunny Deol on a building near a flyover in Andheri East, Mumbai, caught attention big time in the city and also on social media…
The idea was to instil the legend of Tara Singh into people’s minds. I also wanted to go back to basics. The audiences today know about influencer marketing, paid activities etc. I wanted to present Tara Singh for what he is – larger than life and simple. Tara Singh uncomplicated aadmi hai. We wanted to do something in sync with his characteristics. We thought of doing print ads. Lekin yeh sab to humne pehle bhi kiya hua hai. I asked why can’t we take a leaf out of our own history and ways and means of marketing, which we have sadly forgotten. The focus is nowadays on influencers and not on creating real emotions through promotions. Real emotion shayad itna khoobsurat nahin hai lekin woh asardar hai. And it appeals to the common man. We were sure that every promotional activity should make news. This also complicated the campaign. We knew what we wanted to do, which actually emerges out of what we do not want to do. That’s where a marketer’s insecurity comes out as he/she wonders if his campaign is falling short if he/she skips certain activities.

On top of that has been a generational shift between Gadar – Ek Prem Katha (2001) and Gadar 2. How do you get the youth, who were very young in 2001 or maybe not born, to get interested in the film? Secondly, we wanted to keep our activities contextual. Hence, we partnered with the army and had a special screening for them.

We also decided to start very early. I wanted to change the grammar of marketing with this film. Hum kaafi superficial cheezein karte hai, jo hum khud ki khushi ke liye karte hai. I was not keen on it. I am not at liberty to share the marketing spend but more than 70% of the marketing budget was spent on ground promotions. Others spend only 20-25% on ground promotions.

It’s astonishing to know that such a huge chunk is spent on digital promotions when it often reaches to a minuscule audience…
And it’s also an unengaged audience. Influencers will talk about you on social media. But the content is created on digital, it is consumed on digital and that is where it dies. But my content is created on the ground. Jab main truck ke upar Sunny Deol ko Raj Mandir, Jaipur ke bahar khada karta hoon, aur jab wahan traffic jam aur law-and-order situation hota hai, kam se kam 5000 log ne usko saakshaat dekha hai. Even if 500 of them post the visual on social media, it’s real.

Similarly, we held the music concert in Ghaziabad and not Delhi, as part of the ‘Bharat marketing’ plan. In Ghaziabad, 10,000 people turned up. Entry was free. It was a bigger law-and-order situation! But they had a real experience of Gadar and its characters, Tara Singh and Sakina. That was our mantra.

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The iconic hand pump was also installed in many cinemas. Moviegoers were encouraged to uproot it and it worked big time among audiences…
(Laughs) When the team comes up with such ideas, it’s my job to back them. As a matter of fact, the hand pump scene was retrofitted in the film. Somewhere during the middle of the shoot, we insisted that it needed to be incorporated in the film as a tribute.

I’ll share one more secret that nobody has noticed so far. Everybody is saying ki bahut promotion kar liya hum logon ne. But do you know that we put only 5 video units – the teaser, ‘Udd Jaa Kaale Kaavaa’, ‘Khairiyat’, the trailer and then ‘Main Nikla Gaddi Leke’. That’s it! We played with a limited number of assets.

Zee Studios didn’t even put dialogue promos…
Uska zaroorat hi nahin tha. We didn’t obsess about views either. Often, it is said that a promo should be uploaded on just one YouTube channel for a better number of views. We put up the trailer of Gadar 2 on 70 video channels of Zee Network and its verticals!

Gadar – Ek Prem Katha was also re-released in cinemas on June 9, 2023…
That was one of the landmarks of the campaign. And we re-released it with an Easter Egg, that is, with the teaser of Gadar 2. Again, we didn’t put it on the internet until the fourth day. We let people discover it on the big screen. Mujhe yeh sab cheezon ki insecurity nahin hai. If a common man is spending money to watch Gadar – Ek Prem Katha again, we want that usko kuch naya dekhne milein. I want to gratify him. He’ll feel special that he is one of the very few people to have seen the teaser.

In an unusual move, the premiere of the film was held on Friday night instead of Thursday. The press show was also not held a day before. Only the army saw the film before the release…
It was a conscious decision. Gadar 2 was trending on the advance booking front, including at very massy centres in the hinterlands. We thought that if we allowed a certain section to see the film before, the moviegoers might feel cheated. And anyway, we knew what kind of reviews we were going to get for the film. Very rarely, such films get 4 or 5 stars from critics! Then why should I be desperate for something where my film is not going to do well?

Will Gadar 2’s blockbuster success benefit Sunny Deol’s next film Baap? It’s also backed by Zee Studios…
Every content poses a different challenge. The expectation from Baap will be higher now. It’s a present-day action film, different from Gadar 2, which was set in 1971. Sunny’s character traits in Baap are also different from Tara Singh. While it will make it easier from a popularity point of view, it’ll be difficult because of the huge expectations. Now, everybody expects a Gadar 2 type of campaign. That’s the curse of a super-hit, right? Nevertheless, Baap will have its own customized campaign for sure. But the intention and intensity will remain the same. And wherever possible, we’ll do really long campaigns for sure.

One thing I have learnt is that claiming that ‘aakhri 10 din mein main faad dunga’ doesn’t work when it comes to marketing. People’s attention is not that high. If you keep feeding them the same thing or different versions of the same thing over and over, it will prove futile. It’s better to start early and give time to the audience to consume your content, allow them to build it in their minds and then it’ll lead to something big. It is an impossible task for everyone to consume all your content in three weeks.

When will Baap be released?
The release date is not locked yet. A little bit of shoot is left. Some action piece is yet to be filmed. The VFX work is also pending.

How big is Sunny Deol now?
He was always a big star. It’s just that his film choices didn’t match up to it. These are the characters that people love to see him in. People will literally give an arm or a leg to see him in movies like Gadar, Border, Ghatak, Apne etc. He should continue doing such cinema.

How has Gadar 2’s success helped the industry?
It’s an adrenaline shot for everybody. not just for the team at Zee but the industry at large. Veteran filmmakers like Indra Kumar, Subhash Ghai etc. thanked Anil Sharma and us and said ‘Aapne cinema ke liye bahut accha kiya’. What they were trying to imply is that this brand of cinema was dying. Bollywood was built on such films. We started making films catering to 900 multiplex screens in the country. Then we grouse that the South is dominating the Hindi-speaking markets. But that was bound to happen as they are advancing using our playbook. We need to realize that there has to be a content balance.

Good filmmakers and good craftsmen will always be worthy as they stick to their guns. As marketers, it’s our job that their guns don’t misfire while they try to create an aura at a marketing level. Hamesha lalach rahega to go all out par kabhi kabhi kam bolna bhi achha hota hai.

It is said that Anil Sharma will be paid a bonus thanks to the historic numbers earned by Gadar 2…
Zee has always done that forever. When a film works big time, every partner has benefited.

Was it your idea to get Akshay Kumar to sing ‘Udd Jaa Kaale Kaavaa’ in OMG 2?
(Laughs) Not at all. I wish it was! It was very heartening though. Healthy competition is always welcome.

Akshay Kumar promoted both the films in a social media post and said that it was the greatest week in Indian film history…
I call it the ‘golden weekend of Bollywood’. Rs. 390 crores were generated in five days. It’ll be very difficult to beat this feat.

Also Read: Gadar 2 nears Rs 430 crores mark, aiming to overtake Pathaan; Anil Sharma says, “Our box office numbers are real, not fake”

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