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Telly’s envy, Net’s gain

Cuss words. More flesh. Bold shots. Log on to the Internet and you’ll see a promo that you are never going to watch on television. Bollywood has found a platform that the censor’s scissors can’t reach.

Trailers of adult Hindi films now come in two versions. Increasingly, filmmakers are producing a daring promo for online viewing along with a more staid version for television. For instance, Balaji Motion Picture’s Kya Super Kool Hai Hum (KSKHH), an adult comedy slated to release on July 27, has two trailers — a toned down version for TV and a bolder one for YouTube, an online video-sharing site. Pooja Bhatt has chosen the two-prong marketing strategy for the erotic thriller Jism 2, starring adult actress Sunny Leone, before its August release. Filmmaker Sudipto Chattopadhyay’s Shobhna’s Seven Nights (scheduled to release in October) will have separate trailers for television and the Internet.

The reason for this is that a trailer — apart from a film — has to be cleared by the censors to be shown on TV. “For a film trailer to be aired on television, it needs a ‘U’ or a ‘U/A’ certification,” says J.P. Singh, regional officer of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), Mumbai. “But since these days we often get trailers that are bolder than usual, filmmakers are being asked to tone down the content,” he adds.

Vivek Agnihotri, director of Hate Story, was among those asked to cut the more explicit scenes from the television promo for his film. “When we were told to tone down the trailer, we had no other option but to release the uncensored one on the Internet. I was very clear that the audience should know what they would be watching in the theatre,” Agnihotri says.

Producers of the Vidya Balan-starrer The Dirty Picture (TDP) had a similar experience. Not surprisingly, the makers of KSKHH, who also produced TDP, have prepared a special online trailer. “The number of urban-centric films has increased in recent times. And today for any film to do well, we need to market it well. As producers we are constantly finding new ways of communicating our film content with the target audience. The Internet in recent years is providing us with the right platform to connect with our audience,” says Tanuj Garg, CEO of Balaji Motion Pictures.

The Internet, clearly, is increasingly being used as a marketing platform. Though television is still the more preferred platform — TAM Media Research says that in urban India, 233 million people watch television, versus 76 million active Internet users — the Internet has its advantages.

“Because of the young demographics of the users and the flexibility it offers in terms of access and content, the Internet is being utilised to provide tailored content which normally would be restricted on traditional media such as television,” says Tarun Abhichandani, group business director, eTech Group, IMRB International.

Further, uploading a video on the Net involves no costs. “Internet promotion is free. On the other hand, for good publicity on television, a filmmaker has to shell out as much as Rs 1-1.5 crore across all general entertainment and music channels,” Chattopadhyay points out.

Also, an Internet promo has the potential of going viral — and attracting millions of eyeballs within days. “We just released the video (for Hate Story) on YouTube and Yahoo!, from where others picked it up. And then it was primarily through word of mouth that the information spread,” says Agnihotri.

Hate Story had as many as 3 lakh hits within two days of the trailer being uploaded. The trailer for Jism 2 on YouTube had 11 lakh hits. “In this age of videos going viral, the Internet is emerging as the preferred medium for film promotion. And I am not surprised,” says social scientist Shiv Visvanathan. “The audience is changing and so is their taste,” he points out.

For filmmakers, the Internet is also an alternative to what they call archaic censorship modes. “Filmmakers spend a lot of money in film promotion. So if censorship becomes an issue, more and more filmmakers will use the new media to reach its audience,” Chattopadhyay adds. “I will be using it to promote my film and so will other filmmakers.”

The industry holds that the Internet has other uses too, since Internet censorship laws in India are still not clear. “There is no fear of censorship when it comes to sharing content on the Internet,” says Garg.

But cyber law expert Pavan Duggal points out that under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, publishing obscene electronic content is a crime. “The law is not being taken seriously by the police. Hence the implementation of this law has not been that effective so far,” Duggal says. But it can be argued that bold content is not necessarily obscene.

The CBFC states that it’s not its job to censor material on the Internet. “No certification is required for online telecast of trailers. We can’t do much about these bold online trailers,” Singh says. “But in the future there can be some new regulations or amendments in the existing laws to take care of online content,” Singh adds.

Visvanathan, however, believes the time has come for the CBFC to look at censorship differently now that the new media are being used by filmmakers as a platform for film promotion. If it does, cinema in India may take a bold new turn. And the change will be ushered in with a new promo.