Reflections – Has ‘Brand Aamir’ taken a beating with Dhobi Ghat?

‘Itni choti si picture thi aur koyi dance-wance bhi nahi tha’ These were the first ever filmy words mouthed by my six year old son whom I had taken along to watch Dhobi Ghat during my recent fortnight long vacation abroad. Needless to say, these words continue to resonate days after the world is through with the film. Now my son isn’t someone who is affiliated to any camp. He doesn’t have any tie ups to say anything for or against a film. And for heaven’s sake, he is still not a fan of any star. All he did was speak up – and that too way too innocently – his mind. Sitting quietly for that hour and a half that he watched the film, he was patient enough and it never occurred to me what he would actually be thinking. However as the end credits started rolling and we were finding our way through the aisles, he made this rather observant statement. The point is not around what a six year old kid felt about the film. In any case it wasn’t meant for him to begin with. However the fact remains for millions out there who have been following Aamir Khan cinema, especially in the golden run he has enjoyed in the decade gone by, Dhobi Ghat did come across as a film which was indeed different from anything that he has done so far. However, being different also meant Aamir was taking a definite risk, something that could have had an adverse impact on the ‘Brand’ that he has built around himself after a flurry of films, some being quintessentially Bollywood and others being offbeat but still having a commercial angle to them. No wonder, even a Peepli [Live] has done terrific business and same holds good for Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Naa, none of which incidentally features Aamir in a single frame. However, Dhobi Ghat, despite Aamir Khan featuring prominently in the film from start to finish, has had it’s business restricted to it’s opening weekend. As has turned out, his face by itself hasn’t ‘just been enough’ to pull audience in hordes, hence leading one to the debate – ‘Has ‘Brand Aamir’ taken a beating with Dhobi Ghat? Agreed that the film wasn’t for anyone but still for the much made statement that the name Aamir ensures ‘quality’, will there be rethinking now from audience which has been left unsatisfied with the film which hasn’t quite covered a greater distance? Let’s explore in this week’s ‘Reflections’.

Brand Aamir Now ‘Brand Aamir’ isn’t something that needs any introduction. However, it does deserve all the appreciation. After all the man has been doing it all, directing, acting and producing, to turn into a one man army which has been changing everything into gold with his mere touch. Now this was something that even Salman Khan acknowledged and when a film like Peepli [Live] ended up being a profitable affair in an otherwise horrific 2010, it was established loud and clear that ‘Brand Aamir’ could make the impossible happen just with his name in the credits, regardless of whatever capacity it appeared. No wonder, one waited with bated breath that how would he now proceed with Dhobi Ghat, a film that had earned accolades in the festival circuits worldwide and also came with the added tag of it being directed by Kiran Rao, his wife. When the film’s theatrical release in India was announced four months back, it seemed that for this ‘all-in-the-family’ affair, Aamir would go all out to pitch Dhobi Ghat was one big affair this New Year. However, Aamir had other plans. The kind of plan with which Aamir perhaps wanted to safeguard his brand value and still come trumps! Inverse promotion As it happened, Aamir kick started an inverse campaign for the film. No, it wasn’t a negative campaign where he was stopping people from coming to watch what his wife had made. Instead he wanted people to make up their mind twice, if not thrice, before stepping into Dhobi Ghat. The messaging was – ‘I am not calling you to watch my film. In fact I am warning you beforehand not to have any major expectations. Now if at all you still want to watch it, you are doing it not because Aamir Khan wants you do but because you find the film to be interesting.’ In a way, it appears like Aamir’s mind was working pretty much overtime for this movie more than any of his other ventures in the recent times because here he had to safeguard his own brand without risking any major expectations that audience may have developed towards Dhobi Ghat. It was clear, if he would have made even a minimal noise around the film, Dhobi Ghat would have comfortably crossed the collections of Peepli [Live] just on the basis of a huge weekend. However, Aamir too knew that the fall after that would have been huger as the film didn’t have enough elements that would have ensured consistent collections. Moreover audience, who would have walked in hordes, would have been doubly disappointed and his entire image would have got a major beating.

Expected reaction would have been – ‘Aamir didn’t play a fair game this time around. He asked us to walk into an art film made in English where Prateik Babbar had a better etched out character than him.’ Responsibility factor However, both as a producer as well as husband, he had a responsibility towards the film and it’s director. He couldn’t shy away from it completely. While making claims around Dhobi Ghat not really for everyone, he couldn’t have totally alienated the audience lest no one stepped in at all due to zero awareness. Budget recovery was not an issue; lack of visibility and general ignorance certainly was. This means that Aamir continued to walk a thin rope. On one end, the producer in him had to keep his product in news while on the other end, the brand consciousness meant that he had to save his best lines for the next film which he really wanted to pitch to the audience. It was a gamble being played though all this while the most important of it all – the real worth of the film – wasn’t being challenged at all. Everyone believed that as a film, it would be loved by the class audience as well as critics at the least. Sadly, this didn’t really happen, something which led to this entire debate around his brand value being hit! The response Frankly, Dhobi Ghat has been one of the very few films featuring Aamir Khan in last five years at the least which has actually got mixed reviews coming its way. Not all critics were too pleased, the film by itself wasn’t really hailed by many, there weren’t glowing comments amongst the connoisseurs of art cinema either while ‘aam junta’ – which is truly concerned around the big bucks that it has to spend on watching a film in theatres – was least concerned around preserving Aamir’s brand value once the word of mouth spread after the first weekend. No wonder, the film started showing a decline after an average opening and as the first week closed, it was crystal clear that Dhohi Ghat had exhausted it’s audience. The usual talk of ‘Oh, this is an Aamir Khan film so I have to watch it for sure’ disappeared while the general sentiment that started cropping in was ‘How could Aamir actually agree to make this film?’ Why, what and how would be something that only Aamir would be able to answer and anything in that regard would be a case of sheer speculation. Nevertheless the fact remains that commercially the film has still stayed on to be an earner for Aamir Khan since it was made on shoe string budget. Still, the million dollar question that is making the rounds is – ‘Has Brand Aamir taken a beating?’ The answer is – Yes!

Why is that the case? Ok, so the beating here is not catastrophic by any means. Also, it isn’t the kind that would give anyone a sleepless night. After all, to repeat the obvious, Aamir had in any case warned audience around what to expect from the film. However, the fact remains that henceforth, there would be talks that would veer towards Dhobi Ghat whenever a new film that would come from the house of Aamir Khan. From the talks that were centred on – ‘Oh, Aamir can never set one foot wrong’, there would be a tailpiece that would go as ‘…..but then his Dhobi Ghat didn’t really work with the audience.’ Of course the world understands the kind of audience Dhobi Ghat was targeting at but then for detractors who were hunting for one chink in the armour of Aamir, they have actually managed to find one. Does this mean that Brand Aamir would be overtly worried? Well, not as of now. But then God forbid if his next production Delhi Belly (starring Imran Khan and in any case a much delayed film) turns out to be a disappointment, there would indeed be some re-strategising that he and his marketing team would have go through. A solitary miss could be accepted but two in a row may not really be a conducive situation for Brand Aamir!

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