Bridging barriers, forging connections

Malayalam cinema's foremost entertainment and marketing consultant Vivek Ramadevan shines some light on scouting talents, putting together and marketing a film, and more
Bridging barriers, forging connections

The avid movie buff is familiar with what the job of a writer, director, producer and actor entails, but what about the process of a project coming together, the various people involved in it, and the symbiotic relationship that sustains them? We couldn't have found a better person to take us through it than Vivek Ramadevan, whose responsibilities run the gamut from project designing to talent management to casting to marketing. Among his most notable contributions is the launch of Dulquer Salmaan through 2012's Second Show and introducing a fresh face named Padmapriya to Malayali audiences. 

Though Vivek, a Palakkad native, has been involved in films since 2003, his talent management idea met with much apprehension back then. The MBA graduate remembers pitching the thought to Prithviraj on the set of the 2003 film Chakram and being asked by the superstar how Vivek, a newcomer to the industry, would be able to help someone who comes from a film background. Vivek found it a valid and relevant question. Then it hit him: Why not introduce to cinema someone unfamiliar with it? He was looking for the opportune moment when Mammootty asked him to find a new face to play the female lead of the directorial debut of a prodigious filmmaker named Blessy. The film was Kaazhcha, and the new face, Padmapriya.

"The success of Kaazhcha opened up a lot of doors for me. Even those who I had associated with earlier but not fully on board with my ideas later approached me confidently," says Vivek, who was recently involved with the marketing of Bhramam, the Malayalam remake of Andhadhun.

Describing it as a profession that involves risks and pressures of great magnitude, Vivek says the manager is a sort of "shock absorber" between various entities. "You are sometimes dealing with individuals with a lot of insecurities. The funny thing is when something works out, no one comes and tells you that you've done a great job, but when something goes wrong, it's the manager who gets the blame. Occupational hazard, you see," he laughs. 

Over the years, Vivek found it wise to expand and pursue other responsibilities such as public relations and marketing. It was Dulquer Salmaan's debut Second Show that got the ball rolling. "Second Show was a turning point in my career," shares Vivek, who was also involved in content and marketing. "It was a dicey proposition — not only to market the film but also launch a superstar son after a long time. We had to come up with clear strategies. We decided to promote him as a fresher named Dulquer Salmaan, not 'Mammootty's son'. We didn't expose him much to the media during the pre-release campaign. No interviews, public appearances... nothing. We wanted the audience to see him for the first time on the big screen. We downplayed everything because we were concerned about unrealistic expectations. It also helped that Mammukka was on board with the plan. He didn't interfere; he was all about letting the young guys do their thing. He saw the film for the first time only after it came out in theatres." 

So how does marketing work in a film industry where budget constraints are a thing? "You see, marketing is not just about spending. It's primarily about the thought that goes into it," explains Vivek. "How you position a film, its target audience — these don't require spending. Take a film like Ezra, for example. We marketed the whole thing around fear. I was told it's a horror-thriller, but how do you explain the difference between the two genres to the general public? A hook was necessary to facilitate the creative process. And it's been a while since a horror film with a big star, like Prithviraj, came along. So we came up with some fascinating ideas, like a treasure hunt, for one. That's marketing in a nutshell." 

Vivek feels that one doesn't necessarily have to spend too much on marketing; it's possible to make do with low-cost ideas too. "How do you differentiate your film from another? The approach should go beyond posters or trailers. It should be based on thought and strategy. Most people don't take it seriously, but that's slowly changing," he observes.

In this conversation, we also touched upon project designing, a new designation showing up in the opening credits of Malayalam films lately. Although the task has been in existence for a long time, in the hands of production controllers mostly, it was only recently that it became an official 'credit'. Vivek is one himself, having put together some distinguished films such as Peranbu and the upcoming Bro Daddy. "In other Indian film industries, big production houses churn out prolific work, which is not the norm in Malayalam. Here most of the films are produced by new producers who are sometimes investors or businessmen. There are pros and cons here. If they aren't well-versed with the ins and outs of the industry, some professional support goes a long way. The other thing is that when actors seek out good scripts, some miss their radar due to their busy schedules. In other cases, writers or directors with interesting subjects sometimes find it difficult to reach actors or producers. Some production controllers and producers hunt scripts aggressively, and yet, some get lost on the way. That's where a credible project designer comes in — to facilitate the creation of projects that wouldn't have seen the light of day in different circumstances. This job is relevant to those who are not aggressive enough to meet people but possess good content. But aggression alone shouldn’t be a benchmark of success."

Recently, Mammootty did the honours of launching the website of Vivek's firm, Catalyst. Though Vivek and his firm have been around for 15 years or so, it was only a while ago that they entered the digital space. What makes the firm unique, according to Vivek, is their relatively broader areas of interest, as mentioned above, brought under one entity. "Each department supports the other and, ultimately, cinema as a whole," he concludes.

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