Small towns becoming big for Bollywood

Marketing budgets reaching out to grab local audiences

MUMBAI -- Indore, Bijnor and Bhatinda may not high up on the list of tourist hotspots in India but Bollywood is slowly taking note, wooing these smaller towns and extending publicity budgets to include local audiences.

Until recently, the spotlight had always been on bigger cities, with film stars making appearances, tie-ups with local stores and sundry other promotional campaigns.

But with Bollywood eyeing newer audiences to increase revenues, the focus has now shifted.

"People don't realize that a huge chunk of ticket revenues comes from smaller towns," said Prabhat Choudhary of Spice, the firm that marketed "3 Idiots,” the biggest hit of 2009.

"There are now at least 60 towns outside of the metros which have at least one multiplex."

Actor Aamir Khan traveled to towns like Bhatinda in Punjab and Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh to promote his film as part of an online search game.

Films like "I Hate Luv Storys" also focused on the non-metro market, thus increasing the reach of the film. Lead actor Imran Khan, Aamir's nephew, went on roadshows to Indore and Ahmedabad where he interacted with audiences.

"That kind of personal connect helps the audiences to connect with the film better and we are already seeing the results in the figures from B-centers," said Apoorva Mehta, CEO of Dharma Productions, which produced the film.

Publicity budgets of mid-level film projects may go up to 50 million rupees and publicists say these are increasingly being spent on campaigns in smaller towns, although it still depends on the kind of film likely to attract local audiences.

"Like 'Udaan' was a film set in a small town but it would appeal only to a urban audience," said Choudhary.

The potential of smaller towns as new revenue centers for the Bollywood industry is yet to be realized fully and not every film producer is convinced. Publicists still find it hard to bring around clients but it is a battle they believe could be won over time.

"If we want to exponentially increase our business, that is the only way to go," said Choudhary.