Bollywood's mouse trap: The Times of India



New Delhi: Even before God could consider the late Quick Gun Murugun’s application for an urgent return ticket to earth in order to defeat the non-veg dosa mafia, there were many earthlings fulfilling the Tamil cowboy’s desire for revenge.

Although they lacked Murugun’s array of evolved weapons like a pencil moustache, nostril-flaring bullock buckle, orange pants and pink rouge, these youngsters managed to kill the evil non-veg cowboys with just a mouse for a gun. As they dropped dead one by one, the earthlings — comfortably ensconced in gaming centres in several metros — won points for their fighting prowess. The film won too — a welcome buzz about itself weeks before its release.

Such casual online and mobile games — the new addictions of bored youth — are increasingly becoming an intrinsic part of innovative film marketing. With their theme-based plots and film-inspired graphics, they are fast replacing even music as vehicles of movie promotion, says Arun Mehra, chief marketing officer of Zapak, an online gaming portal which has designed promotional games for Quick Gun Murugun, 13B and Luck By Chance. “Youngsters now want interactivity with their product,’’ says Mehra, adding that online games, with their “easy-to-download and snack-in-snack-out nature”, fulfil this need. The movies gain too — Zapak’s promotional game for the movie Luck By Chance, where visitors rolled the dice on behalf of the film’s various actors to choose their fate, prompted first-year science student Sagar Singh to watch Luck By Chance even while his semester exams were on.

As opposed to television promos, these games, which are usually launched a couple of weeks prior to the film’s release, serve as interactive trailers. “They create a brand and act like an extension of the film,” says Indrajit Nattoji, director of Aagey Se Right. “A game needs two things — purpose and adventure. So, Aagey Se Right, which was about a cop chasing a gun, lent itself very nicely to a game format.

The themes of these games are often dictated by the film’s storyline or even scenes. In the free online game for horror flick 13B, for instance, the user had to kill virtual skeletons with bows and arrows. “Developing the game is like making a movie. The director’s involvement is necessary for creative inputs,” says Samir Bangara, COO of Indiagames, which has designed mobile games for Kaminey, Wake Up Sid, Jodha Akbar, Aagey Se Right, Dev D and Ghajini. For Kaminey, Vishal Bharadwaj insisted on a hardcore and action-packed game so the company chose Charlie, the negative character, and showed his interaction with his enemies. In the Ghajini game, Aamir’s trainer Satya was enlisted for the game where users could beef up the lean Aamir look-alike in a gym environment by working on his chest and abdomen. That game was very popular and saw about 4 lakh to 5 lakh downloads (above 1 lakh is the benchmark).

One major creative challenge, experts say, is that not all movies can be easily translated into this virtual format. Vishal Gondal, CEO of Indiagames, recalls a game that he stumbled on a while ago, which tried to imitate a family-based movie. “It was a complete disaster,’’ he says, adding that nevertheless his company is trying to go beyond action and “expand the horizons”. So, apart from Jodhaa Akbar’s sword-fighting scenes and Dhoom 2’s stunts, the user also sees the hazy world of Dev D where the user plays Dev, visits pubs and indulges in bar games in order to find his elusive love Chanda. At the rate of Rs 5 to Rs 99 per download, these mobile games have even reached B and C class cities.

This alliance of the big screen and tiny computer screens has so far proved mutually beneficial for both industries. “We got people logging in from places like Tahiti. In one day, we got seven million paid views for our film 13B,’’ recalls Saurabh Verma, chief marketing officer of Big Pictures. Gondal of Indiagames still remembers how before Delhi 6 released, many Abhishek Bachchan fans wrote to ask if a game was in the offing.

Unlike Europe and Japan, where the gaming industry is much bigger than the movie industry, the game-film nexus in India is still nascent. In the US, games like Lara Kroft and Resident Evil have been translated into movies. It may be a while before India reaches that stage.

Now television, too, is taking a cue from Bollywood. Online games have, in the recent past, promoted the TRPs for serials like Rakhi Ka Swayamvar (where users had to catch things thrown by Rakhi) and Pati, Patni Aur Woh (a baby-raising game). However, the shelf life of a movie-based game usually depends on the film. So, despite the virtual effort, if the movie fails to take off, it’s safe to say that its game is also over.