Necessity is the mother of all invention. Director Shashank Soghal and his team were halfway through their dream project when the pandemic struck in 2020. The software engineer-turned-filmmaker was anxious about his debut venture as he hadn’t even announced the project. Thus was born a unique marketing campaign for the crowd-funded?Daredevil Musthafa, the Kannada film which is making waves since its release on May 19. The film, set in the 70s, is an entertaining college drama that offers a message of unity amidst the backdrop of communal conflict.
The film is based on Poornachandra Tejaswi’s short story of the same name. Ardent readers aren’t easily satisfied with movie adaptations of their favourite books and are dismissive of what filmmakers do in the name of creative liberty. Well aware of this challenge, Shashank first grabbed the attention of the fans of the iconic literary figure.
His stint with a television channel as a creative producer influenced him to plan a series of promotional videos. What began as a three-part title announcement video, developed into a carefully-crafted promotional strategy helped by off-beat ideas and neat execution. A rookie filmmaker wondering how to drive people to theatres to watch his film can take a leaf out of?Daredevil Musthafa’s?pre-release run.
“Generally, title announcement videos have visuals from the film or the film’s name. We shot three promotional videos and released them in the lead-up to Tejaswi’s birthday,” says Shashank. The first video is a catchy interaction between Shashank and a man at a photocopying centre. “The story is the hero,” Shashank says to the man as he takes a copy of his film’s script. The second video is a hilarious audition for aspiring filmmakers to work as assistant directors in?Daredevil Musthafa.?The contestants are asked about Tejaswi, and their ignorant responses generate laughs.
The third video impressed Tejaswi’s fans, says Shashank. The makers shot it in Tejaswi’s house in Chikkamagaluru district. You hear the voice and see the blurry image of a fictional Tejaswi, who grants the team permission to make a film based on his work. “Make a film that everyone will enjoy,” Tejaswi tells Shashank.
“Many said the video was magical. We felt as though Tejaswi himself granted us the right to do the film. The video was a huge hit with his fans, many of whom were part of a Facebook page of 75,000 members,” says Shashank.
Daredevil Musthafa?then offered a tribute to thespian Dr. Rajkumar through an innovative animation song. To Shashank’s credit, the song,?‘Ninnathor Yaaru Ilavallo’?(composed by the legendary theatre personality B V Karanth), wasn’t a superfluous fan service but a sincere celebration of the matinee idol.
“The song is part of the film. In the scene, you see a stage performance that tells the story of Ranadheera Kanteerava. While filming it, I found it tough to capture the grandeur of the composition. So, we decided to tell the story in the format of an animation video featuring Rajkumar as he had played the character in the 1960 film on the Mysuru emperor,” he says.
“I am a Rajkumar fan. I have offered small tributes to him in my short films as well. Call it madness or whatever you like, but we worked on the song for eight months. It was as if we were shooting another film altogether,” he adds.
From the start, the film’s pre-release activities targeted the young crowd. From YouTube, the team moved to the world of social media to further increase the buzz around?Daredevil Musthafa.?“We put out a post that those who send a direct message on Instagram will get early access to the song?Prarambha Payana,?and we got 6000 messages. We created suspense around the central character Musthafa. We put a post on Twitter saying if we get 1000 Retweets, we will reveal the face of Musthafa (played by Shishir Baikady); we reached that target overnight,” says Shashank.
Celebrity push and release
Actor-director Dhananjaya, Shashank’s senior in college, came on board to present?Daredevil Musthafa. It was a much-needed boost for the unheralded film. The makers announced a meet-and-greet session for hundreds of people who funded the film with Dhananjaya.
It was a masterstroke from Shashank to ask Kannada YouTube sensation Gagan Srinivas, popularly known as Dr Bro, to give the voiceover for the trailer. The 23-year-old is a highly successful travel vlogger (with 1.63M subscribers for his channel) who tells the stories of iconic places in a conversational style with likeable presentation. “Dr Bro is seen as a youth icon. We first thought of a senior person and tried to approach Sudha Murthy, chairperson of the Infosys?Foundation. When that idea failed, we convinced Dr Bro to do it,” says Shashank.
As part of the release plans, the team announced a cashback offer to those who watch the film in the first week. “We made a badge which said?Naanbidi Daredevil?(I am Daredevil). We charged Rs 50 for it with a coupon code. Those who bought the badge and watched the film in the first week were promised a cashback of Rs 100. We gave the cashback to around 1000 people who claimed it while around 6000 people bought the badge. Apart from that, we scheduled Re 1 premiere shows in Shivamogga, Mysuru, and Bengaluru, and all three screenings enjoyed a full house,” says the filmmaker.
Films without established stars can create the right noises with out-of-box ideas, opines Shashank. “We can’t afford billboards and advertisements in newspapers. Television channels are keen on talking about bigger films. Following the traditional template of generating ads, giving interviews to TV channels, and attending reality shows will require close to Rs 50 lakh. We were able to market our film in Rs 30 lakh thanks to our risky yet unique decisions,” observes Shashank.
“It’s a draining process. I might not be able to execute this again. The effort was worth it though,” says Shashank, adding that it’s a challenge to convince people to come to theatres in this OTT climate.
Daredevil Musthafa got encouraging footfalls on the first weekend and grew steadily through strong word of mouth. In a dull first half of 2023 for Kannada cinema, the film is a positive sign for the industry. It’s also a lesson for those who follow the drill and don’t care to experiment with promotions.