Dhoni hopes to hit one out of the stands

The makers of MS Dhoni: The untold story are emphatic about one thing, this movie is not just about cricket. Watch the ads, read the interviews and the promotional communication and there is no missing this message. It is about a young ambitious man's journey from small town India to become captain of the cricket team. That he is the acknowledged maestro of a game that is followed with the fanatic frenzy of a religious cult, is a bonus. The same positioning has governed the producers'choice of partner brands. Maruti Suzuki, Exide Life Insurance, TVS Motor, Kingfisher and Finolex are among the big names on board and they are all looking to leverage the star-cricketer's mass appeal in the Indian heartland as much as they are hoping to ride the popularity of the game.

The film, meant to let people get to know their captain behind his cool image, steers clear of the controversies that marked the game in his tenure. Shikha Kapur, chief marketing officer, Fox Star Studios, co-producers for the film with Inspired Entertainment says, "We had to make sure that all the communication is about Dhoni's journey and not the sport." The movie is about someone India loves and while that is an advantage, it is also a challenge, she says.

In fact, the challenges are many. For one, the aura surrounding Dhoni had to be left intact. Secondly, the men he played with bear formidable reputations and focusing on the game would have meant exposing some of the chinks in the team armour. And finally, there was the box office debacle of the recently released Azhar to contend with.

For Fox Star and Inspired, it was imperative to walk the line between the game and the man very carefully. And the best option, the movie makers found, was to focus on Dhoni's life story. Kapur says, "We have focused on the journey and used different tools (to promote the film) for different audiences, whether it was releasing the trailer in more than one language or the brands integrated within the script and signed as promotion partners." The film's promotions were also targeted at audiences across the country, not just the metros.

The team may also have drawn several lessons from other films around sportspersons. In 2012, when UTV Spotboy released Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013).

The producers were attentive about the brands they brought on board. Keeping Dhoni's small town roots in mind, it was important to find a good fit between the man and the brand. Brands such as Maruti Suzuki, TVS Motors, Exide Life Insurance, Finolex and Kingfisher were all looking for the kind of mass appeal Dhoni has among non-metro consumers. The brands are generating revenues close to Rs 20 crore in associations for the film.

The marketing initiatives have been targeted at tier II and III audiences too. A lot of the on-ground activities were planned accordingly.

For example, the trailer for the film was launched in eight languages: Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, Odia, Malayalam and Bengali, apart from Hindi. This is the first time a trailer for a Bollywood film has been released in so many languages.

"It is a heartland film at the end of the day and so we did not treat the promotion and marketing as a top ten city exercise. The point was to do one or two relevant things in the various cities and towns, whether it was putting out communication of the film across 42 Indian Railways platforms or tying up with All India Radio for a 15-day long campaign where we curated content," adds Kapur.

The metros have not been ignored though. Trailers of the film are playing in various cinema halls and there have been the expected flurry of advertisements in print media and outdoor hoardings. Arun Pandey, producer and chairman, Inspired Entertainment says, "This will be the widest ever release for a film made in India when we look at the number of screens in India and in 60 countries worldwide." Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star Studios adds, "We are releasing across the regular Bollywood diaspora markets in South East Asia, Africa, Europe and North America and importantly, releasing the film in non-regular Bollywood film markets such as Hungary, Poland, Czech, Japan, Spain, France, Philippines, and West Indies." The movie, like the cricketer, its makers hope will find fans under every flag.

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