BEHIND the luminescent green banners and 10-ft-tall cutouts announcing Godzilla's arrival on Indian shores, happy bedlam rocked Mumbai's Sterling theatre. Some 800 celebrities choked the glittering lobby lit up in green and reverberating to the soundtrack muzak. In one corner, guests took a bite of the three-tier cake resembling the Empire State Building; in another, delirious popcorn-munching kids let out the monster wail to win T-shirts and caps. Sure, the Godzilla premiere was the hottest ticket in town. Expected, because it was the first time a Hollywood studio was hosting such a mega-premiere in India.
Clearly, size does matter in whipping up hype—Sony spent $120 million on the Roland Emmerich-Dean Devlin film and is spending another $50 million marketing it—but will it have audiences rushing to theatres? "Godzilla will have a bumper opening," prophesies Prafull Shah, assistant manager, Trade Guide, the authoritative movie trade journal which maps flick fortunes. "But whether it becomes a blockbuster, we'll have to wait and watch."
There's plenty to watch in Devlin's reinvention of the Asian monster. No man in a lizard suit (as in the previous 22 movies) but computer-generated images of the Big Reptile who comes looking for a bite of the Big Apple. The fx marvel apart, special cranes handle the drama: one with a telescoping arm and a camera that swivelled 360°; went up 72 ft in the air providing a monster-eye's view of the destruction he's causing. Helicopters outfitted with spacecams took aerial shots of New York from all angles. Most of the film unfolds in the night and in rain—two 170-ft tall rain cranes perpetually soaked the cast and crew.
For the moment, first reactions to the 208-minute long monster flick are mixed. "It's a good popcorn movie, very Hindi filmish. There's total suspension of disbelief," says Mumbai-based writer Bachi J. Karkaria, who'd never seen a monster movie before. Filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra came away disappointed. "It's a terrible movie," he says. "I couldn't make out what was happening." But they all agree on one thing: Godzilla is the most cleverly mass-marketed Hollywood film in India.
Consider this. Some 125 hoardings across the country flash smart one-liners such as 'His head is bigger than the Gateway Of India'; 'His tail is longer than the Rajdhani'; 'He is twice the size of the Qutub Minar' or the incredulous 'His eyeball is bigger than the dome on the Taj Mahal'. Log into the net and Rediff On The Net—India's leading online service—floods the official desi web-site with Godzilla quizzes, Godzilla trivia, a downloadable Godzilla gallery and, phew, a Godzilla Quiz which can win you free tickets, CDs, duffel bags. Hop into The Park in Calcutta, and you're in for a vaudeville Godzilla night in its smoky nightclub. Switch on the TV—60 per cent of Sony's Rs 1.5 crore marketing blitz for the film is
allocated to it—and promos and feel-good stories beam from every channel, including the very regional Sun TV and Raj TV. Ads announcing ticket swaps swamp you in newspapers across 11 cities and towns. And you can even go watch the Hindi, Tamil or Telegu dubs: two-thirds of the 180 prints flooding the market are dubs. "It's an integrated campaign," says Vikramjit Roy, assistant manager (marketing) Columbia Tristar Films (India) Ltd. "We've built up awareness and interest through these promos so that people are compelled to watch the film."
And that's not all. Columbia Tristar has distributed a sleek eight-page marketing guide to Indian distributors to "help you to bring the big lizard to life and to breathe fire into your box-office". "Think mayhem!" goes one hot tip, "(put up) Godzilla graffiti on the sides of your complex, or someone else's building!" Or this one: "Think Loud! Ask people to phone in with their own God-zillian roar for the chance of winning special merchandise." Besides, there were sneak previews in 10 cities, electronic press kits for the media and the mega premiere.
India, and eventually Asia, may decide whether Godzilla becomes a b-o success—the film opened to a chilly reaction in the US. Earlier fx fests like King Kong, Jurassic Park and Independence Day have been welcomed in India. Godzilla's marketing hype makes Chopra wonder: "Sometimes I feel cinema's future is in bad movies and good marketing." But then the mammoth monster could actually have a happy run here.