The marketing strategy of any Hindi movie can be characterised in one sentence: the tyranny of the trailer.

An upcoming release’s fate is decided by its star power and the strength of its soundtrack but most of all, its trailer. The first glimpse of a movie’s universe lasts a few minutes but has the power to influence how quickly it buzzes through cyberspace and how well it will be received in cinemas.

“The first footfalls on Friday is heavily dependent on how excited the audience is by the trailer,” said Aditya Warrior, whose Warriors Touch is one of the leading trailer editing companies in Bollywood.

Companies such as Pentacle Creationz, run by the brothers Ravi and Binny Padda, and Promoshop, set up by Chinni Nihalani, have been cutting teasers and trailers for several years, but the heat has increased considerably at a time when social networking sites and video sharing platforms decide a movie’s fate even before promotions and marketing activities have begun.

“The process is the same but I feel the panic has increased,” Nihalani said. “It is so important to crack a good trailer, because despite the many different promotional strategies, a trailer sets the tone and buzz for a film.”

While Bollywood trailers follow the Hollywood model, the scale of production and budgets are vastly different. “The entire Hindi film industry’s turnover is almost as much as the quarterly results of a big corporate house,” Binny Padda said. “There aren’t big budgets to make trailers unlike Hollywood.”

Making a trailer can be nearly as challenging as directing a film. A trailer has a beginning, middle and a dramatic end, just like a movie. Sometimes the plot twist is the hook, at other times the storytelling or the performances. Warriors Touch made the trailer for Poorna, Rahul Bose’s biopic of 13-year-old Poorna Malavath from Telangana who scaled Mount Everest. “For Poorna we made 18 versions over a year before we decided,” Warrior said. “For a biography or a real-life story, people know how the film ends, so you try and excite people to watch the film for the way it is made. In Poorna, the story that she climbed Mount Everest is already out there, so you can’t create suspense on that front.”

Hindi movie trailers have often been accused of giving the entire story away. Binny Padda, Chinni Nihalani and Aditya Warrior explain the hows and whys of trailer cutting and illustrate their insights with case studies.

Binny Padda, Pentacle Creationz: ‘Stay true to the story’

Why trailers matter: Ever since I’ve started making trailers, this has become an industry within the film industry. A trailer is two-and-a-half minutes of trying to convey a film in the best possible way. It is very difficult to get to the heart of the film in a couple of minutes and that’s the challenge.

Binny Padda.

Trailer tales: I like staying true to the story. We try to give an accurate representation of the film. We try to do different things and variations. In Indian film industry, similar films get made repeatedly and then it becomes difficult to communicate the same format differently to the audience each time. Graphics are most crucial and something like the font can change the entire tonality of the product.

After helming almost 400 campaigns, I believe that you need to identify the strong points of the film, you need to know the popularity of your actors, and it has to be driven by good music and sound. We are generally involved in a project right from the beginning and some other times, it is a last-minute association.

Raees (2017).

Case study: One of the most exciting things that I’ve done in my career is to helm two big campaigns with two big stars – Raees and Kaabil – that were both set to release on the same day. Both producers had apprehensions about trusting their material to the same facility. But I think we managed to achieve something good there. Till the last day people couldn’t decide which movie they wanted to watch first. The balance didn’t tilt in the favour of one film.

Kaabil (2017).

Both units outdid each other every step of the way. We had been working on Raees for longer but the theatrical was still under construction. From when the release date of the film was decided, we had close to three months to prep for both films.

I’ve worked with both producers – Rakesh Roshan and Excel Entertainment – several times, so we were already connected on what we want to achieve.

For example, with Lagaan, we took about six months to lock a 30-second trailer. I’ve never had a bigger learning experience than that in my life. So the time period also differs from one project to another.

Chinni Nihalani, Promoshop

Why trailers matter: I come from a film family and have been in the midst of films since I was a kid. I went to an art school in California and that’s where I discovered my love for editing. When I came back, I heard someone needed promos and I took a shot at it. This was in 2010 and my first project was with Excel Entertainment. I have an affinity towards writing and promos are a good mix of writing and editing.

Chinni Nihalani.

Trailer tales: Making a trailer is a post-based job. The work really starts when the shooting is done. Depending on what the story is, you need to find what connects best with audiences, since film is commercial art. It also depends on who is creating it, in terms of ideas, packaging and presentation.

If there are 20 gags in a film and I connect particularly with some of them, I might use those gags in the trailer. Every trailer has a script and if you are trying to set up a narrative in the trailer, you cannot use a random gag or scene just because it is good.

The Lunchbox (international version).
The Lunchbox (Indian version).

Case study: The Lunchbox trailer made by us and the trailer made by Sony Classics in America were different. The same film and the same content were pitched in two different ways. They were speaking to American audiences and they are selling the idea of dabbawallahs in India. We were selling the idea of how two people who have never met before fall in love, through the exchange of their dabbas.

Whom you are pitching the film to is also important. In this case, Karan Johar came up with a line “Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met?” We created a structure around how we perceived that line. That trailer was passed with almost no changes. The amount of time the process takes differs from project to project and also on who and how many people need to approve it.

Aditya Warrior, Warriors Touch

Why trailers matter: I was in advertising previously and I didn’t like it because there wasn’t much storytelling. Then I moved to television and I found it repetitive. Then I moved to films and since editing was my forte, I started making trailers. After working in a couple of years, I wanted to do my own thing and started Warriors Touch in 2013. Making trailers is an art form.

Aditya Warrior.

Trailer tales: We pitch an idea and if they like our pitch, we get on board. We get involved after they have their rough cut and want to start planning their marketing strategy. Then there is a back and forth and many iterations. For Margarita with a Straw, someone was already on board. I asked the director Shonali Bose if I could pitch anyway. We made a trailer and Bose later showed both trailers to a very respected actor, who decided our trailer was the one that he liked.

Case study: Making the trailer of Trapped was an amazing experience. The story is set in a room, so the challenge is in how do you make that interesting. We pitched an idea and got on board. The use of sound in this particular trailer was more interesting than any others in recent times, because there is very little dialogue. It was a difficult one to do and we made a number of iterations.