Here’s a test: take a look at the trailer of any of the major releases over the past few months. Imagine a beginning, middle and end, account for a few expository scenes, bung in a couple of songs and voila! The movie is exactly as promised.
The Bollywood trailer has been redefined to the extent that it doesn’t even qualify as a tantalising peek into a film’s universe any more. Instead, the trailer is a full tour of the screenplay’s three-act structure, the best moments, potentially enduring gags, and chartbuster-friendly songs. You can’t judge a book by its cover, it is said. You can not only decide on a film on the basis of its trailer, but even go so far as to guess how it will begin, progress, wax and wane, and wrap up. (The last point is admittedly easy: we still cherish happy endings, topped up by the closing credits song sequence.)
As an experiment, we tried to predict the plots of the major releases of 2020 on the basis of their trailers. We posited that Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior would have rousing patriotic scenes revolving around Ajay Devgn’s brawny hero, a showstopping introduction to the dastardly villain played by Saif Ali Khan, and a moment or two allotted to Kajol’s character to soften the machismo. A few songs would lighten the mood, and there would be at least two, if not three, spectacularly choreographed fights. We would get Tanhaji’s back story and tender scenes between him and his wife. We also took a guess at what the closing shot would be – and everything went as per plan.
Chhapaak, the other major Hindi film that came out alongside Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior on January 10, similarly didn’t care to conceal its surprises. Contained in the trailer was the story arc and narrative tone: Malti’s disfigurement through an acid attack, her agony over her condition, her personal battle in and outside the courtroom, her campaign against the easy sale of acid, and hope in the form of a romantic relationship.
The horror experienced by Malti (Deepika Padukone) when she first sees her ruined face in the mirror – a moment that is a turning point in the plot – was revealed in the trailer itself, robbing the sequence of its impact when it finally unfolded on the screen.
There were also not too many surprises over the January 24 release Street Dancer 3D. The trailer of the Varun Dhawan-Shraddha Kapoor starrer was eight seconds shy of three minutes. It not only told us about the reason for the rivalry between the leads – one from India and the other from Pakistan – but also that they would set aside their mutual bitterness for a greater cause (the plight of South Asian immigrants in Britain). The catalyst would be the mentor played by Prabhudeva. The main reason to watch Street Dancer 3D (and the only one, as it turned out) would be the energetically choreographed performances.
While Panga, which was released alongside Street Dancer 3D, did reserve some of its surprises , the three-long trailer gave majors hints about how it would all turn out for its heroine, played by Kangana Ranaut: a wife and mother who has given up her kabaddi career but sorely misses it, the pre-wedding sporting achievements, the self-doubt and struggle to get back to the game, the pep talk on the sidelines, the supportive family members, and the final triumphal tackle towards personal and national glory.
No spoiler alert is needed to tell us just how badly Ranaut’s Jaya Nigam misses the game – she kicks her husband in her sleep. Sweet, but it would have been better to watch it in the movie first rather than in the trailer itself.
Why do trailers last as long as a full-length song these days? Could it be that competition from television and streaming platforms is compelling filmmakers to throw everything they have at potential patrons? Songs don’t always determine a movie’s destiny like they used to, attention spans have massively shrunk, and star presence is no guarantee of success. By giving audiences a summary of nearly everything an upcoming release has to offer, filmmakers hope that at least some of the elements will stick.
The trailer is a production’s most important marketing tool. It provides the first glimpse into the plot, characters and look and feel of the narrative universe. A trailer release is usually followed by short videos of the movie’s songs, and taken together, these two elements give viewers a taste of things to come.
Yet, filmmakers believe in over-egging the cake. In the bargain, viewers are being force-fed much more than is healthy for the constitution. All we wanted was a trailer, and we got a mini-movie instead.
Sometimes, a movie’s subject compels its makers to throw caution to the winds. The trailer of the gay-themed Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan fully embraces its unconventionality and includes a moment that might have been preserved for the cinemas in less frenetic times – a lip-to-lip kiss between the male leads, played by Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar. You don’t need to wait till February 21 to find out whether Kartik and Aman express their ardour, or indeed, what the movie’s position on homosexuality is and how it plans to tackle its subject.
At least, that is what we are hoping, unless the makers have a twist tucked away somewhere. Here’s another guess, again, inspired by the on-the-nose trailer: either Aman or Kartik or both are only pretending to be gay in order to express their support for the striking down of Section 377, which criminalised homosexuality. Go on, surprise us.
One trailer that attempted to preserve a sense of intrigue about its plot got trolled for its efforts. Mohit Suri’s Malang stars Aditya Roy Kapur and Disha Patani and is out on February 7. The trailer promises a thriller revolving around bodacious bodies, narcotics, double-cross, murder and sexy songs. The catch-it-if-you-can vibe foxed some souls, and led to a rash of memes and barbs over social media. Ergo: target achieved. If Malang’s makers stick to their guns, we might actually have that rare movie that allows viewers to follow the trail and make some discoveries along the way rather than reach their destination without ever having left their homes.