Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Of thorns, selling and Shahrukh Khan

A book launch was simultaneously satire of the consumer world and star studded with Shahrukh's presence


The impression I got was that if I had to get your attention, I should start with speaking about Shahrukh Khan and his explanation for having said "I am the best." He said that only because he had an inferiority complex, apparently  -- he didn't feel that he was good enough. People clawed at him for autographing the book, followed him till they reached the hemlines of the backstage curtains through which he disappeared leaving a vacuum of disappointed children, ladies and gentleman. A small girl dressed in a ghaghra choli for the special occasion jumped up and down, smiling.


 Since very few book launches these days are complete without the Bollywood presence, IIPM dean Arindam Chaudhuri and his wife Rajita Chaudhuri invited Shahrukh Khan for the launch of their book Thorns to Competition about marketing strategies.

The lights were dimmed and a cardboard cactus (with one of the cactus stems deliberately revealing a middle finger) was surrounded by flickering blue lights. Shahrukh Khan arrived two hours late and pressed the remote control and out of this garish set up, the book burst forth along with jhink jhack music (that was played before the arrival of every important speaker).


Thorns is an acronym (Khan called it a pseudonym) but we come to that later. We knew that the modern marketplace is a war zone but we pretty much had to keep our satirical glasses on throughout the show.

Arindam Chaudhuri enters stage after the music aided anticipation. "This book is one of the best books, I believe," he says. Chaudhuri talked about how he kept gifting his father expensive watches, but his father insisted on wearing his old watch from high school, much to his son's exasperation. It was a problem with his father's generation. They didn't warm up to the consumer economy as well as we do. "They judged people by what they knew and what they learnt. Marketing teaches you to forget a person's worth. He appreciated things like music, art, literature etc," he said. Apparently, the more you read, the more you want to read, the more you listen to music, the more you want to listen. Now, that's increasing marginal utility. Before you switch off, an explanation will be offered.


Usually it is the generation that is in its teens and twenties that is criticized for its 140 character arguments, its Facebook status relationship breakups, the works. Arindam Chaudhuri superimposes a neat economic theory on all these varied life experiences. The law of diminishing marginal utility. The more you have something the less you want it. But at the same time, you don't want the old watch anymore, but you want the new one.

Just as you buy phone 4560, a radio host tells you phone 4560 is out and 4670 is in. "A satisfied customer is the marketing man's worst nightmare," said Chaudhuri.


Meanwhile, in the room with blue lights, cameramen were fidgety. When was Shahrukh Khan, sitting in the front row going to step on stage and do camera worthy things?

When he finally did, they screamed to the organizers. "Lights, lights, lights"


Shahrukh gave thorns to competition we were told. He endorsed women's products, he was the first star to accept a negative role in Darr (1993) and by the way, he has been "chatting with Lady Gaga and is doing a song with her." It's a marketing thing, he says. "We want to exchange audiences."


Khan was impeccable in his role for the night as the humble, saying Namaste to the old ladies and gentlemen invited to stage super star. He came across at least as humble and a little unsure.



He could be a dilliwalla, he insisted, even though he kept on his best theatre accent in Mumbai. "When I was struggling in Bollywood I wanted to hit many people hard. I can be a dilliwallah  and talk like (insert Haryanvi accented expletives). Loud cheers erupt from the audience that had till then held on to every word he spoke in a quiet, contained rapture.




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