As a young adult in 1998 when the Pokharan tests were conducted, I was amazed. Not so much by the blasts itself – for I couldn’t understood how nuclear tests could feed our hungry millions - but by how our scientists and intelligence agencies fooled the mighty American surveillance systems.
A decade and a half later when I began getting serious about screenwriting, I stumbled upon Pokharan 1998 again and realised it would make a thrilling screenplay and film. Hence, last week as I sat to watch another film in the theatre and the trailer of Parmanu played, my brain tingled with excitement. Sadly, it didn’t last the duration of the 146 seconds trailer.
You’d think the trailer was badly made. With slick editing, good shot selection and sound placement and nice pacing, Parmanu’s trailer was as good as the next trailer. Yet, instead of inspiring me to see the film, it did just the opposite. Why? First, watch the trailer here...
From the trailer, I can piece the story together thus: India wants to conduct nuclear tests but Americans surveillance prevent us from doing that. Hence, we devise a plan to dodge them, almost succeed but get our cover blown despite best precautions, Americans pressurise us but we refuse to succumb and explode the bombs successfully anyway.
If you have seen the film, you’d perhaps encapsulate it in similar lines. And that is what made the well-made trailer terrible – it gave away the whole film, including the sub-plot of the strained relationship between the hero and his wife caused by his dedication to duty.
As the voice over proclaims in the end, “heroes are made not from uniform, but intentions,” my chest swells with pride and… I am done with the film. There is nothing for me to look forward to and even if someone is to give me a free ticket, I wouldn’t go watch Parmanu.
It is ironical, because I saw the trailer before a film that is a perfect example of getting multiple teasers, trailers and its whole marketing just right – Deadpool 2. I had seen every single trailer and promotion material for Deadpool 2, and each time I did, I wanted to see the film.
Despite having seen all this material, the main plot twist of the film before the climax (something to do with the ferocious villain), took me by surprise and after having been put off by the trailer of Parmanu, I thanked the filmmakers for not giving even a hint of this plot twist or the ending in the trailer of any of the marketing material.
If you thought this is a Hollywood versus Bollywood debate, and I am here to criticise how badly we do it, you are wrong. Like Parmanu there are numerous Hollywood films I did not go to see because of their bad trailers. A good example is The 33.
Like Parmanu, the trailer of The 33 is so good that it left me with moist eyes, rooting for the 33 miners struggling to survive underground while their families struggled above it. And that was a problem because the trailer gave me the catharsis the film is supposed to give.
The problem with such trailers is that they are not really trailers – they are well made short films. In two and half minutes they give you what a two-and-a-half-hour film would.
This problem persists across the board and is more pronounced in Bollywood. Take the case of another very well made Hindi film and trailer – Raid.
Raid has some brilliant one-liners (evident from the trailer), an exciting concept and some great actors. Its trailer is well made as well but ends up revealing not just the most important plot twist: the heroes enter to raid a house but with the goon’s men attacking and surrounding the haveli, they can’t leave. The trailer also reveals the sub-plots and something else.
Three seconds before the end of the trailer, three shots of approximately one second total duration, gives away the end, that despite the odds stacked against them, our protagonist and his team succeed.
In two minutes and forty-six seconds the entire film - all its best dialogues, scenes, action moments, subplots, plot twists and even climax - is given away. Where is the need to go see the film?
Making the trailer of a film is both an exercise in art and the science of marketing. To make a good trailer and thus make money for the film, the ones cutting the trailer, has to understand the soul of the film and entice the viewers by giving just a glimpse of that soul. To do that one does not necessarily have to pick shots from the final film itself.
Deadpool 2 had teasers and trailers entirely made of scenes that weren’t there in the film (like this one here). Yet, these were true to the essence or the soul of the final film.
What filmmakers also need to understand is that unlike in the past, today a trailer is not just a tool to entice the viewer to watch the film. Instead, in a world where screens to consume entertainment have become ubiquitous, a trailer is part of the overall experience of the film, more than just an internal part of the film, it is an external extension of it.
In other words, despite not being entirely so, a trailer is a standalone experience for the viewer. The more marketers of the film see it that ways, the more audiences are likely to enjoy a film and more will be the moolah that the makers rake in from the film.
(Satyen K Bordoloi is a writer based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)Read more by Satyen K Bordoloi:
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