Desi Teasers: Trailing the world

The one thing about commercial Hindi film trailers, or ‘Bollywood’ cuts as they are more commonly known, is that everything – plot, lack of plot, narrative, protagonists, set pieces, heroines, locations, item songs, food – is given adequate screen time in 2.5 measly minutes, thereby leaving no scope for assumptions about the full-length film it’s based on. 

Most of the time, a trailer here is literally a best-of montage of sequences, witty lines and money shots. Virtually nothing is left to one’s imagination, and the flow – often with the help of a voice-over or an introspective song – is made quite clear, lest we expect (gasp) too much mystery and subtlety. A quiet beginning is followed by an introduction, which is followed by a few eye-catching moments from the journey that follows (half-naked body shots if it includes women; slow-mo 1000 fps shots if it includes deaths of crucial characters), finally followed by an end with a tagline and parting shot from the hero, which pretty much explains the story in a line. This is a complete package, and has been the norm for years. Desi trailers, much like film reviews and feature pieces, are treated not as an art form or separate part, but as a tool in the film’s expansive marketing and PR journey. 

The entire meaning of a ‘teaser’ or ‘trailer’ – which is meant to tease, titillate and arouse interest with a hook or two, with limited exposure and with smart clues – is lost upon most studios in India. The one-stop goal is to present to viewers an exact nutshell of what they’re supposed to expect, no questions asked. There should never be, God forbid, a “but what is it about?” query in the Youtube comments’ section. This formula works for certain genres – say, for perhaps a rom-com that depends on one-liners and awkward situations – but not for the abundant number of big-budget spy-thriller flicks these days. Our main problem begins with the assumption that a trailer too, much like the film it represents, should be made up of three acts. If one would think a little more out-of-the-box, like in Queen, where only Kangana Ranaut was made to speak shyly about her small-town marriage and desires; the character lays the ground for the film to follow, no matter what it’s based on – she makes you want to watch her adventures. 

A prime example would be the first trailer of Phantom, directed by Kabir Khan

There are no vague or mysterious shots in this trailer; everything has a specific purpose, whether commercial or creative. It starts with archival footage, followed by an introduction of a one-man army protagonist, loosely tying in the 26/11 attacks and a vehement feeling of injustice and patriotism. And after watching the film, you wonder if that’s all there was to it – a jingoistic chest-beating spy thriller without the thrills. You can tell exactly what the tone or intrigue of the story is in the first 30 seconds. All this is quite clear; the same with Kick, which had Salman Khan wearing a mask to suggest that he is a ‘mystery man’, but there was enough exposition (followed by an explosive sequence of action shots) in the first minute to suggest that this was a classic old vigilante saga of good v/s evil. That said, it did make the film look attractive enough to watch on the silver screen, which serves the purpose for most filmmakers. 

Take any other recent trailer: ‘All Is Well’, starring Abhishek Bachchan as a solo hero after decades, lays down the whole road trip-family-love story-coming of age graph in a mild and ‘un-creative’ manner, almost as if to say ‘we really have nothing else to offer.’ It scares viewers and makes them wonder that if these were the best moments of this film, what must be the worst? 

Compare this to Spectre, the trailer of the latest James Bond film directed by Sam Mendes, which shows us just enough to make us curious, and even confuse us, eventually forcing us to wonder what it’s really about. The characters are all there, played by some celebrated actors, but we don’t know what they’re about yet. Still, one does get an idea about the atmosphere, pace and urgency of this film, say, as compared to Skyfall, which was largely a more personal journey, and the end of an era. 

As a viewer, I don’t care if I don’t understand the story from a trailer; if it shows me even one second of something mysterious, novel or interesting, I will not look for anything more. After that, only the mood, the music and perhaps some striking imagery, could arrest my attention. 

And really, I’m teased- what else do I need? The Full Monty? 

That’s what the film is for. 

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