How do they do it? The stars and the directors, answering the same mundane questions over and over again while promoting their film? It seems like an ordeal equivalent to having your tooth extracted without anaesthesia.
But it can't be helped. The rot has set in. If you have a release coming up, you have to promote it. This means visiting shopping malls to blow kisses or dance with your co-star and indulging in extended Q&A sessions with reporters who take this opportunity to gain access to stars otherwise denied to them, often asking about matters that have no bearing on the movie being promoted.
If you are Saif Ali Khan and you are promoting "Sacred Games", you may be asked about your little son Taimur. If are Rishi Kapoor promoting your new release "Mulk", you may be bombarded with irrelevant questions on Ranbir Kapoor. Mind you, it won't be about Ranbir's career alone. It could be about Alia Bhatt. They could also throw in a question or two about Rishi's departed mother. And if he loses his temper he is branded a boor.
Rishi Kapoor knows how to handle the inquisitive media. He simply shuts up the offending journalist with his wrath. Not every actor can do that. Hence most of them simply go through it keeping their fingers crossed.
Anubhav Sinha, who recently promoted the well-received "Mulk" did not waste his time and energy patiently answering questions on... well, everything from Tapsee Pannu's supposed beau to Prateik Babbar's fiancée.
Most Indian actors and directors, though, answer. Oh yes, they do. But not with the same grace with which you see Tom Cruise and his team negotiating dozens of interviews for the latest version of "Mission Impossible", or Sandra Bullock and her co-stars promoting "Ocean's 8", or Meryl Streep and Cher promoting the sumptuous musical "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again".
Every time Cher was asked how she agreed to come on board she answered with the same incident when she received a call from the producer. But it sounded different each time. I have seen Cruise saying the same thing over and over again in interviews done in a loop. Every time he makes the same anecdote sound different, and exciting, as if it was the first time the question had come up.
Indian entertainers largely lack the discipline, humour or generosity of spirit of their Hollywood counterparts. During the last two weeks I've seen Cruise deep skydiving with a British talk-show host and simulate stunts on the sets of another British talk-show host. Not once did his smile waver. Not for a second did he look bored while answering repeatedly what it was like to shoot the helicopter stunt.
Anubhav Sinha lost patience when a media person at press conference called him by a name other than Anubhav. "Go, do your homework. You don't even know my name. I am not talking to you," he sulked.
Not done. Agreed, the average media bloke today can't even put forward Deepika Padukone's career history. But if you expect every media person to do homework on your achievements then you must also be conscious of the fact that you are not doing the newshounds any favour by being there.
Both the parties are doing their job, albeit shoddily, sometimes. Though it takes a bit more time for the promoter's calibre to come out. By the time a film releases, the media no longer needs to be pampered. So you guys ask questions like, "What does Taimur have to say about 'Sacred Games'" and "When are you going to be in a Gol Maal film?" at your own risk.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has been promoting Manto till his jaws drop and his legs collapse, says it's a killing, gruelling job. "I am doing the same thing over and over again, selling an idea that the average Indian movie viewer is not familiar with. It is essentially Saadat Hasan Manto I am recommending to a public that knows Nawazuddin Siddiqui. 'Don't look at me, look at Manto,' is my mantra. Not a very easy job."
(Subhash K. Jha can be contacted at email@example.com)