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“The Donkey King”: a Case Study of How to Market a Pakistani Film

“The Donkey King” was the sleeper hit of 2018. In a year dominated by huge box office successes including “Jawani Phir Nahi Aani 2”, “Parwaz Hai Junoon”, and “Teefa in Trouble”, “The Donkey King” surprised everyone by minting more than 25 crore PKR at the local circuit and becoming the highest grossing animated film made in Pakistan. The runner up in that category is “Teen Bahadur 2”, which barely minted more than 8 crores.

Even more surprising is the fact that “The Donkey King”, up until very recently, was still running in cinemas. Not in Pakistan, but in international markets. And it minted over 20 crores in overseas! That’s more than most big budget live-action films make!

So, naturally, we at PakistaniCinema.Net reached out Aziz Jindani, the man behind the camera and the phenomenal success of the film.

Our question was simple. How did he do it?

Will the Donkey King Be Released in Any More Countries?

First things first; we asked if “The Donkey King” would be released theatrically in more markets. The film has already run successfully in Spain, South Korea, Russia, Turkey, Colombia, Peru, China, etc.

“I think the film has exhausted its run. However, an OTT release is possible, as well as a television release in other countries.”

How did you Manage to Release “The Donkey King” in So Many Countries?

It was remarkable that Aziz was able to release the film in so many markets, especially since other film producers and directors had made tall claims about doing the same, but hardly delivered, except in the usual markets like the UK, North America and Middle East. So, what was different about “The Donkey King”?

Well, two things. First:

“The Donkey King features animals instead of humans. Animals are more universally understood than humans in any country. The symbol of the donkey especially is very recognizable in countries around the world. So, I believe that’s one reason why the film resonated with audiences around the world.”

Second:

“There is a separate skillset and tenacity required to make a film, and then market it internationally. Most other filmmakers go on to other projects after their film has had a successful run in Pakistan. Attaching oneself to a film after the release is a different thing altogether. It’s not financially viable to do that for most people as well.”

Hence, a combination of universal appeal, and the will to market the film to international audiences made it such a huge success. Aziz Jindani believes that his film, unlike live action films from filmmakers like Nabeel Qureshi (NMA, Actor in Law, etc.) and Humayun Saeed (LNJ, PNJ), translated much better to the international screen.

Also, due to his professional experience in brand management and marketing for P&G, he understands how “a toolbox can be built to deploy a film everywhere.”

For those of you who are unaware, Aziz Jindani was the creator behind “Commander Safeguard”. Not only was the show a huge success in Pakistan, it was also a huge hit in the Philippines, Mexico, and South Africa. Hence, Jindani was well versed with international distribution, and was familiar with foreign distributors.

Why is the Pakistani Film Industry So Bad at Marketing Films?

The Pakistani film industry barely churns out a dozen films a year, and most of them fizzle out without even making their budget back. In fact, many films come and go without people even realizing they’re in theaters.

Case in point: ‘Ishrat: Made in China’. What should’ve been one of the biggest hits of the year turned out to be a huge box office disaster. The same could be said of dozens of films released since the new wave of Pakistani cinema began in 2013.

So, what’s the problem?

Aziz Jindani quotes Nadeem Mandviwalla, owner of Atrium Cinemas and Mandviwalla Productions, “Filmmaking and film distribution are two very different skillsets.”

Aziz says that there are no film marketing agencies in Pakistan. At most there are certain PR agencies. In Bollywood there is an entire network of agencies like Triggerhappy films, which will market a film for you even down to editing a trailer.

That’s why the marketing for Pakistani films is so bare bones. It usually depends on a single trailer release on YouTube or Facebook and a partnership with a TV channel. Social media marketing is almost non-existent, and PR campaigns are few and far between.

Digital Marketing Cannot Work for Pakistani Films Right Now

During the making of “The Donkey King” Aziz Jindani actually wrote a paper called “The Art and Science of Marketing an Animate Film”. He still hasn’t released the paper online (we implore him to do so!). He was lucky to have a co-producer with him who was willing to go the distance to market the film, and a strong media partner like Geo and Jang group to make that happen.

Aziz believes that social media marketing and digital marketing, though effective, can’t work for the Pakistani film industry right now. Pakistani cinema going audiences are usually glued to TV screens and get their content from there. Younger generations, for better or worse, have already been exposed to international content and don’t usually flock to cinemas.

For “The Donkey King”, Geo Films ran a coordinated marketing campaign on TV. This included the theatrical trailer, of course, but also dialogue promos, and song promos. That resulted in audiences looking up the trailer, and even the songs of the film on YouTube and Facebook.

‘Donkey Raja’, the main song of the film has 85 million views on YouTube! It’s the most viewed music video for a Pakistani film song on the platform. Aziz Jindani considers this a very worrisome fact; a ‘Lamha e Fikr’ for the Pakistani film industry that a song like ‘Donkey Raja’ has beaten out all other Pakistani film songs.

He considers this a testament to the weakness of the Pakistani film music scene today. Pakistani film music is simply not resonating with the masses at all.

“Kamli” is a Case Study on Defining an Audience for a Film

During the interview, we invoked the recent success of Sarmad Sultan Khoosat’s film ‘Kamli’ (which has now grossed over 6 crore at the local box office!). Aziz responded by saying that it is a case study on how to define a film’s audience.

He commended Sarmad Khoosat on knowing what kind of audience he was marketing the film to. Word-of-mouth and social media marketing resulted in the film raking in sustained numbers across almost 2 months at the local box office.

Aziz believes that coordinated marketing efforts like this could benefit Pakistani films, no matter the budget.

What About a Commander Safeguard Film?

After the success of “The Donkey King”, it’s not farfetched to assume that Aziz Jindani would try for a Commander Safeguard film. So, is that something that he is working on?

“The character is not mine. It belongs to Procter & Gamble, but never say never. Commander Safeguard was my first success, so I call it a fluke. “The Donkey King” was a second success, so I call it a coincidence. A successful Commander Safeguard film would be a true success for me.”

At the moment, Aziz sahab has hinted at some post-COVID plans and certain stories forming in his head, but nothing is certain. We at Pakistani Cinema have our fingers crossed for a Commander Safeguard film.

What is Your Message to the Pakistani Film Industry?

We closed the interview by asking if he had a message for the current Pakistani film industry and he said:

“The film industry needs volume right now.”

According to Aziz Jindani the Pakistani film industry needs to keep churning out films to sustain a momentum. He believes that a film going culture needs to be built in the nation and everything else is secondary. He cites the awful Bollywood films of the 80s and 90s which are parodied today. While they were bad products, they kept the momentum of the industry alive. Today, Bollywood has survived because they weathered that storm and kept moving forward.

He also believes that Pakistani filmmakers need to respect the budget of a film. Not every film can be made with a budget of 15-20 crores. However, a fantastic film can be made while respecting the budget if the right people are behind the camera.

As he astutely puts it: “Chaadar dekh kar paaoon phailao.”

Written by Yousuf Mehmood

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