On Tuesday, 23 August, Karan Johar announced that the teaser for his upcoming film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil will be released at the end of this month.
The announcement is an important one — Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is expected to release on 28 October; it is this year's big Diwali release, and is going head to head with Ajay Devgn's long-awaited Shivaay, at the box office.
In contrast, little promotional material has been released around Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
There was one image of Anushka Sharma that was shared in May — her character Alizeh was shown reading an Oliver Sacks book (The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat).
Apart from that one image, there have been few updates about the film. Most of the news around the film has centered around the relative lengths of its actors' roles: Does Shah Rukh Khan have a special appearance or an 'extended cameo'? Does Fawad Khan have an extended cameo or a full-fledged role?
Stories about what the film is all about have been somewhat conflicted as well. The popular understanding is that this Karan Johar film is a remake of the Yash Chopra-produced, Ramesh Talwar-directed Doosra Aadmi.
Doosra Aadmi followed the love triangle between Nisha (an accomplished advertising professional who is deeply affected by the death of her fiance), Karan (the owner of an ad agency who offers Nisha a job, and has a more than passing resemblance to her dead finace) and Timsy (Karan's wife). The roles were played by Rakhee, Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, respectively.
Reports about Ae Dil Hai Mushkil have pegged the cast into these roles: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan playing Rakhee's part, Ranbir Kapoor reviving his father's role as Karan, and Anushka Sharma's Alizeh being the Timsy in this triangle.
But other reports have brought in the angle of an Anushka-Fawad Khan romance.
A Deccan Chronicle article stated that Anushka and Fawad are shown as two people who meet in Karachi and fall in love, but there is filial opposition to their relationship, which prompts Fawad's character to leave Pakistan. How this angle would fit into the Doosra Aadmi plot is not clear.
Neither is it clear how Shah Rukh would play Aishwarya's fiance (if indeed his cameo is opposite the actress) since he doesn't have any resemblance to Ranbir Kapoor. (In Doosra Aadmi, Rishi Kapoor's real-life uncle Shashi Kapoor had played the part of Rakhee/Nisha's fiance.)
The confusion around the film's plot isn't necessarily a bad thing — to keep the audience guessing about Ae Dil Hai Mushkil should only whet their curiosity further.
What is strange, however, is the complete lack of "buzz" that Dharma Productions has generated around their film.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is an important film for Dharma — it marks Karan Johar's return to the director's chair after nearly four years. The last film Johar helmed was 2012's Student Of The Year.
Moreover, while Fawad Khan and Anushka Sharma are certainly riding high on the successes of their films like Kapoor & Sons and Sultan, respectively, the same can't be said for the other stars in the cast: Ranbir Kapoor has been having a bad spell at the box office, with Tamasha, Bombay Velvet and Besharam having under-performed; and Aishwarya Rai's comeback with Jazbaa and Sarbjit hasn't exactly been the most propitious. A blockbuster in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil would help both stars.
So the lack of promotions for Ae Dil hai Mushkil is a concern.
Promotions have gained a lot of importance in the Hindi film industry over the past few years. Not only are most film studios and production houses looking for innovative ways to market their movies, they also ensure that through star interviews and TV show appearances, teasers, trailers, song releases and album launches, the weeks — no, months — leading up to the release date are saturated with developments pertaining to that movie.
Even if one were to argue that Shivaay's promotion schedule cannot be compared to Ae Dil Hai Mushkil's (the two are after all, vastly different films, and Shivaay has been in the works for a lot longer) a look at Dharma's own promotion strategies for its other upcoming films throws up interesting contrasts:
Dear Zindagi — the Gauri Shidne directorial that has Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt in the lead roles, has a 25 November 2016 release date. (Incidentally, it is facing a prospective clash at the box office with Vidya Balan's Kahaani 2). The first look of the film and an extensive, innovative Twitter promotional campaign was kicked off by Shah Rukh and Alia in mid-July.
Sidharth Malhotra and Katrina Kaif's Baar Baar Dekho, directed by Nitya Mehra, has a 9 September release date. The poster was released all the way back in April; since then, there has been a steady stream of 'first look', 'song teasers', 'song trailers' (think 'Kala Chashma'), actual song releases, in addition to the actual trailer, released by the production house.
Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, with Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt releases on 10 March 2017. The stars unveiled its first look/poster in May this year.
So clearly, Dharma isn't averse to long-term promotions for its films. Why the exception for Ae Dil Hai Mushkil then?
One reason may be that Karan Johar is confident about the film, and expects that audience interest in its cast will work in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil's favour when it opens in theatres. After all, there is such a thing as audience fatigue that could be triggered by too much information about the film in the run-up to its release.
Another factor could be that Johar, as a producer, goes the extra mile for other directors' films (and not for his own). His last film as a director, Student Of The Year, had a 19 October 2012 release date, and Karan only tweeted out its first look on 29 July that year.
Still, an eight-week window to promote a film of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil's stature, with its ensemble star cast (their conflicting schedules) and multitude of expectations, seems fairly tight.
If it had a free run at the box office, its Diwali release slot and A-list lineage would have been more than enough to propel it to a bumper opening.
But with Shivaay in the picture as well — and the recent case of Rustom vs Mohenjo Daro (read a piece on how the complete lack of buzz around the latter on social media may have 'killed' its box office chances here) serving as a cautionary tale, perhaps those promotions need to be kicked into high gear without any further delay.