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Discovery and Jab Tak Hai Jaan: A match made in heaven? Not!

I wonder what the pitch was that Yash Raj Fims made to Discovery Channel while asking it to associate itself with their new magnum opus, Jab Tak Hai Jaan. You can see why Discovery would be interested. Yash Chopra was directing a film after ages. YRF has churned out a lot of blockbusters. India’s answer to Laurence Olivier and Brad Pitt - Shah Rukh Khan – would be acting in the film. And then of course, Discovery would be represented by a character who’d stand for everything any channel would love: intelligence, entertainment, knowledge, adventure and skill – to name but a few brand qualities.

Unfortunately for Discovery, its face in the film, Anuskha Sharma seems to have undergone a ful-frontal lobotomy. Just consider what her Discovery intern is shown as doing on the job.

Anushka Sharma in a still from Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Image courtesy: YRF

She strips to her bikini in freezing Ladakh and jumps into an ice-cold lake, on a dare. You almost wish SRK had held her under the water, instead of pulling her out once you see what is to follow. She then pleads with her British boss to allow her to shoot a documentary on SRK. Anushka who is called Akira, to add a little whimsy to her character, then heads off to shoot a documentary on SRK defusing bombs in Ladakh, all on her own. She is the one woman crew.

The good thing is that this at least shows that if you’re considering making a documentary, all you have to do is badger someone at Discovery and they’ll hand you a camera worth many many lakhs and  they will send you off to a high-risk zone all on your lonesome. You’re just an intern after all, so no sweat if you get blown to bits. We are then shown scenes of Anushka/Akira stepping on a bomb and triggering it, because she’s listening to her iPod while shooting in a bomb-strewn zone. She also repeatedly hits on the person she’s making a documentary about showing that our filmmakers knew about the Petraeus affair before Obama did.

And when rebuffed, she dances in mini-shorts in front of the army soldiers and pours them drinks. The message I got is that if you work at Discovery, you also need to entertain the troops. If the subject of her documentary is not traumatised enough by now, she then seals the deal by ensuring he gets hit by a car while he tries to save her from becoming road-kill because she doesn’t know that you need to look before you cross the street.

One would think that Discovery would have learnt from the dance with humiliation which its competitor channel – National Geographic – had suffered a few years back. The producers of that classic film, Kaal had somehow convinced NatGeo to agree to be represented by John Abraham who plays a tiger expert and is shown in the opening sequence of the film grappling with an anaconda. While grappling with the anaconda, he is also dexterous enough to receive a call on his mobile phone and receive an assignment, keep a hold on the snake, turn to his wife who is dressed in leather mini-shorts and high-heeled boots, and inform her that the “holiday is over”. The only positive from this brand association was that any intrepid explorer applying to NatGeo knew that you could take wifey along on work trips.  Bear Grylls should really shift loyalties to Nat Geo.

Not all brand associations are so ridiculous and seemingly orchestrated by nitwits in corporate suits. Swades had offered a brilliant brand association to NASA when it showed SRK as a NASA scientist who builds a hydro-electric power plant in his Indian village. It was the first film to be shot at NASA itself, and showed him working on a rainfall monitoring satellite which was an actual NASA project. It also didn’t show him breaking into a dance while working on his project at NASA, or displaying superhero powers. Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna cast Preity Zinta as the editor of Vogue. Vogue couldn’t have asked for a better advertisement for itself. Zinta was shown as a workaholic, attractive, extremely successful editor who was a hands-on mother. Yes, she had a dead marriage, but that’s because SRK was shown as a limping sociopath. And she left him when she found out he was cheating on her. She exemplified everything Vogue wants to stand for – beauty, brains, confidence and zero dependence on men.

Aah, Discovery. When a fashion magazine takes better branding decisions than you, you should really hang your head in shame. But my hats off to the YRF marketing boys who pulled the gossamer over the Discovery marketing team’s eyes. Or maybe we should be getting ready for a new Discovery where we will have glossy documentaries about the love lives of a bomb defusing expert.

Disclaimer: Firstpost is a part of the Network18 group which owns businesses in television which compete with Discovery Channel.