Regional show is Bollywood's new promotional hot ticket
Chala Hawa Yeu Dya (slang in Marathi for 'relax' and a phrase that means 'let the air through') is a prime-time TV comedy and chat show with an impressive line-up of Bollywood stars as celebrity guests.
A garish, sometimes tacky but always boisterous Marathi show is Bollywood's new hot ticket when it comes to promoting films, signalling an increased focus on regional markets.
"Chala Hawa Yeu Dya" (slang in Marathi for 'relax' and a phrase that means 'let the air through') is a prime-time TV comedy and chat show with an impressive line-up of Bollywood stars as celebrity guests, including the likes of Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar.
Most Bollywood films stick to mainstream Hindi serials and shows during promotional tours to ensure maximum eyeballs, but consistent viewership ratings for "Chala Hawa Yeu Dya" have helped change movie promotion strategies.
"The first person to come on our show was Riteish Deshmukh earlier this year. Then John Abraham promoted Rocky Handsome on it," Nilesh Mayekar, business head for Zee Marathi, told Reuters.
"For us, it is a matter of prestige that Bollywood requires a Marathi show to promote their films," he said.
"Chala Hawa Yeu Dya" gets between 1.89 and 2.0 points in viewership ratings, on par with the Hindi-language "The Kapil Sharma Show". Both shows combine slapstick comedy, sexist jokes and celebrity guests, a potent mix that Indian TV viewers seem to love. They also pull in ratings that make industry executives wonder at the reach of an hour-long appearance on the show.
"We go by numbers, and internal research has shown that this show has worked for us in the past," a source at a production house said.
"In movie marketing, when one show or a concept works out, everyone else tends to follow."
Most Hindi film promotions include visits to cities like Ahmedabad or Chandigarh, but so far regional television hadn't really made it to Bollywood's calendar for promotional events.
On a recent episode of "Chala Hawa Yeu Dya", Akshay Kumar performed a salutation to the elephant-headed god Ganesha (who is much revered in Maharashtra) at the beginning of the episode. He spoke in broken Marathi, eliciting loud cheers from the audience, and smiled beatifically as some of the regulars on the show danced to some of his songs.
Kumar was promoting "Rustom", a film based on the trial of naval officer K M Nanavati, which went on to gross more than 1.73 billion rupees ($25.8 million) at the box office, making it one of the year's most successful films. The film earned more than 400 million rupees ($6 million) from the Mumbai market alone, which makes up parts of Maharashtra, neighbouring Gujarat and Goa.
"Regional is where the new focus is, and it is natural that marketing strategy should veer towards Maharashtra, which is one of the biggest markets for Bollywood," the source said.
Maharashtra is also one of the regional markets where Bollywood has to jostle for space with a robust film industry that has more than its share of fans. Earlier this year, Nagraj Manjule's "Sairat" (Wild) ran in cinemas for more than three months, earning over one billion rupees ($15 million), a record for a Marathi film.
It is only in the last few years that Bollywood has begun to pay attention to offerings from its home state, for long ignored as a poor cousin of the Hindi film industry. Marathi films suffered as Bollywood projects with bigger budgets and flashier subjects took over their audiences, but a resurgence in storytelling and a new breed of young directors have helped them reclaim their turf and compete with Hindi films.
Regional films contributed to more than 30 percent of revenues at some national multiplex chains in two out of four quarters in 2015, according to a report by consulting firm KPMG.
"For us, it is an indication that Maharashtra is an important market for the industry and our show is the best way to reach that market," Mayekar said.
"We don't really need Bollywood in our show. They need us."