If I remember anything from my marketing courses many summers ago, a brand is a promise. Colgate is not a white logo on a red background. It is a promise of gleaming, healthy teeth and fresh breath. And it is for this promise that we agree to pay a premium price. Roughly, this is what these MBA-types call 'brand equity'.
Going by this definition, we could try to examine which of our Bollywood directors can be called a brand - in terms of their 'promise'. Try to see what do our most famous directors stand for and how consistently they fulfill that promise.
Incidentally, one interesting article I read had postulated that Disney is the only 'brand' studio in Hollywood because they make a consistent kind of entertainment, identified by name. After all, we do say "I am going to see a Disney movie" but never "I am going for a Warner Bros movie".
So, here is a random list of 10 directors and an attempt to identify their brand promise.
Naseer Hussain: Multi-starrers. Romance/relationships as kids. Theme song sung as kids unites lost grown-ups. One sequence of music competition with back-to-back songlets. Villains in really bad wigs and/or goggles. Ravinder Kapoor as do-gooder side-kick.
Yash Chopra II: Heroine in chiffon saree. Hero in pullovers. Innumerable uses of the word 'tanhai'. Song sequences in virgin European locations (all of which will eventually be named Yash Chopra Lake/Valley/Hill/Chowk). Love triangle/quadrilateral eventually solved by civilised rendition of sher-o-shairi.
Yash Chopra I: Very angry young man. Either illegitimate or lacking father figure. Loosely based on real-life person/incident. One high-voltage dialogue scene between right and wrong. Death of the wrong-doer.
Manmohan Desai: At least two brothers separated at birth. Three religions. Shuddering Nirupa Roy. Doddering Pran. Amitabh Bachchan. One gibberish song. One trained dog/hawk/cow/Easter egg/heroine's bodyguard. One operating theatre scene. One natural calamity (not including Kader Khan's wig). Divine intervention to cure blindness/TB/AIDS/obesity. Fourteen coincidences, each having odds of 786,000,000 to 1.
Ramgopal Verma: Bollywood. Or Underworld. Or Both. Preferably both. Spoof of famous film star/director. Deadpan dialogue delivery by hero. Hyperbolic delivery by rest of the cast. Better background score than songs. Talented actors in bit roles (who will be seen in important roles in his next and be separated from him in the one after that).
Karan Johar: 215 minutes of viewing time, at least. New York. 330 dancers flown in from Scandinavia. Central character owning Fifth Avenue penthouse or private jet or both. Shah Rukh, Kajol, Rani and Aditya Chopra. At least one high-profile cast replacement. Gay jokes or a semi-clad SRK. Discussion about the film on 'We, The People'.
Mahesh Bhatt: Bastard (literally) hero. Bastard (figuratively) father. Long-suffering mother (Reema Lagoo). Making it in showbiz (or trying to). One alcoholic character. Phenomenally successful music. Avtar Gill, Akash Khurana, Mushtaq Khan and Anupam Kher. Ghost-directed by hero or spot boy.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali: Seven years in the making. Budget of Rs 75 crores. Death of at least 3 spot boys when most expensive set is burnt down in the finale. At least 2 law-suits on non-payment of dues, non-acknowledgment of artistes etc. Temperamental stars. At least one star couple on the verge of getting linked / breaking up. Taking mother on stage to collect Best Director Trophy.
Kamal Haasan: Kamal Haasan in at least 13 roles (including one leper, one dwarf, one set of triplets and one broom). Exploration of male existential angst. Tongue-kissing heroines half his age.
But if you really think about it, most of the above directors have deviated from their 'formula' a significant number of times. For every promise fulfilled, they have deviated from the script to deliver an 'unconventional' film - making it a little more difficult to put a finger on what a particular 'director brand' stand for. Except one.
So, the final name on the list is - what I feel - is the Strongest Film Brand in India.
Ramsay Brothers: Bhoot (a.k.a. Pretatma) produced by the killing of innocent man by zamindar's henchmen. Bhootni (a.k.a. Chudail a.k.a. Dayin) produced by the suicide of village belle escaping rape by zamindar (see above). Group of college students coming for picnic in haunted house. One doddering watchman. One bathing under the shower (wearing shimmering nightie). One 'bedroom' scene interrupted by killing. Lots of smoke, usually in graveyards. One Christian priest killed while trying to tame Hindu bhoot with rosary. Eventual victory with the help of Om locket. Close-ups of heroine's cleavage while hunting for locket (see above). Deepak Parashar and Huma Khan.
For decades, the sons of F U Ramsay - Tulsi, Shyam, Kiran, Keshu, Gangu, Arjun, Chandu - have presented to us exactly the same story, starting from Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche to The Zee Horror Show.
Purana Mandir, Purani Haveli, Veerana, Bandh Darwaza, Hotel and the like had such a strong brand association with the Ramsay Brothers that when Keshu branched out into mainstream production, he could not use his surname - lest his films get mistaken as coming from the horror genre. Which is why hit films like Khakee and the Khiladi films (of Akshay Kumar) are known only by the producer's first name!
Now, that's brand power। You have Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai in the movie but even then, it can get recognised as a 'horror' film if you append the 'Ramsay' name to it!
This thought of Ramsay as an influential genre came to me after reading this review in what is my favourite blog right now!