Jaideep Sahni, an accomplished screenwriter and  lyricist, computer engineer by qualification, spins a tale about promotion, marketing, films and sweets, exclusively for Koimoi.com:

Jaideep Sahni
Jaideep Sahni

Once upon a time in a kingdom lived a famous sweetmeat maker. People used to travel from faraway kingdoms to come and buy his delicious sweetmeats. And the people of the kingdom itself could not think of an important day in their lives when they wouldn’t celebrate with his sweetmeats. On his part, the sweetmeat maker was proud of his talent and worked day and night, thinking of new kinds of sweetmeats to flatter the taste buds of his loving customers. Being a sweetmeat maker, he could never compete in richness with his contractor friends who made roads or merchant friends who traded in silk, but he was not poor, and life was good.

One day, an interesting man came to his shop. Bedecked in the latest jewels and silks, he stood apart from the rest and patiently waited for the sweetmeat maker to finish with his customers and the day’s business. Then, over some hot cardamom-flavoured tea, he told the sweetmeat maker who he was and what he did. He was from the glamorous prachaaria tribe, his art being to praise anything in such fascinating ways that people were compelled to experience it once in their lifetime. And if they liked it, they would come again and again to buy it, leading to huge profits for its maker. He made a proposal to the sweetmeat maker. On the road leading to the shop, he would string up a banner high above, on which would be painted such exciting limericks praising the sweetmeat maker’s sweets that people walking on the road would be tempted to taste some of his sweets before they walked past the shop. The sweetmeat maker was a little hesitant at first, but remembering the riches of his friends who were contractors and silk merchants, agreed to try it.

The next morning, the people on the road were greeted by a colourful silk banner saying such clever things about the sweetmeats that it made their mouths water, and they couldn’t help stopping by the shop and biting into a few sweets before they went on their way again. It was a very busy day and when the sweet- meat maker counted the day’s earnings, he was pleasantly surprised by how much more they were in comparison to an ordinary day’s. Sitting in front of him, sipping his cardamom tea, was the prachaaria. And that evening was born a partnership which changed the sweetmeat maker’s life.

Next month, the travellers on the road were greeted by another banner, this time not a silk, but a pure silver one. A big crowd stood gaping at it all day, people jumping up and down to touch it and see if it was real silver. It indeed was, the clever limericks written on it made them think of nothing but the tempting taste of sweets. That evening, when the sweetmeat maker counted his earnings, he needed another extra bag to take them home. He hugged the prachaaria, and asked how much he needed to pay for the silver banner. He was a little taken aback when he realised that because of the costly pure silver thread it was made of, it cost almost as much as half his increased earnings, but at the end of the day, he had still earned much more than before, and he handed over half a bag of gold coins to his new friend.

Next month, the banner that was put up was made of even more costly gold thread. And the month after that, a gold and silver one inlaid with precious jewels. Each of these banners cost the sweetmeat maker huge monies, but he had seen the results once and had decided to spend on this way of promoting his sweets, no matter how much it cost. His clothes had become finer, his jewellery, more expensive, and his friends were now from the class of big contractors and traders, where his heart had always yearned to belong, all thanks to his decision to adopt the ways of the prachaaria tribe, which were nothing but pure magic. In fact, so fascinated was he by the way they thought, the clever ways they invented to attract people’s attention, that he found himself spending more and more time with them, trying to himself participate in designing new magical tricks to promote his sweets. Only one day was a little difficult, when one of his old customers stopped him on the street and complained that somehow, the quality of his sweets was not the same anymore, that something was missing. He promised his old customer that he would look into it, telling him that he had been busy spending all his time with his new love – promotion – and hadn’t really had the chance to visit his kitchen. Maybe, the cooks there had forgotten some ingredient. He will surely look into it.

When he discussed this matter with his friend, the prachaaria, the man told him something that he had missed. His sweets had been getting old-fashioned, they were good and honest and full of richness, but they looked old-fashioned, and newness was the ingredient which was missing. The sweetmeat maker thought about it, maybe his friend was right, he hadn’t had the time for months to go to the kitchen and create some new type of delicious sweets and surprise the taste buds of his customers. But what could he do, he was spending all his time in promotional activities, working with the prachaaria, trying to source new materials for the banners, new kind of shiny inks for writing on them, and thinking of new kinds of slogans and limericks to attract people. It was hard work and it took all his time. He had a time problem, he just didn’t have the time to spend weeks in the kitchen, experimenting like before. His prachaaria friend suggested a solution. What if he used some of their promotional talents in the sweets themselves? “If they can create new banners, inlay them with precious stones, they can do the same with sweets too.” “But how can you make sweets with stones in them?”, asked the shocked sweetmeat maker. “They may be precious, but they are still stones. Whoever heard of sweets with stones?” “Why not?”, asked his friend. “And they shouldn’t stop at that, they should change the colours of the sweets too. What if there were shining cobalt blue jalebis, bronze-coloured imartis, and metallic golden thandai?” Something didn’t seem right to the sweetmeat maker, this was not the way sweets should be, with stones in them and metallic colours on them, but he knew that his friend was only trying to help, as usual. Besides, he had just no time to spend in the kitchen, he had to think of the next month’s and next year’s promotion plans, which was so important. He reached his shop and ordered his cooks to make the new type of sweets. They tried to convince him against this, some even revolted, but he was a firm and decisive man. This is the way it would be, and those who did not like it could leave. That was a sad day in his life, when some of the oldest maharajs (cooks) left him, unable to come to terms with his new plans.

Even his wife was sceptical. “It’s fine that the expensive banners worked for you on the road,” she said, “but why are you putting all those strange things in your sweets? Don’t corrupt your sweets with all these strange shiny things.” She cried, “Let them be pure and healthy and delicious, as they always have been; instead, spend some time in the kitchen like you used to before, to create some more sweets which are pure and wholesome.” “They are not strange shiny things, they are the ‘item jewels’ of my banners, which the people on the road see and get attracted to my shop. It is only right that they find the same item jewels in the sweets, otherwise they will be disappointed, don’t you understand,” he snapped. As merchants’ wives often did then, she kept quiet to keep peace in the house, but didn’t change her opinion. Sweetmeats should be sweetmeats, and jewels should be jewels, and that is how life is, she thought.

The next six months were the most exciting period of the sweetmeat maker’s life. He started the promotional campaign to introduce the jewelled sweets in expensive metallic colours, with great fanfare all across the kingdom. For weeks leading to the day of introducing, street after street was covered with gold, silver and bronze banners, with famous dancing girls performing on the road below, and jesters cracking jokes about life all twenty-four hours on street corners leading to his shop. There was free food at these events, and his friend, the prachaaria, had convinced him to offer free wine too. After all, if people have a good time in your name, they will remember you and your shop, and your business will benefit. But the sweetmeat maker’s wife was not happy. “You are no more the passionate, artistic sweetmeat maker whom I married, you have become a prachaaria,” she said. “It’s not in your nature to be like them, they have their art and you have yours.” It pinched the sweetmeat maker somewhere in his heart because he knew it was true, but he didn’t have the time to fight with her. He had other worries on his mind which he had hidden from her.

All this promotion and prachaar, the golden banners, the precious stones, the dancers, the jesters and the free wine had cost him a lot. He had borrowed money from the moneylenders, offering them a partnership in his shop, and he had secretly pawned his home to them for even more money which the prachaar needed every day. He no longer fully owned either his shop or his house or even his sweets. In his heart of hearts, he secretly detested the new kind of sweets he was going to sell. Their strange artificial taste, the ugly jewels in them, their metallic colours, they all made him secretly uncomfortable. “But this is what people like, haven’t I seen how they collect under every jewelled banner I put up? If people have such strange tastes, what can I do,” he consoled himself.

The day he actually introduced the new sweets to the public, there were thousands of people outside his shop for just a taste of them. It made his chest swell up with pride. “I have been worrying needlessly, the proof of my prachaar is here in front of my eyes,” he thought, assuming that the new sweets would be a big hit even if he didn’t like them himself. He had decided that by evening, he would run to the moneylenders and buy his house and his shop back. And by the next morning, he would personally go and bring back the old cooks who had left him, and show them how people were loving the new sweets. “This will change their mind,” he smiled to himself.

But the evening turned out to be different from what he had thought. The crowds, after tasting the new sweets, first thinned, then disappeared completely, people mumbling unflattering things about what they ate. They found the taste artificial, the embedded jewels got stuck in their teeth, and the metallic colours scared their children. It was as clear as river water. The sweetmeat maker had lost everything in his gamble. His shop, his house, his friends and his reputation.

He asked his prachaaria friend for advice. Surely, he would have a magical way out of this disaster. “You can’t say my prachaar wasn’t good,” said the prachaaria, sipping cardamom tea and smiling, “After all, people came to the shop in thousands, didn’t they?” “But they didn’t like the new sweets,” whispered the sweetmeat maker. “That is your art, my friend, that is your decision, I only offered suggestions which you asked for,” said his friend. “My art is promoting, which nobody can blame of failing,” he said, adding, “Didn’t I bring you the biggest crowd in a hundred years?” “But the horrendous, ugly, metallic sweetmeats?” asked the sweet- meat maker weakly, his head spinning.

“I told you, that is your art, my friend, you would know that better,” said the prachaaria. “I don’t know why all my clients spend all their time thinking of new ways of prachaar when they should be spending all their time thinking of new ways to make their product better,” he said. “This happens each time, and I don’t know why,” he said to himself, getting up and walking away whist- ling to himself, dreaming of new banners and jewels and wine festivals with which a product could be promoted.

“He can only think of his art,” muttered the merchant to himself. “In fact, he thinks about it day and night.”

It reminded him of the times he thought day and night about the new sweets he would create, and how happy he was. His patrons and their smiles were his greatest prachaar, and it didn’t even cost anything.

The producer today is no different from the sweetmeat maker. Marketing and promotion have consumed him so completely that he has forgotten to make films and is engaged full-time in the business of promoting his films in such a way that the audience comes to the cinemas anyhow. Quality of the films he produces? What’s that?!? – Editor Komal Nahta

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