By Koral Dasgupta
When Mohabbatein released in 2000, an old single screen theatre called Mrinalini in Dum Dum, Kolkata was decked up with lights and flowers. On top of the building, a huge dummy of Shah Rukh Khan was planted – sitting in formals, sweater hanging from shoulders, head tilted, spectacled eyes shut, playing violin! A gigantic garland made up with marigolds and rajnigandha hung from his neck! That was “Sahrukh da” for the local neighbourhood-mastan of Bengal, whose idea of romance was all about garlanding Mr Khan and playing up whistles at the hero’s entry scene or throwing coins at action/rain/dance sequences! After all, what is the worth of a star unless he’s been awarded with those coins and whistles coming live from the aam janta.
In those days I was still a student and would unconsciously stop mid-way looking up at the sky-touching dummy, only to be whacked on the head by my parents signaling me to move on! They would mock at my childish response towards an actor and advise me to grow up. God knows how they would have reacted, had they known that I and some friends had “blacked” the tickets of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai some two years before and picnicked on the money earned. Neither did they ever speculate that exactly 13 years after I would cut a cake in front of Mannat to celebrate my book being accepted for publication by Westland Tranquebar Press, while Aisi Deewangi and Ye Kaali Kaali Ankhen played on mobiles to offer celebratory music!
In the process of writing a book on Shah Rukh Khan’s marketing talent, I never had marketing of the book in mind. I never thought I’ll actually end up completing it. When I was mentally prepared to publish the chapters on Facebook, Westland offered to transform my pumpkin into Cinderella’s wheel! Soon after the book was ready to hit the stands and the word “SALE” was looking at me with unapologetic shamelessness. (After all, an author is supposed to be her own Salesman – PR – Broker – Model – Page3 columnist and everything else you can think of.)
I thought since it is a book on SRK, everyone would jump in and buy it willingly! Didn’t someone say Shah Rukh (and whatever) sells in India? But alas, not even a crow cheered for free in 2014. Things stopped at a few “I am happy for you” and “congrats” messages. To add to my injured, deflated ego, hilarious things started happening. I had started posting info about my book in relevant FB pages to bring it to general notice. (Desperate Writer!) A day after I had posted my cover image in one such page, I was updated that there was a comment. I quickly went to the post expecting someone may have asked about the book. Tough luck! Some insurance guy has commented on my post to advertise about his insurance products; it was titled in caps : LIFE INSURANCE HOME INSURANCE CAR INSURANCE!!!
Whenever you become an author, two things happen to you. One, from the Chacha next door to the Sirjee of your multinational, everyone will say, “I want an author signed complimentary copy of the book!” You are dawned with a realization that since you had nothing else to do in life, you wrote a book only to distribute copies for free. And two, strange people will come up to you and say, “Hey I have also written a book; pass me your contacts!” Dude, haven’t you ever heard of social media? Go reach out there and help yourself like I did! So the book was not showing me dollar signs yet, but vasooliwale aa gaye!
With a vengeance I attacked Twitter. Hardly had I known anything about this game. It felt I am talking aloud like a lunatic when no one is listening. But I couldn’t afford to leave out the huge twitter crowd and not try converting them to my customers. Some 10 odd people who followed me inboxed RT suggestions regularly!
Back home my author husband, Tuhin A. Sinha raised a debate. Being an image-conscious writer of political fictions, he was very much against me using a pseudonym for the purpose of the book. “Who is Koral Dasgupta? And how will you justify that two different names belong to the same person? It would create complications in your own profile!” He reasoned. But having suffered all my life with a name which is a Sanskrit word, spelt in English and pronounced in Bengali, I was determined to adopt a name that slips out of the jaw easily. I love my original name, but I certainly don’t like it mispronounced. Like all husbands do, mine too left the argument after a point. Much later I asked him what exactly was his problem with “Koral”? He said, “People would think I have two wives!”
When I was swimming through these uncertainties and could actually see the end of the tunnel, DNA WestCoast carried a report on the book and Mr Khan retweeted the link. This single re-tweet was impactful enough to turn some spotlights towards the product. Power of the Common Man, by Jove! Suddenly journos were more receptive towards whatever I had to say. A lady called up one fine morning to take an interview. She asked me to talk about my struggles! She insisted that I must have had a sob story, either in my growing up years or in finding a publisher or with reaching out to Mr Khan! When I flatly said I didn’t exactly have to struggle, she was extremely disappointed and said angrily, then say whatever you wish to say!! (Authors also need to rate high on spice-o-meters.)
My otherwise silent social media profiles sprang up with active, multiple posts every day. Even my twitter profile seemed meaningful and I had started talking to some people who cared for what I said! In fact my first customer came from Twitter. Twitter also got me to interact with some people from Russia, Algeria, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, London, Indonesia, Germany, all asking about the book! Some of them could not even speak English or Hindi. One lady had sent me an audio message which said in broken English, “Send me a copy of the book and let me know what I have to pay”! And then there was this man who made some weird demands. When I said no to him, he said, “If you can’t send the book then tell SRK; he’ll send. And give me his number so that I can talk to him directly!!!”
I think along with social media, I gathered sufficient publicity while working on my laptop sitting in coffee shops and local trains! I kept the cover image of the book open and switched into that at regular intervals. On-goers and co-passengers asked me what I was working on and spread the word! (SRK’s hook and my crook.) The best advice though came from a friend. He said, “Write two more books on the two other Khans and declare that these three books will prove who has the biggest following among the triumvirate! Then let the supporters do their job and you sit back minting money.”
With such increased attention I was happily in seventh heaven. I was writing short mails to everyone in my mailing list, telling them about the book. One of these days I got a response mail which had a good wish for my book and a lot of information about an NGO that the sender is running. I returned a mail to congratulate the efforts. Soon, I received a Facebook friend request from the sender. And while scrolling through her profile, I find an update which writes “Today some random author spammed me about a book on marketing the SRK way…..I spammed her back with info on the NGO”! Me? Random Author? Spammed!!! The Cloud 9 was ruthlessly slammed back on the ground. So, humbled back to my senses even before the wings had spread enough. In retrospect though, this happens to me every time! I remember when I was in college, my darling cousins often made me happy by saying that I smile like Madhuri Dixit. I behaved as if I was indifferent; but felt like a queen privately. One day when that admiration session was on and I was basking in glory, the silly maid stopped wiping the floor and looked up to verify. Her immediate reaction was, “She? Madhuri Dixit? Have you guys gone mad? Madhuri is so beautiful. And look at her! Jhalli!” She resumed work and everyone else was left speechless. Ouch!
Today, the book has started its own journey beyond the confines of my supervision. Only thing that I have to tell the world is : here’s available, a man worth of 600 crores at INR395 flat! Total Faide ka sauda? And I also want to tell that interviewer who asked me to sell a pencil to him in my campus interview and left unconvinced : today I have packaged the biggest seller of India in 300 odd pages and I am selling him all over the world; ab to maan jao ki mujhe bhi bechna aata hai???
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People are so mean, and stingy too. Koral, I hope the book is available on eBay worldwide and Amazon sites because Indians and non-Indians abroad are sometimes more interested in these types of books. Since people abroad don’t have as much access to shows on these stars’ lives. they are often searching for magazines and books about them.
Hey its available in both ebay and Amazon!
Koral…terrific piece…riveting and all too true…but let me tell you…you are not alone in your book travails…sabke saath hota hai. Aur hota rahega etc. Know that’s no consolation…but how about a smile now? Must know if the frank speaking maid was right or wrong.
Thank you so much, @KhalidMohammed! I’ll still be ok if my book sells less, but nothing can beat the “aatma pe dhakka” offered by that “maid ki sachchai”!!!! 😀 😀 😀
@burcidi thanks 🙂 Yes its available in those online sites now.