Dr Cabbie: Mixing Bollywood with Hollywood

thestar.com   2014/09/15

Dr. Cabbie weaves a tale of two movie marketing campaigns

Comedy is the latest in string of notable releases pairing Hollywood names with South Asian actors in plots exploring the immigrant experience

Adrianne Palicki and Vinay Virmani star in Dr. Cabbie, playing in theatres Sept. 19.

George Kraychyk

Adrianne Palicki and Vinay Virmani star in Dr. Cabbie, playing in theatres Sept. 19.

In theatres this Friday, Dr.Cabbie is a film about an Indian immigrant who winds up driving a taxi in Toronto because his medical degree isn’t recognized here. It’s also the tale of two marketing campaigns: one promoting the film to a mainstream audience; and another targeting the South Asian community.

That means while distributor Entertainment One goes the traditional route, placing the film’s trailer on Hollywood movies such as 22 Jump Street and branding taxis, specialty agency Ethnicity Multicultural Marketing + Advertising Inc. is pushing the film at South Asian media and events.

The marketing budget is split evenly between both entities, on the assumption that the comedic take on the hardship of a foreign-trained professional will also resonate as a universal fish-out-of-water story with non-immigrants.

Featuring ’s Kunal NayyarBig Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar, Dr. Cabbie is the latest in string of notable releases, including Million Dollar ArmDisney’s Million Dollar Arm and The Hundred-Foot Journey, which pair Hollywood names with South Asian actors in plots exploring the immigrant experience.

“Hollywood is starting to realize that’s it’s an international market and you see that in casting,” said Joanna Miles, vice-president of marketing at eOne Films. “They’ll have someone who is Latino, they’ll have someone who’s African American, they’ll have someone who’s Asian . . . so that their films translate internationally, as well as at home. That’s definitely something that’s trending right now.

Another popular example is series,The Fast and the Furious series, with its mixed casts that include African Americans, Asians and Hispanics, said Ethnicity Multicultural Marketing + Advertising partner Bobby Sahni.

“Their last two films had record-breaking opening weekends and it’s been credited to the diversity that’s showcased in the film. They realize that in order to put additional bums in seats, you need to have that reflection.”

However, it comes with the recognition that some audiences require different messaging. Jon Hamm While Mad Men star Jon Hamm and baseball might have been the appeal for many North American consumers’ interest in Million Dollar Arm, those with South Asian roots might have been keener on the film’s cricket angle and well-known Indian co-stars.

“Of course we focused on our core demographic, which is South Asians who are very avid moviegoers,” said Cabbie lead actor/co-writer Vinay Virmani whose family’s FirstTake Entertainment is also the film’s co-producer.

“And so far that seems to be working, because the buzz from our social media reports and the reactions that we measure to the trailer, people are really taking notice of it, and it’s beyond the South Asian community.”

Toronto film commissioner Zaib Shaikh was at the forefront of diverse casting with Little Mosque on the Prairie which ran on CBC from 2007 to 2012.

“That was a big leap forward and since then we’ve seen television shows and films increasingly become more oriented toward the South East Asian experience within the Canadian context, within the North American context,” he said.

Life of Pi is a Canadian book that turned into a Hollywood film made by an Asian, Oscar-winning director. That’s the kind of beauty that globalization and representation of diversity can give you.

“I think we are on track. Now what comes of it? Can we take the next step and really have global media, global films, telling universal stories seen in the box office numbers by a whole bunch of people? That’s going to take more concerted effort: studios, producers, unions and guilds, the industry itself, is going to have to want to tell those stories more.”

Virmani’s similarly multi-ethnic first film, Breakaway, which dealt with discrimination in hockey, was the highest grossing English film in Canada in 2011 with close to $2 million domestic box office, and also sold well in South Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia, according to its producers.

“My goal is develop a company here producing material that maybe is a bit diverse, that’s not afraid to take that risk, but at the same time structure the projects in a way that they are commercially viable,” said the 29-year-old filmmaker who recalled his public high school in Oakville celebrating both Diwali and Chinese New Year.

“We really are on the cusp of having our own identity as a Canadian film world. We have to leave Hollywood to the Americans and Bollywood to the Indians. We have to make the best Canadian films that really speak to and depict our society and our society is diverse.”

Next week, the Ethnicity agency’s founders, Sahni and Howard Lichtman, former head of multicultural marketing at Rogers Communications Inc. and a former vice-president of marketing and communications at Cineplex, respectively, will debut a “Multicultural Marketing and Sales Planning” course at York University’s Schulich Education Centre. They say one in every three dollars spent in our economy comes from multicultural consumers.

“I call myself a multicultural marketer, but the hope is that in the next 10, 15 years, maybe shorter, it will just be marketing and that all marketers and advertisers will realize this is a component of marketing in Canada and that understanding the ethnic community is just as important as understanding digital and social and everything else,” said Sahni.

Categories: Americas, Asia, Canada

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