Bollywood, India’s film industry, always aims to please. That desire makes film a powerful part of the nation’s psyche and an unparalleled medium for brand promotion.

There are rumors that Sanjay Dutt, Bollywood’s equivalent of Bruce Willis, wants to buy the rights to “Ghostbusters” and plans to cast himself as Dr. Peter Venkman, the part made famous by Bill Murray. For the Indian version, our three parapsychologists’ quest to bust ghosts would be interspersed with regular song-and-dance routines — a feature of almost all Bollywood films.

Other recent adaptations of Hollywood films to Bollywood style include “E.T.” (“Kol Mil Gaya”) and “Forrest Gump” (“My Name is Khan”). Despite the rapid development of new-media channels in India in recent years, an evolving Bollywood still provides the most aspirational and engaging content for local audiences. Bollywood’s stellar performance appeals to brands targeting upwardly mobile Indian consumers.

One of the biggest films of 2011, “Bodyguard,” featured perennial leading man Salman Khan as Lovely Singh, an ordinary man performing heroic deeds to rescue the girl in peril. Mr. Khan’s signature dance moves and dialogue were aped by adoring fans, as were his polo shirts, boots and sunglasses, creating a profitable line of endorsements from local brands.  PepsiCo’s‘s Mountain Dew has also leveraged the viral masculinity of Mr. Khan’s film persona to inspire and challenge urban Indian males in Mountain Dew ads.

Bollywood film 'Aisha' inspires new brand.

While “Bodyguard” successfully repackaged traditional film styles, a new generation of affluent Indian audiences has moved Bollywood in different directions. The 2010 romantic comedy “Aisha” focused on the luxury lifestyle of Delhi’s elite, a cinematic world saturated with brands.

The clothes worn by lead actress Sonam Kapoor, a renowned fashion icon, were created in conjunction with Salvatore Ferragamo and Christian Dior — the first time international luxury brands had so intimately tied themselves to a star and script in a Bollywood production.  L’Oreal Paris launched an Aisha Collection of fragrances and ran TV ads featuring Ms. Kapoor to coincide with the film’s release — creating a new benchmark for branded product placement and endorsements.

Forevermark, part of the De Beers group, is also using movies to create awareness. To appeal to the increasingly international Indian middle class, the diamond brand did product placement in the recent romantic comedy “Desi Boyz.” The film follows two Indian men in London who lose their careers to the recession but find true love by reconnecting with their Indian identity. Forevermark window displays are included in romantic song sequences, connecting it with a modern form of romance popular with the rising group.

International adventure was also a key theme of last year’s surprise hit “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,” a story of three young professionals who embark on a road trip in Spain to celebrate their friend’s engagement. The story focused on the challenges of modern Indians balancing the traditional expectations of family. But it also served as  branded entertainment promoting Spain as a destination in collaboration with Turespana, the Spanish tourism authority.

Films that address concerns of the Indian middle class bolster the credibility of Bollywood for brands. Protest against persistent official corruption was a theme of “No One Killed Jessica,” in which a heroic journalist fights to expose a murder covered up by crooked police. The more lighthearted “Singham” showcases an upstanding cop who uses gravity-defying fighting skills to beat the corruption out of a small city. The film played to cheering urban crowds vicariously venting their frustrations with the leading character’s every blow.

This seamless infusion of trends and social issues helps Bollywood maintain its status as the ultimate dream factory where aspirations and desires are lived out. Its ability to constantly redefine itself in tune with the profound economic and social changes in India ensures Bollywood’s unique status as a national medium in a diverse nation of one billion consumers.

And Bollywood still provides brands an unsurpassed way to create emotional and engaging stories.

Written for AdAge by Jerry Clode, associate director of cultural insight for Added Value

Thumbnail image from Thinkstock. Aisha image via AdAge

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