The demand for luxury brands is increasing in India. Brands Illustrated’s Srishti Taneja gets up, close and personal with Noemie Levieux, the brand ambassador of Remy Martin in India
Tell us something about yourself?
I’ve been brought up in France and have now spent four years in India. Ironically, it was only when I arrived in India that I fi rst became formally associated with French wine and spirits. Unknowingly of course, I had actually charted this path into the world of wine, spirits and luxury right through my childhood. I was born in the heart of champagne, in the city of Reims and spent most of my time growing up in Burgundy. If that wasn’t enough, I then moved to Bordeaux for my higher studies. All along, vineyards, wine and cognac were second nature to me and happily I never realised I would be able to build my profession around these.
Since how long have you been associated with Remy Martin?
My association with Remy Martin extends far beyond my time in India and takes me back to memories of growing up in a typical French family where wine, cognac and the grape in general are quite acceptable for a little girl like myself in early teenage years – only for a taste though.
What is the target audience of Remy Martin in India?
We have seen that surprisingly Remy Martin appeals to men and women of all ages. While Remy Martin VSOP has been very popular with the slightly younger audience as a chilled shot, cocktail, as well as neat and on-the-rocks, Remy Martin XO continues to be loved by the more discerning as a post-dinner drink or even serve as its own occasion. Only the ultimate connoisseur finds their calling in the fi nest and most complex of cognacs – LOUIS XIII. It is a blend of 1,200 eaux de vie originating from the Grand Champagne region which are aged for up to 100 years.
Creating popularity for luxury brands is a diffi cult marketing exercise. What eff orts do you think work out the best?
As far as luxury is considered, small is beautiful. We create beautiful showcases worthy of our Cognacs and ensure that our exclusive coterie of consumers are able to fully appreciate Remy Martin and LOUIS XIII in an intimate environment.
Luxury brands are better marketed in the fi rst world nations. As the brand ambassador, what diff erence do you fi nd in promoting a brand in a developing country like India?
I don’t necessarily agree that fi rst world nations fi nd better luxury marketing. I actually fi nd that India, being the home of Maharajas and extravagance in general, is more suited for luxury spirits. LOUIS XIII in particular fi nds a strong connect with India and even hosted the global launch of the Limited Edition LOUIS XIII Rare Cask 42.6 in Udaipur in 2013.
What steps are taken to connect with the Indian audience?
The love aff air of Cognac with the Indian audience is not a new one. The very fi rst bottle of LOUIS XIII was brought into India back in 1881 and we are constantly only reminding the Indian audience of this love through its heritage.
What are the problems you faced in the Indian market? What is being done to overcome them?
The entire industry has faced challenges with FSSAI regulations of labelling over the past 12 months, but everyone remains optimistic of future growth as the country as a whole continues to expand its horizons.
With India’s growing luxury market, do you see liquor industry growing at the same pace?
As per IWSR, the cognac category in India has been growing at a CAGR of over 20 per cent for the 5 year period leading up to 2013.
Stories are either planted by PR agents or they are paid for
In India nothing sells like cricket and films. Going by that logic, sports journalists and those who write about films and the stars, should be the busiest and the most in demand fellas. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Sports writers can still travel the world to cover events. Their opinion and access to the players matter. Some of them eventually write books on their subjects and their sources that go on to become bestsellers. But things are very different for their peers on the other beat.
Old timers will tell you that the best stories came from hanging out on the sets, befriending spot boys and ADs, makeup artists and extras who could fill you in with colourful versions of what went inside the star’s vanity van. But sets are impenetrable fortresses these days. And units often wrap up entire schedules abroad. What’s more, the stars who did not mind sharing a few drinks with journalists and spilling out a secret or two about the actress he had been eyeing, have either gone senile or don’t matter any more. Those who matter have a very different approach towards media which they treat as a necessary evil.
In fact, one of the country’s reigning heartthrob, who belongs to filmdom’s first family, does not ever entertain calls from journalists and in order to ward them off, has saved some of their names as Ch***ya1 and so on. Then, of course, there is someone like Shah Rukh Khan, who opens up the grand doors of Mannat to the hordes of hungry journalists and photographers every time he has a film to promote. From treating them to biryani in his lawns to cosy drinking sessions and popcorn in this private theatre, he often has the media eating out of his hands.
But more than anything else, it is the twin blow of the all-powerful film public relations professionals and paid content that have rendered journalists covering the beat completely redundant. Stories are either planted by the PR agency insisting that the stars communicate only through them, cutting off access to the journalists. Or they are paid for – in order for the film to be promoted exactly the way the producers and the stars want it to be.
So where does one get the real stories? The so-called ‘real’ stories went out with the likes of Rajesh Khanna. When stars were an enigmatic lot. They had fiercely private lives despite the access they granted to some of the journalists they had learnt to trust. Their public appearances were few and far between. And they did not speak only if they had a film to promote. Which meant, the fans were hungry for every morsel of star news that the glossies would throw their way. That was also when stars did not use social media as a weapon. Some of the biggest stars in the country prefer to use the social media over their PRs, who have been entrusted with the role of fire-fighters, in case trouble breaks out.
A leading actress, who was till recently in the eye of a storm over her alleged relationship with a married A-lister, signed on a formidable Bollywood PR woman who is known for her crisis management skills. While she stuck to social media to plaster the world with her pouts and her girlfriend party pictures, this woman ensured that there was no story in the media that tarnished her carefully re-crafted mage. Yes, sometimes it involved calling up some of the biggest and most influential media honchos to ensure stop press orders.
So there you go. Pages are now filled with innocuous stories about tattoos, shopping trips and holiday snaps. While the real stories remain beyond reach for most Bollywood journalists, who are either mastering the art of rewriting press notes or hoping that some day he too gets invited to Mannat for a session with the Badshah over biryani and beer. If not to be printed, at least there would be something to boast to their grandchildren about.
This is an age-old irritatingly pertinent quandary, forever triggering endless debates with no conclusive results! Films that floor critics leave the masses cold. Films that blow the crowd are usually detested by the critics. Critics feel that the mass audience should rise and shine from the cinematic hell that they reside in (and enjoy), awaken to good taste and embrace a cinema that goes beyond the usual, predictable, clichéd cornball, populist entertainment forever catering to the lowest common denominator. The howling mobs – Public – for their turn feel (like Vidya Balan’s deathless words in Dirty Picture) that movies are first and last about: entertainment, entertainment and entertainment! Anything deep, meaningful, grim, slow, attempting to realistically depict the human condition is rubbish!
Theatre and film director Feroz Abbas Khan finds this debate fascinating enough to take first strike and offers his educated opinion. “There are two aspects to this discourse and they deal with time past and time present. Earlier on – across the sixties to the early eighties – mainstream commercial cinema coming out of B-town were consistently ridiculed by critics of hugely-circulated, English language publications. Middle of the road and art house cinema was praised to the skies. Interestingly, the readers of these critiques may not have necessarily been influenced enough to avoid the films under fire, but they enjoyed the witty sarcasm and patronising put-downers because somewhere, they seem to have felt as privileged peoples co-opted into that arty space, making them (at least momentarily) cultured, intellectual and superior.” All this changed, Khan believes, around the mid-eighties when marketing, selling and moolah took precedence over editorial clout, savagely marginalising, even eliminating, any cultural aspect to the newspaper business. Overnight, equations too changed between publications and showbiz when opportunities for mutual benefits were identified and explored in full measure. That marked the end of the snooty, hoity-toity critic of yesteryears and the beginning of a new era, where – in keeping with consumerist times – strategic alliance was the name of the game. Give n’ take. The Art and Culture space, due to this shift, obviously took a huge hit, because it completely slung to the back-burner (along with the smart Alecs) some genuinely great, evolved critics whose commentary and insights entertained and informed as much as they enriched. Now, Khan adds that space has mostly been trivialised with uninformed hacks, flashing trendy language and weird perspectives, desperately anxious to impress new-age readers seeking instant gratification. Also, promotion, marketing, PR and networking has become critical with serious funds and professional services allocated to it. “At the end of the day, it’s true that each film is destined to find its own audience,
‘The critics’ space has mostly been trivialised with uninformed hacks, fl ashing trendy language and weird perspectives, desperately anxious to impress new-age readers seeking instant gratifi cation’ but with the system being what it is, the worth of a film can only come from the audience once it reaches them. Right now, it seems that for people like us (small-budget) filmmakers, the journey to our audience is a nightmare.” Eminent danceractress Mamata Shankar – daughter of the legendary dancer Uday Shankar – is very clear that “It’s the audience that counts, not the critics!” The gifted actress who has worked with most top film-makers of Bengal (Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Gautam Ghosh, Rituparno Ghosh) is categorical about the fact that movies are meant for the audience – not critics, film festivals or awards. They are by-products. “For me, if a film touches my heart, reaches out and makes a difference, it’s a good film. It may not necessarily be deep, complex, nuanced and subtle but simply an engaging narrative that provides great viewing.” While the veteran actress admits that critics indeed do have a role, she laments that there are so few in numbers.
“I find it alarming that critics today are either into an arrangement, sold out or too preoccupied in exhibiting their academic and scholastic gyan while reviewing a simple, sweet film. Not required! Isn’t it their job to show us what we haven’t seen – and they have with their greater insightful knowledge of cinema – and thus leave us more educated and fulfilled? How many do that? For me, unfashionable and pleb as it may sound, people’s verdict is almost always what matters most.”
Eminent critic Ayesha Sen begs to differ. She feels it depends on which audience, critics and films one is talking about. “It cannot be a one-size-fits-all situation, because today there are films and films and films, a diverse audience and different kinds of critics. Any zombie knows that films are made for an audience – its not a private secret calling to be shared with your granny and dog! – but an Udaan,
Japanese Wife or Raincoat hardly has the same audience as Yeh Jaawani Hai Deewani, Dabangg or Race 2! Nor is it conceived, executed, pitched and promoted the same way, by the film makers, critics or trade. Different strokes for different folks … so are they/should they be ignored, side-tracked or dismissed because they didn’t hit the Rs 100 crore club? Many of the classics – Kaagaz ke phool – for example – didn’t resonate with the public of that era (but later were declared classics). Should they be rubbished? Popular acclaim and Box office response are hardly any indication of a film’s true worth except in commercial terms. Ray’s classics, put together, don’t make a tenth of any Karan Johar potboilers, so should they be forgotten and Kabhi Khushi or Kabhi Alvida celebrated? As for critics, they have truly become an endangered species, but the really (rare) good ones can – and do – provide soul-uplifting experiences that are cathartic eye-openers for the ignorant everyday viewer unfamiliar with sub-text, shadings or nuance.
So at the end of the day, might is not right, a show of hands doesn’t prove excellence and masses mostly are a***s, totally tunnel-viewed – due to conditioning – into cheap, populist entertainment!”
I remember having a conversation with actor Rahul Bose a few years ago, where I asked him which he coveted more – critical appreciation from the evolved and knowledgeable or Box office acclaim and he, point blank, admitted he rooted for the first! Sniggered a star, “No wonder he is where he is and his films, where they are: niche films seen by niche audience comprising Festivalwalas, critics and audience suffering from delusions of intellectual grandeur! Boss, films are made and meant for audience.” Sure, every film can’t invite mega-footfalls but they can at least attract ‘their’ kind of audience ensuring both appreciation and ROI. To look down on popular acclaim and mass approval and immediately brand them sadak chhaap and lousy is unfair, indicating complex, envy and lack of knowledge about how the system works. Also, critical acclaim, (while a great ego-massager and raising stakes in one’s private intellectual circles, like awards at film festivals) does nothing for popular connect. So one continues splashing around in that small pond, happy with niche shabashis, totally ignored by the world. Is that good? Doesn’t the actor want to move out into a bigger space?
Actor Sonam Kapoor recently went on record stating any actor denying that is ‘lying!’ Brash, sweeping and irresponsible as it may sound – especially coming from a person renowned mostly for grinning and posing as a L’Oreal model on the Cannes Red Carpet – the young lady however seems to have a point.
Be it the ultimate Actor’s Actor Naseer Shah or even today’s Irfaan Khan, both have acknowledged that the desire to be known and popular comes with the territory. While critical appreciation is intellectually satisfying and creatively fulfilling, being mobbed is a feeling that is overwhelming and few can deny that … and that comes from the masses! Ultimately to each his own, but the last words must come from a telling piece of dialogue in the Oscarwinner,
My week with Marylyn, where one of the performers says to the actor playing Lord Olivier, the problem is that stars forever want to be actors … and actors, stars. There is always that small, sneaking feeling of inadequacy that they haven’t really gone the distance, been truly challenged, explored and exploited to demonstrate their hidden reservoirs of talent. Don’t believe it? Check out Disco-dancer Mithun Chakravarty doing art and off-beat films and getting National Awards, Naseer Shah doing Oye- Oye in the pot-boiler Tridev and getting [startled] shabashis, SRK doing Swadesh and Chak De, Om Puri doing all those corny comic capers in endless masala movies, Bipasha doing films with Rituparno Ghosh and Prakash Jha, a planet away from her jism-shows, Kareena doing Omkara, Priyanka doing Saat Khoon Maaf … the list is endless. So, it’s really a tough one to crack and best left to where it came from … the critics and the audience. Your take is, as always, welcome! By Monojit Lahiri
Monojit Lahiri wonders whether it’s a timely new-age challenge or a dangerous and desperate misadventure.
Love, loss, longing, heartbreak reflect Shelley’s immortal lines: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of the saddest thoughts.” The Ghazal remains achingly committed to bringing a magical solace to the distraught lover, luxuriating in sublime sorrow – real or imagined – living the pain and pathos that intrinsically colours this genre. The iconic exponents of this enchanting form of music include Begum Akhtar, Farida Khanum, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh & Ghulam Ali among other stalwarts. The poetry quotient is as critical as the rendition, making it, almost, a spiritual voyage to the soul of all who have hearts that beat to the pangs of unrequited love…or are blessed to embrace heavenly bliss without boundaries. It can be best described as the art of public solitude where each listener believes that the Ghazal has penetrated his/her innermost being, laying bare his/ her most private thoughts and feelings…
Now comes news that – courtesy DD Urdu – a national reality show on Ghazal singing, entitled “Jashn-e-Begum Akhtar Talaash – Ghazal Mein Nayi Aawaz” will come to the Indian audiences soon. Ghazal entering the Reality Show domain! Sceptics are shocked. They believe that this genre is precious, private and gentle. It does not cater but speaks to our souls in rich and poetic language that caresses the heart while it soothes the mind. Reality shows, by and large – in contrast – are glamorous, over-the-top events dedicated mostly to celebrate Bollywood fare, mandated to convert the occasion to a superbly orchestrated and marketed circus catering to the vast, (uninformed), masalacrazed entertainment-driven masses. In this kind of a setting, where do Ghazals [a dying music form?] fit in? The late Jagjit Singh has gone down on record categorically stating that “Music reality shows don’t really nurture talent. They just provide fifteen minutes of fame. It is just another commercial product for the channels. Music, after all, is for inspiration, not competition. The moment competition comes in, the soul is lost. There are very few new, talented Ghazal singers because it is not a part of popular culture. Where are the opportunities, training modules or exposure?” Interestingly, another popular Ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas, has differing views. Forget the past. The focus has shifted and the young generation is attracted by these talent-hunt shows because of the platform it offers to reach their desired destination. Electronic channels and the media play a huge part in promoting Ghazals and reality shows are a great step in that direction because of its pre-sold-format with the masses.” So, what gives?
The person who has singlehandedly endeavoured to take ‘ammi’s’ spirit ahead by celebrating Begum Akhtar’s birthday with a ‘jashn’ for the last three decades and remains the moving spirit behind this reality show (along with Shri Tripurari Sharan, DGDD) is none other than one of the Begum’s most devoted & gifted protégés, Rita Ganguly. An artiste of repute, Ganguly believes that this move is a giant step in the right direction. “Ghazal is a dying musical form, largely because of the Bollywood-isation of music across the land. While their popularity is undeniable – across the globe – the Ghazal too remains a very popular genre for a large section of discerning listeners everywhere. Sure Lata, Asha, Rafi, Kishore and Mukesh are loved everywhere as are the new bunch of talented Bollywood singers but Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali, Hariharan and Bhupinder are not exactly forgotten. If they are not as popular, it’s because of market forces and commercialisation by the media that gives ratings and stars to best-selling products and promotes them with big budget marketing campaigns designed to rocket their brand equity to a different stratosphere. Comparatively, the gifted Ghazal singers are shrouded in obscurity, very high on talent but alas, very low on opportunities and exposure.” Ganguly insists that there is enough proof to indicate that Ghazals remain cherished by tons of talented young singers across the country. “The amount of CD’s we continue to receive for the initial screening is frightening in its quantity, totally slinging out the notion that Ghazals are dead and have no market. They may not be as popular as Agal Bagal or Gandi Baat but millions of people welcome them. This show is to take the Ghazal movement forward by placing it in the public domain through a channel that is not completely sold on TRPs and eyeballs but believes it has a responsibility because of India’s rich legacy, which is under threat from frivolous, populist and time-pass popcorn for the eyes and ears!” The super popular anchor of the Bengali general entertainment channel Akash Aath, Sharmishta Goswami Chatterjee, agrees. “It is a myth that our audiences only want and love commercial/ Bollywood music. My morning shows – 7 AM – 9 AM – are varied and encompasses several genres and each one of them attracts huge phone-ins, all the time!” Chatterjee laments that more channels don’t take the other genres seriously enough despite having a platform. “It is, I guess, both a pre-conceived notion and a non-risk move. Pity, because genres like Ghazals, classical and folk need to be nurtured to stay alive in the hearts of the listeners. I think DD’s move is fantastic and have no doubt that it will go a long way in saluting a musical form that is magical.”
Vipin Handa, however, dismisses both Ganguly & Chatterjee’s views with all the arrogance of a 25-year-old Bollywood diwana. “Hey guys, this is 2014, remember? Ya, sure Jagjit Singh and gang did their soulful numbers in the 80’s and 90’s but tell me something honestly: Did they ever gain even a fraction of what the RD-Kishore or Rafi, Asha, Lata numbers did? Boss, it was popular only among one kind of audience. Another thing. At least half of the guys who went for these concerts or professed love for these Ghazals were faking it! They didn’t understand nothing! They went because of the snob value. It made them feel culturally superior. Peer pressure. Their wah-wahs were invariably at the wrong places! The Ghazal is history and belonged to a time and place long vanished. No wonder DD – (which no one ever watches) with its sarkari sensibilities has taken it upon itself to try and revive the corpse. Take it from me, it will be watched only by a section of audiences who remain determined to hit the rewind button. Heavy duty Urdu, soulful renditions with instruments that are scary … boy, give me Yo Yo Honey Singh and Mika any day!” Celebrated dancer actress Mamata Shankar – daughter of the legendary Uday Shankar – concludes this discourse in style. She straightaway begins by stating that “Today’s reality shows are totally unreal! Everything – mostly – is fake or got-up. Several times, the winners are decided way before the final results are out. In many instances, the selection of judges are suspect because they seem to be there more for their glamour, less for their knowledge. Also their irritating parroting of stereotypical words – Mind-blowing, cool, great energy and body language, looks so cute – instead of genuine criticism/tips that will allow them to improve, does not help the show. I’ve participated in some of these shows but decided to opt out because it wasn’t really my cup of tea.” However, Shankar admits that with DD coming into the picture and stalwarts like Rita Ganguly and the present DG at the helm, good things could well happen because “they have a record of being passionate about their calling with impeccable integrity attached. Their vision is not touched by TRP or commercial considerations, but committed to take this magnificent cause forward. This reality show, finally, could be the Real thing. Good luck to them …” We say Amen … or is it Ameen … to it!