Selling Nostalgia: What We Want Is What We Get

Published on 14 Jul 2016 . 4 min read

Come the rains and everyone goes wistful. WhatsApp overflows with kagaz-ki-kashti shayari and our eyes go moist.  A popular one is–you knew you grew up in the seventies if you remember the Doordarshan logo and the accompanying tune and so on.

P….. is the name of a recently popular soft drink brand that has ‘new-old’ flavors like chili guava and jal jeera--‘new’ because they are a departure from the mixed fruit, orange, mango and peach; ‘old’ because they recreate the flavors of yesteryears, when many of us hogged street food with nary a care of infection. Now these flavors, in ‘quick drink’ format, come in attractive paper bottles, untouched by human hands. It is nostalgia in a new package.

We love remakes of old films (and God knows the genre is an industry in itself.) We love biopics; actors and their makeup artistes spend long hours and hard cash to recreate that look. Most importantly, the songs! Those truly heart-stirring melodies hook us and we are prepared to watch the ‘new-old’ movie once with family, again with friends, and perhaps once again alone.

Emotional creatures that we are, we will opt for anything that tugs at the heart strings. We shed a few tears and forget about the more pressing problems of the present. A good cry is like a good wash. It cleanses you and helps you move forward.

When emotion hits, we feel urged to act. In this case, have that soft drink or watch that film. Like dormant volcanoes, founts well up in the eyes; you reach out and buy the product and maybe one for the urchin tugging at your T-shirt. And I must confess that I have watched a song from a remake many times on YouTube and WhatsApp.

Our culture lionizes nostalgia. It is our elixir. So deeply do we yearn a sip of the nostalgia (that feeling that melts our insides as the mind pleasures itself in longing for the past), that we tend to overlook the drawbacks of the product, simply because it transports us to our kagaz-ki-kashti of the kinder years. We attach especial value to the past (that we have lived or others have lived before us) because it reminds us of simpler times.

The recreation of this simplicity, though, is a well-crafted economic strategy. Let’s take the recent case of a Marathi film Ekk Albela, the story of Bhagwan Dada’s rise and fall. I could not find the exact budget, but I found this:

“Ekk Albela is a director’s film and all the credits goes to Shekhar Sartandel for researching and recreating the golden era of Indian Cinema considering Marathi film’s budget.”

“The movie collects approx Rs. 2.32 on its first day of releasing and increases by the week passed and comes to Rs. 4.3 cr. in its first weekend and is still running on the screens of theaters with a positive response from the audience.”

Putting the two together, there was clearly s positive return on investment. However, speaking of the quality of the product, a review opines that ‘what doesn’t work is the story itself’. It speaks of a haphazard first half, and states that “the film does not deliver enough of the ‘wow’ factor to scratch the surface of what is already known to most people..”

In view of this, what is making the film tick? Could the reason possibly be that “The highlight is off course the songs recreation from the original. This movie can be watched only for these songs too.”

In a nutshell, even though investment is low and the product far from excellent, expect good returns because the USP is nostalgia.

What we want is what we get.

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Madhuri Maitra
Madhuri Maitra published her first two books in 2014. Haiku and other Micropoetry is a collection of short verse on nature, love and life; while Equinox is a novel dealing with urban realities. Madhuri lives in Pune and teaches Film Appreciation in addition to Creative Writing. She also conducts workshops for children and adults. Read more on her website .

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