Dilani Rabindran



VISHWAROOPAM: A Lesson in Crisis Communications, Vishwaroopam, Kamal Haasan


They say “any publicity is good publicity”, but truthfully no one wants to deal with publicity around business-halting scandals. This fact rings especially true in the film industry when hard-working artists put their life-savings and personal reputations on the line for productions. However, when such complications do arise, public relations teams turn to carefully plotted crisis management plans to guide public announcements –careful recipes that help parties maintain credibility with stakeholders and update the uninformed public. Whether knowingly or not, Kamal Hassan provided a model example of proper crisis communications throughout Vishwaroopam’s many ordeals in Tamil Nadu.

Today marks one month since the film overcame barriers and released in Tamil Nadu, and since then the film has grossed a whopping 200 plus crores. Many believe that the ban only incited more people to view the film, and already diehard “Kamalians” to view it multiple times in the theatre. The eventual resolution of the ban and any benefits that ultimately came from it were heavily due to Kamal Hassan’s impeccable public relations skills.

General lessons in crisis leadership teach you that responding to the public during crises is key to maintaining an organization’s reputation, and how well it is done will dictate how much public support you receive. Kamal has always had an enormous amount of public support, but in the wake of the ban he became a “fed up artist”, and could have easily communicated messages of anger that would have provoked increased public outrage. Instead, he remained calm and professional and delivered solid communications that only helped him win further support. In fact, according to “Crisis Leadership Now” by Dr. Laurence Barton, Kamal provided all 6 necessary elements of ideal crisis communications:

In the first conference he summoned on January 30th Dr. Hassan took control, corrected inaccuracies, delivered bad news and above all, reinforced his core values of non-violent resolution, his personal patriotism and his continued political and religious secularism. And, in a move of pure professionalism, he repeatedly refused to place blame on any particular interest group for the hardships he was facing. He then went on to promise action by explaining he would await justice from the court, and defeated difficult questions handed to him by the press with aplomb and tenacity. Similarly, on February 7th, the legendary artist reinforced his new core messages of gratitude and promised action to honor the support he received by continuing to better himself as an artist. But what stood out most during all of Kamal’s historic press releases were his poignant anecdotes and emotionally moving declarations. With statements like “the height of valor is nonviolence” and “you fought for my freedom as if it was your own” Kamal Hassan carefully demonstrated a balance of artistic sensitivity and business-driven crisis management skills, and he immediately became even more memorable.

But even without analyzing his excellently executed press conferences, it can be seen that Kamal generally aced his PR test by constantly responding to setbacks with professionalism and stoic resolve. For instance, he immediately announced he would take “legal methods of action” and never once encouraged public protests as a means to persuade government decisions. When agreeing to make cuts to the film and thanking Chief Minister Jayalalitha for her public statements, he demonstrated his cooperative spirit and helped speed up mediation. And, aside from his press conferences and elegantly produced video statements, probably the most intelligent public relations move Kamal Hassan has made to date is evident in the fact that we have barely heard from him since the film released a month ago; despite breaking box-office records and having every right to gloat Hassan is allowing the film to speak for itself. His few communications since the release have been humbly repeated messages of gratitude and acknowledgement that there are lessons to be learned from the whole ordeal. In other words – he is the epitome of class.

During his February 7th press conference Kamal Hassan historically announced that he was “waiting for [everyone] to see the film to tell [him] if all [his] troubles were worth it”. 200 plus crores in earnings confirms that it indeed was, but it is my belief that the profound rewards he has reaped to date are not only a testament to the film, but to Kamal Hassan and his team’s mastery of crisis management. Well played, sir.

Source: Barton, L. Crisis Leadership Now: A Real-World Guide to Preparing for Threats, Disaster, Sabotage and Scandal. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.

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