French producer Alain Chamas called Amitabh Bachchan a one-man industry in the late seventies, when eight of his films – released almost simultaneously – had an unprecedented success at the box office. Over 30 years later, Bollywood has got another claimant to that epithet.
Dabangg 2 has proved once again why Salman Khan is just unstoppable at the moment. The sequel to the sensation that featured the exploits of a rowdy cop is Khan’s fifth consecutive film that has grossed over Rs 100 crore – a feat no one else has been able to achieve.
Though the 48-year-old, who was earlier dubbed prince of darkness and has been known for his reluctance to wear shirts and frequent run-ins with the law, has been around for a long time, his gradual ascent to one of the most coveted brands in Bollywood started only after Wanted, in 2009. And then came Dabangg in 2010 followed by Ready, Bodyguard, Ek Tha Tiger and, most recently, Dabangg 2.
Before Wanted happened, Khan was going through a tough phase when a series of his films went unnoticed (Veer, London Dreams, Salam-e-Ishq, Yuvvraaj etc).
Suniel Wadhwa, film trade analyst, says Salman has seen two major phases in his career. When No Entry was released in 2005, he was labelled a comic actor and got many films in the same genre. “But then, suddenly there was a dull period and he gave six consecutive flops. The second phase came in 2009 with Wanted, which gave him back his action star image.”
Meanwhile, he continued with his presence on the small screen, first as a host of Dus Ka Dum on Sony Entertainment Television and later of Bigg Boss on Colors. The commercial success of his films and presence on TV increased his mass appeal. Along with that, he has been scoring off the box office, too, with his initiative — Being Human – being wooed by many companies.
Naturally, his brand appeal has gone up. Khan endorses quite a few big brands like Thums Up, Tiger Biscuits, Wheel and Suzuki Hayate and even some smaller ones such as Relaxo, Revital and Dixcy Scott. In fact, he is also playing a double role as the brand ambassador and an investor for travel portal yatra.com (the superstar has picked up a shade less than 5 per cent stake in the company).
But the good news ends here. Brand experts say despite the dizzying heights of success in movies, Khan has not been able to replicate that formula as a brand ambassador. So while he has been endorsing mass brands, he has not been able to associate himself with a classy or family brand value, which a Bachchan or even Shah Rukh has been able to achieve.
Shailesh Kapoor, co-founder and CEO of Ormax Media, a media research and consulting firm which uses Celebritix software that allows brands to maximise value out of their celebrity endorsements, explains, “Till three years back, there was a lot of negative perception about Salman. But post 2010, his films worked and his initiative Being Human made him a more acceptable brand among advertisers. The earlier bad boy image is not there anymore and there is a certain kind of positivity and mass appeal. But the point is simple: while he leads in physical attributes like style, looks, etc, he still lags behind on emotional attributes like trustworthiness. Not many brands who want to be associated with these attributes have used him”.
Anirban Das Blah, MD and CEO of KWAN Entertainment & Marketing Solutions, agrees. “Salman may be the biggest star today, but he only caters to mass brands, which are looking for a certain masculine, man-of-the-street image. You can’t imagine him in brands like Airtel, or Docomo”.
Blah says what is interesting is that Being Human, his organic NGO initiative, has helped in his universal appeal. But “while everyone talks about it as a fantastic initiative, very few actually knows what it is.”
Brand experts say his controversial personal life has also acted against evolution of his mass appeal into class appeal. In 2002, he was arrested for rash and negligent driving — his car had run into a bakery in Mumbai and one person died. His relationship with Aishwarya Rai became a well-publicised topic in the media even after they broke off in 2002 after she accused him of harassing her. Then in 2006, he was jailed for hunting black buck.
Brand experts say all these made sure that his brand appeal got restricted only to a certain section of the society. “There is no doubt he remains a hearththrob of the masses and many brands are chasing him for that. But it’s equally true the classes have still not accepted him wholeheartedly,” says a consultant.
He may have a point, but things may be changing finally — as is evident from Dabaang 2’s success in the multiplexes. For, Khan was always a demigod for single-screen theatres, but the fact that multiplex audiences also have started going for his films in larger numbers now shows his appeal may be finally extending.