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Accessing idols

Published Sep 04, 2012 01:01pm


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Some years ago when Shah Rukh Khan started doing advertisements by the dozen, Anil Kapoor, his senior of sorts, sagely advised him not to. A firm believer in the old school, Kapoor believed that inaccessibility to an actor helped maintain their aura. Back in the day the veneer of a character made an actor readily accessible to their audience. Accessibility to actors was limited to the screen time of the film and the star moved on from film to film creating everymen to strike a similar chord. With scores of advertisements, television shows and hundreds of public appearances today’s generation of actors use this association to sell everything from undergarments to the miraculous benefits of chyawanprash.

In the last few years there has been a great shift in the definition of accessibility as far as actors go. It’s not like there weren’t products to be endorsed back in the olden days but the screen was the only place that offered unparalleled access to a star. It’d be hard to imagine but the first celebrity product endorsement happened way back in 1936 when Leela Chitnis became the first Indian actor to endorse Lux. Since then the soap has regularly been the open secret of the beauty of actors across generations. So, what kept someone like a Dilip Kumar or Dev Anand from endorsing the superior mileage of a car or talking about the joy they get from signing autographs with a specific brand of pens? The simple explanation was that back then making a quick buck from advertisements was considered lowly. There was a clear demarcation between films and everything else. Much like how the actors who hailed from the stage found it difficult to return to theater, even models who became actors rarely went back to posing for products. Even though much of the early Indian film industry was modeled on Hollywood, advertisements never lured Hindi film stars like their western counterparts. The Golden Age of Hollywood had Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Marlene Dietrich or Dean Martin selling cigarettes, chocolates and cola.

Does inaccessibility really help an actor? One of the biggest villains of Hindi cinema, Pran is an example of how inaccessibility can help an actor cultivate an image. Come to think of it advertisements and television appearances might have diluted the aura of an Amitabh Bachchan to some extent but had it not been for them perhaps the actor wouldn’t have survived his mid-career crisis. Long before Kaun Banega Crorepati resurrected one of Hindi cinema’s greatest actors it was the BPL ad of late 1990s that helped usher in the new Bachchan. Somewhere the warmth of the ‘real’ Bachchan as opposed to the memorable characters he played made an instant connection with the viewer. The audiences desire to seek Bachchan was fueled by the actor’s self-imposed acting exile during the early 1990s and the ad just struck gold.

Similarly when the actor got stuck in the image rut where he tried clinging on to the Angry Young Man persona with films like Mrityudata and Kohraam before Mohabattein happened it was the ‘real’ Bachchan of KBC that boosted his image. If one looks at these two instances in isolation then a certain kind of accessibility helped a star to not only regain some of the lost magic but also create a whole new variety. The other case where access to a star helped was the pulse polio social messaging that Bachchan undertook that saw a great drop in the number of reported cases. In the case of Aamir Khan there is a clear distinction between the onscreen and the real image. He might be one of the most inaccessible stars but ironically enough he has a maintained a very open and real relationship with his fans through social media.

If at first the real persona of a star was sought to help sell products today it’s the other way around. Somewhere along the way, the present generation of stars have been convinced that every endorsement is almost like a film. If a few years ago Salman Khan was enough to sell things today it’s Chulbul Pandey who is required to peddle a bike. In his three decade long career, Anil Kapoor has only endorsed a few products and although he used his real life persona to market a luxury pen brand it didn’t work as much as one would have expected. In stark contrast to his belief Kapoor’s inaccessibility could have also hampered the chances of helping the product. Like many things paradoxical about India the more you know the reality of an idol, the more you crave the dreams.


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Born a cinephile and a close observer of society, the author is an award-winning documentary filmmaker/writer. He is a regular contributor to leading Indian publications and is currently working on his first book. Find out more about him here.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Gautam Chintamani loves to closely observe society when not being devoured by Bollywood, politics and everything in between. Commissioned by Harper Collins, Gautam is presently working on a biography of Rajesh Khanna due to come out later this year. He tweets @GChintamani.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (16) Closed

Hariharan.S Sep 04, 2012 09:01pm
The South Indian greats,Rajinikanth and Kamal Hasan have endorsed any brands.... Still they continue to have a huge following and the fans are happy that these actors are not viewing their fans as markets where the products could be launched...
Osman Sep 05, 2012 04:48am
Ehsan - amazing comment. Wholehearted agreement. Bad news seems to be the only news that our channels and newspapers like to cover, worrying only about their viewership, commercialism and sensationalism. Wish they start learning some patriotism and responsible journalism as well. On a separate note, I think there is a real niche for a new Channel / Newspaper to open in Pakistan that (may give hourly "important" local and int'l news updates,) but then spends all of the remaining airtime discussing and providing only "positive and good news" out of Pakistan.
Ahmad Sep 05, 2012 02:09am
Vina Malik is good example.
hammad Sep 04, 2012 05:09pm
very well said ehsan bhai dawn just loves to jump on the indian news ranging from south indian cuisine to bollyowood is present here, i guess the reason being so many indians reading dawn but they shldnt forget thts its a pakistani paper and their first and foremost responsibility is to pakistan;
chakraborty Sep 05, 2012 07:49am
Ehsaan Bhai, With So much Indian traffic in Dawn, Dawn has to balance. May be after few years Dawn may reach the status of being Asian BBC which should be a matter of pride to every pakistani.
tabassum Sep 04, 2012 03:50pm
totally agree with your comment, very tired of the zillion indian actors endorsing our billboards too
Rattan(Sydney) Sep 05, 2012 06:55pm
i second that.i would rather read Dawn than TOI.Much better layout and very well presented articles.I dont think i have seen anything like that on Indian websites unless someone can tell me a few good ones.
Syed Sep 05, 2012 06:06am
We used to get entertaining news in pakistan, then zulfiqar mirza resigned. Sep 04, 2012 08:12pm
What stars are you talking about???
Truth Hurts Sep 06, 2012 06:02am
I second you Ehsan!!!
Seth Sep 04, 2012 05:39pm
DAWN writes what people want to read. Most of pakistanis want to see,read more about Bollywood. They are only offering what people want.
Gaurav Arya Sep 05, 2012 04:03am
Shahrukh should learn from Amir and Salman. SRK takes 3 to 5 crores to dance at weddings. He demands a luxury jet for himself and his entourage. Amir and Salman are more reserved. They actually behave like starts. If you see box office collections of the past 2 years, Salman is No. 1 and Amir is No. 2.
Ehsan Sep 04, 2012 02:23pm
Is there any entertainment news about Pakistan. It seems like dawn and its writers are obsessed with Bollywood and totally neglecting our own stars and entertainment news. However if there was bad news to present about Pakistan, they would be in the forefront just like our other "breaking news channels".
Malik Sep 05, 2012 05:34am
because these are all paid intellectuals.
Akil Akhtar Sep 05, 2012 04:07am
We Pakistanis who love our country are gettign fed up with our own media. I know many people who do not watch our news channels anymore. Too much negativity.
Vgp Sep 04, 2012 04:54pm
Dawn cant help it if there is only bad news coming out of Pakistan can it? As the saying goes as you sow so shall you reap