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The ‘Khans’ of Bollywood and the power of ‘personal’ branding

- 5 min read By Gurudev Prasad

10 January, 2018

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Watched Dangal over the weekend. It is worth every bit of hype and anticipation that surrounds an Aamir Khan movie. The plot, preparation and the performances just shine through. I walked out of the hall feeling a unique sense of optimism. Some stories do that to you.

As brand marketer, I feel ‘storytelling’ is a critical skill set that every brand custodian should posses and continuously hone. This is perhaps one of the reasons why Bollywood fascinates me so much. My fascination doesn’t just end at stories that Bollywood tells. It extends to the business of filmmaking, the craft of filmmaking and last but not the least- the ‘stars’ of our films.

The ‘stars’ of our films are brands in their own right, each one of them occupying a discreet space in the audiences’ minds and hearts. The carefully cultivated images of these ‘stars’ offer an interesting perspective on how personal brands are created and nurtured.

Take example of the three ‘Khans’ for instance. The triumvirate of Aamir, Salman and Shahrukh has literally dominated Bollywood for almost three decades now. The three of them are in their early fifties (coincidentally all three of them were born in the same year) and still going ‘strong’.

Just to elaborate on ‘going strong’, let me give you few numbers. Dangal's cumulative total of just 5 days stands at Rs 155.53 cr. Sultan – which was Salman’s last release collected over Rs 300 crores. Shah Rukh’s FAN (supposedly a weak film) is his only film since 2011, that has failed to cross the 100 crore mark.

The longevity of the three Khans has to been seen in the context of changes that Bollywood has gone through since their debut, which happened a few years before liberalization. Since then, the invasion of satellite television, the multiplex revolution and the World Wide Web have deeply impacted the Indian film industry.

The audiences have become more aware, discerning and spoilt for choice. They are consuming and comparing entertainment options from across the world and there’s an obvious escalation of expectations even from Bollywood. With the power of social media at their finger tips- every viewer has turned into a reviewer as well, relentlessly endorsing the films they like and trashing the ones that don’t size up to their expectations. Watching movie in a multiplex is a costly affair today. You pay for both- entertainment as well as the experience. A trip to a multiplex with your family will leave you lighter by couple of thousands. As a result of this, a film has to work really hard to lure the audiences to come to halls and shell out that kind of money.

The Khans not only withstood these changes, but also took them in their stride to stay relevant to the changing audience.

They befriended the small screen first. Apart from using it extensively for promoting their upcoming films, they have even hosted shows on television (a trend started by Mr.Bachchan of course). Besides the obvious monetary benefits (it is rumored that Salman Khan gets around 6 to 8 crores per episode of Bigg Boss), these shows provide an opportunity to build a personal rapport with the mainstream audience.

It is impressive to see how these stars are harnessing the power of social media to bond with their fans and remain afresh in their minds. Be it posting their candid pictures on Instagram, or tweeting from behind the scenes of upcoming movies, or doing live Q&A sessions on Facebook- they are doing everything they can to keep the conversation on with their fans. It isn’t surprising then that the three Khans are among the most followed celebrities on social media.

What makes it even more interesting is that each one of them has carved a unique positioning and space in their audiences’ minds. Aaamir Khan has this image of being a perfectionist and the ambassador of meaningful cinema. Shahrukh is seen as the king of romance who is also a savvy marketer and a clever businessman. Salman has emerged lately as the guy with the Midas touch, the torchbearer of the masala movies.

This image reinforcement has moved beyond movies. Aamir khan’s ‘Satyamev Jayate’, Salman Khan’s ‘Being Human’ or even SRK’s IPL team ‘Kolkota Knight Riders’, all add an interesting dimension to the personality of these stars- as socially conscious (Aamir), good hearted (Salman) and the business savvy entertainer (SRK). So, when a Titan chooses Aamir, Thumbs Up chooses Salman or Hyundai chooses Shahrukh as brand endorsers; they want to ride on the perceived values that these stars carry. It is because we associate strongly with unique attributes of each star that we scoff at celebrity endorsements gone wrong, when there is a jarring difference between the values of the celebrity and the brand that he is endorsing (remember Pierce Brosnan in Pan Bahar ad?).

Bollywood is one of the most competitive industries. Every year millions of aspiring actors arrive in Mumbai. If you consider the percentage of strugglers who actually make the cut, succeeding in this industry is far tougher than any most other fields in the world. It is an industry where your fate is completely dependent on the mood of the audience and you are as good as your latest release. More importantly, it’s a place that is not too kind to its ageing protagonists.

To not just survive, but reign over this industry for almost three decades is no mean feat.

Each one of them had their own share of controversies, big and small. But such is the power of their stardom and cult of following that they have survived it all. The difference between their real life and reel life is blurring. Like SRK said in one of his interviews “the line between what I really am, and what I am on reel, is slowly diminishing”. Long live the Khans.

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