What do a rum commercial and a national role model have in common? The answer is painted across a billboard suspended from one of the many flyovers that connect north Delhi to the south. “Be what you want to be” goes the catch-line of a chain of schools that uses former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s popularity and a jingle borrowed from Bacardi to peddle its version of “quality” education.
Becoming what they wanted to be sans lineage or godfathers, the outsider taming unfamiliar terrain, is an idea that appeals to the young. Sachin Tendulkar, APJ Abdul Kalam and Shah Rukh Khan — the top three Indian role models — all began from scratch and blazed a trail.
Ogilvy & Mather Executive Chairman and Creative Director (South Asia) Piyush Pandey calls it the great Indian dream.
“I am relieved that pedigree hasn’t managed to sway the young,” says sociologist Dipankar Gupta, one of whose books centred on the nation’s middle class. “All three are world-class performers who’ve shaped their own destiny and yet remained accessible to people.”
Before Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam set up a website to interact with the aam aadmi, no other Indian president had attempted it. Last week, three years after he left Rashtrapati Bhavan, the People’s Prez was still being mobbed by doctors and hounded for autographs by their kin at a south Delhi hospital.
What’s the secret of his popularity? Kalam says the pleasure is mutual. “I like people, they like me. I feel happy meeting young people and listening to their dreams.”
Says Kalam: “They should tell themselves ‘I can do it.’ Collectively it will build confidence in a nation and lead to the spirit of ‘We can do it’.”
Confidence and composure make Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar the nation’s biggest youth icon. Basketball player Sidddharth Dalal, 22, a student of Delhi University’s Deen Dayal Upadhyay College, looks up to him as a sportsman.
“What is most impressive is Sachin’s humility. Unlike many other athletes, he wears his success lightly.”
The saying “form is temporary and class permanent” no longer sounds like a cliché when talking about Sachin, says Pandey. “You have to respect regional heroes. But a role model like him transcends geographies, languages and class.”
Ask the celebrated creative director about Tendulkar’s core values as an iconic brand and he says: Honesty, performance and sincerity. “For Kalam, the oldest of the top youth icons at 79, these would have to be dignity, openness and the belief in reaching out,” he adds.
As far as reaching out to people is concerned, Katrina Kaif, voted sexiest woman with 22 per cent votes, doesn’t have to try too hard. Prasoon Joshi, executive chairperson, McCann Worldgroup India, calls it the here and now phenomenon. “Polls are almost always context-sensitive. The actor at the top of the youth’s mind has to be backed by recent success, visibility and the controversies around them. Katrina’s new item number offers instant gratification to fickle-minded youth.”
But what would our youth be without its attitude and the right to not conform? Would Delhi boy SRK have been the rage he is had he conformed and not dreamt of becoming Bombay ka Badshah? Would Sachin have been a master blaster if he had continued to idolise technically orthodox Gavaskar? So, when Puneet Yadav, 25, a fashion consultant with Wipro, Bangalore, doesn’t agree with our survey’s findings and says that Katrina is too plastic, we understand.
“Sheela Ki Jawani was good, but with her hot looks, Bipasha should be the face of India,” is Yadav’s opinion. I tend to agree, but let’s let Kat be.