Salman Khan: Decoding the mystery around his ever-rising brand value

  • Rohit Vats, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 28, 2015 14:17 IST
Salman Khan turns 50 on Sunday. (PTI)

He is a fascinating case study in himself, a mediocre acting talent ruling the Hindi film business. Salman Khan gave himself an average rating as an actor on a popular TV chat show, in all seriousness. He is very rooted and humble about the lack of acting prowess otherwise.

So, it’s not like Salman doesn’t know where he stands, but he also knows the business. And, he is getting better at the numbers game with age and experience.

Read: I wanted my engagement rumours to play on longer, says Salman

He is a classic superstar. His films are low on content but high on style. Plus a superb marketing strategy. He makes it count, every time. There was a phase when Shah Rukh Khan was seen as the master of marketing, then Aamir Khan replaced him for a brief period, and now it’s Salman’s turn to dictate the rules of the game.

This year’s Forbes’ list of highest earning actors in the world was quite a revelation for many. It acknowledged the growing market share of Indian films and its leading actors. Forbes began its article with this line: Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar–never heard of them? They earned more than Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Johnny Depp, all without being US household names. Here the keywords were ‘without being US household names’.

Read: How Salman, Akshay entered Forbes’ richest actors list

It is indeed the case with Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar, not so much with Amitabh Bachchan though. Salman and Akshay are part of an industry that has struck a balance with the outside advertising world. They’re making films, endorsing products, producing ventures, cutting ribbons and constantly making inroads into new bazaars.

At the same time, they’re making their fanbase thicker than before through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media. This direct-in-touch business model makes them understand the immediate demands of the potential buyers. It also enables them to receive feedback faster than before, which means damage control can begin in almost real time. Remember Salman Khan’s tweet on Yakub Menon’s hanging. He retracted it in time.

This wasn’t possible earlier. It creates a point of equilibrium between the stars and their fans. This way, die-hard fans are restricted from drifting away. Khan is one of the more tech-savvy stars. In a way, it’s his way of waving out to fans who are not outside the Galaxy Apartments.

Of course, age has brought some gravitas to Khan. He remained calm and restrained during the recent trial in the 2002 hit-and-run case. Not commenting on the judgement here, but it saved him a lot of public fury. One wrong gesture could have dented his carefully crafted image of the moody-but-benevolent big brother beyond repair.

It’s a time when his brand value is growing exponentially. From detergent to footwear, he is featuring in a range of TVCs. Most of them are as in-your-face as his characters, but they’re working because of Salman’s ‘macho’ image attached to it. This ‘machoman’ thing needs some description. Bhai, as he is fondly called by a bunch of newcomers in Bollywood, has successfully blended his rawness with a dramatic innocence.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo are an extension of this thought process. The results speak for themself: Bajrangi Bhaijaan made more than Rs 320 crore while PRDP garnered Rs 208 crore, just in India. In both films, he played a good hearted common man who is ready to make sacrifices for family and loved ones. This addition of ‘sacrifice’ in his characters since Jai Ho has done the trick.

Sometimes he makes sensible statements but mostly, he just makes statements. But, in this process he wins powerful friends. On top of that, he is backing a lot of youngsters. From Varun Dhawan and Arjun Kapoor to Sooraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty, he is creating a group of supporters that owes more than something to the Bhai. As these people get a solid footing in the industry, Khan’s position becomes more consolidated. And, don’t forget, the enigma around his unpredictable personality is always at work.

Returning as host of Bigg Boss is another shot in the arm for his public presence. He is always there, right in front of you. In a lighter vein, a method has been introduced to his madness. The hefty paychecks he’s getting in return is the icing on the cake.

He also looks more relaxed now. Recall how the song Main Hoon Hero worked. That unique expression of ‘sarcastic detachment’ is still visible on his face, but overall he is managing it well. Though the story about his verbal fight with Aamir Khan made some heads turn, he grabbed more headlines for his reunion with Shah Rukh Khan. All this has created a positive fringe around him. Salman Khan would be hoping for this fringe to shine forever, but there’re still some cases pending to deal with. Till then, his brand value is likely to remain intact.

(Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha)

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