“It is Salman Khan who makes his movies a success, not the other way around,” said Mumbai-based banking executive Shrishti Sinha, 23.
“If it is a Salman Khan movie, people will go for it, no questions asked,” said Shobhit Dandia, 28, a corporate finance executive working in Mumbai. Bangalore-based film buff and property specialist Arun Goel, 57, spelled out: “It’s Salman Khan people go to watch. The film – quality, story, execution – is secondary. People go expecting brand Salman to deliver something, which he does, consistently. They don’t expect any surprises from him.”
A pan-India appeal, a larger than life persona – he doesn’t have an attitude, he is the attitude, on screen and in real life, a very clearly mass-targeted brand, Salman Khan has delivered four straight Bollywood box office hits in recent times. The latest, Ek Tha Tiger, is already his biggest ever and second in eight days only to Aamir Khan’s Rs 200 crore-plus superhit, 3 Idiots. Ek That Tiger crossed the Rs 100 crore mark in five days, the fastest-ever Bollywood record.
“Brand Salman evokes strong responses. You just can’t be lukewarm about him. He appeals across age groups and socio-economic strata,” said brand specialist Sharda Agarwal, founder-director, MarketGate Consulting. “While his appeal is mass, the more discerning are also not immune. He’s something like Thums Up. Originally targeting slightly older consumers, its appeal is nonetheless widespread.”
She pointed out that while Khan’s apparel and accessories brand, Being Human, sees the maximum pirating at the lower end of the market, it appeals even at the upper end. “People see Being Human as Salman Khan. While pirated versions abound, even an upper-end retail brand such as Cotton World – old world, wholesome – stocks Being Human.”
It’s not that people ignore or make excuses for Salman Khan’s negative traits and actions. But they still connect with him because they feel he is ‘authentic’.
Ashish Mishra, head of Water and Interbrand India operations, examined brand Salman as an actor and in his socio-cultural relevance. “As a blend of reel and real personas, he is not a pure lover boy – like Rajesh Khanna, Shah Rukh Khan – nor a social crusader seething against the system, a la Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan. He does both, without a great deal of fuss. There is a resonance of his effortless, real, ‘no acting’ style with our preference for authenticity today. The good side of philanthropy is a no fuss one too. So is the childish comic side which comes across as natural.”
Within the larger socio-cultural milieu, Khan, in his lion avatar, restored the maleness of the nation which, still drawing from the West, had started accepting a world outside ‘machismo’ that “displayed cosmetic exhibitions of ‘cuteness’ and uncharacteristic breakdowns in times of pressure,” Mishra said. “And he did so in real life too. The gait, the unhurried walk, the pride-oozing physique and posture, the intimidating glare… Seeing him do all of it as a person too makes him real. Looks like with all his flaws and goodness, he is being himself, being human. Reason enough to be loved as a hero in the plastic times of today.”
At the core, brand Salman connects with consumers at an emotional level, not necessarily confined by logic. Just like brand Apple does with American consumers, who lap up every new introduction, despite pretty impressive competing alternatives.
Can such brands endure? Will Salman Khan endure? Amitabh Bachchan proved that it is possible as long as the brand stays relevant to its consumers. This could mean reinvention – something Bachchan did after a rough period of failures; and something a powerful brand such as Nokia has remained slow on – and having a presence much larger than the screen alone.