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Being social

Bollywood celebrities are embracing social causes as longer term commitments than the occasional event appearances and one-off advertising endorsements. Why?

bollywood Updated: Jun 18, 2012 00:51 IST
Anita Sharan
Anita Sharan
Hindustan Times

India did not have a single case of polio recorded in a year as on January 12, 2012 and has also been taken off the polio endemic list by the WHO. How much of this success can be attributed to Amitabh Bachchan’s sustained presence in the Pulse Polio Do Boond Jeewan Ki ad campaign?

Salman Khan’s ‘Being Human’ signature has been replicated by streetside apparel copycats. Being Human foundation, with a clothing and accessories line, gives all sale proceeds to charity. It has organised high profile ramp walks, including the recent show by Bollywood divas as part of the HDIL Couture Week.

Rahul Bose has been running The Foundation, an NGO dedicated to the removal of discrimination, with special focus on communal harmony, children and gender equality. The current favourite cause célèbre is, of course, Aamir Khan and his Satyamev Jayate. He has built up his ‘socially conscious’ image through several films and involvement in the Incredible India ad campaign.

Several other Bollywood celebrities have moved beyond occasional cause endorsements through ads and events to bigger, committed social issues. Why?

“In India, philanthropy is at a nascent stage. But with the youth – an important target – getting socially conscious, being associated with social causes increases film celebrities’ brand impact range, while giving a face to a cause,” said Hitesh Gossain, business head, Percept Talent Management.

MTV’s Power of One study finds that 42% of India’s youth is gung ho about participating in a movement for a cause that affects them.

Celebrities promoting social causes is embedded in our society’s evolution, said Ashish Mishra, head of Water and Interbrand India operations. “It is associated with our role models who emerged out of our social evolution: starting from our post-independence entrepreneurial models fighting feudalism, casteism and other ills; moving onto rebels who took on the system; to wealth creators and rags to riches stories; to smarter wealth creators who looked at alternative ways; to social consciousness and environmental responsibility,” he said.

This was reflected by Bollywood, from Manoj Kumar’s Mere Desh Ki Dharti; to Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man; to Dhirubhai Ambani’s wealth creation; to Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji, the new wealth creators; to people heroes over the second half of the last decade and into the future, who will contribute to the social cause, Mishra observed.

“People notice when their ‘heroes’ promote social causes. In Satyamev Jayate, the social cause and the entertainment element combine to create impact. People would notice a celebrity espousing a cause much more than a social activist espousing it,” said film buff and Mumbai-based finance executive, Shobhit Dandiya, 28.

Film celebs espousing longer range social causes seem to be older. The still-young Ranbir Kapoor has just about defined his desire to be associated with causes around the betterment of the girl child. He agreed to walk the ramp for the education of girls in Shabana Azmi’s ancestral village, Mijwan.

“Once a celebrity gets his or her esteem, material and other needs fulfilled, social causes are next to reinforce the hero status,” said Mishra.

Social commentator Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Future Brands, added, “It’s a status motivation – a magnified belief that you can help others. It comes from a sense of being important and powerful, and a desire to put it to test – throw some stardust on a social issue. Media attention to a ‘noble’ cause multiplies the celebrity’s presence.”

Do such associations also extend a celebrity’s shelf life?

“It’s still about the actor. However, being seen to be genuinely associated with a social cause can soften the lines of public perception about the celebrity as an individual, a la Salman Khan and Being Human,” Dandiya said.

Desai added: “Nobody hates a celebrity for doing good, and social causes get addressed. The great thing about such associations is that nobody is evaluating effectiveness. It helps the celebrity stay in the news while adding a likeable dimension to his personality.”

First Published: Jun 17, 2012 21:07 IST