Well, here’s exciting news! For the first time since these things started being tracked, Shahrukh Khan is NOT the most valuable celebrity brand in India!!!! Instead, he has been knocked off his perch by Virat Kohli. Which made me start thinking in a different way about Virat, about Shahrukh, and about all the other perches Shahrukh should be knocked off of.
Virat and Shahrukh are seemingly two very different people, but in terms of appealing to the Indian market they have one important thing in common: they love their wives.
Back when Shahrukh started to build “Brand SRK”, he even did TV commercials with Gauri, literally selling their young love as part of selling products. It allowed him a unique sort of crossover appeal, to young men who wanted to be him (famous, rich, cool action scenes) and young women who wanted to marry him. Young women of course being the more important audience in terms of brand power since housewives tend to control purchases more than husbands.
Virat has been having a more or less public love affair for years now, going so far as to blow kisses into the stands to his then-girlfriend Anushka. The wedding between him and Anushka was a massive public event that the whole country watched, including an appearance by Shahrukh himself. And the show continues, recently, after achieving 150 runs in a match, Virat took a moment to kiss his wedding ring for the TV cameras.
To clarify, I don’t think either the Virat-Anushka or the Shahrukh-Gauri romance and marriage is fake, or just for the cameras. I think they both happen to include husbands who are naturally exuberant and public in their love. And couples who are savvy enough to see how the public responds to that exuberance and use it for their own advantage.
But it’s not just about the happy-happy love-love persona, you also need the actual accomplishments to back it up. And this year, Shahrukh failed miserably in those accomplishments. It’s not just that the audience was turned off by his films, it’s that he got the stink of failure on him, which turned them off him as a person. And a brand doesn’t want to be associated with a failure, they want success.
I don’t follow Cricket, but I am assuming that Virat is on a good enough run that people would still want to be like him. Add on his new fame as Anushka Sharma’s husband, and you’ve got a man who can sell anything. No wonder his brand value is now priced at 144 million while Shahrukh has slipped to only 106 million.
(He also seems to perfected the “connect important social movements to brand identity” kind of persona in a very “you’ve come along way baby” Virginia Slims sort of way)
It’s not just Virat who is making moves in the brand market. Akshay jumped up the list, and so did Dips. Alia and Varun are also in the top 15 as of this year, and so is female tennis star P.V. Sindhu. The advertising market is reflecting the changing face of India.
The brand isn’t driven wholely by the box office, Shahrukh has been on top as a brand value for forever, and his box office has severely fluctuated before (remember that whole Asoka-Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani period?). But box office is a part of it, proof that he is a successful person, a person you want to be. And this year, he has not been a box office wonder.
Bollywoodhungama ran the figures for us and came up with a list of top 6 actors in 2017:
Ajay Devgn: Baadshaho 78.1 crore, Golmaal Again 205.69, average per film 141.89 crore
Akshay Kumar: Jolly LLB 2 Rs. 117 crore, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha Rs. 134.22 crore, Average per film Rs. 125.61 crore
Hrithik Roshan: Kaabil Rs. 103.84 crore, Average per film: Rs. 103.84 crore
Arjun Kapoor: Half Girlfriend – 60.30 crore, Mubarakan – 55.59 crore, Average per film: Rs. 58 crore
Shahrukh, also for the first time since, well, ever, has dropped off the top 5 box office earners list. And he has been elbowed out not just by his old rival Salman (who had his own terrible flop last year to atone for), but by the younger generation, Varun is higher than he is. And Shahrukh’s biggest flop in forever was right in the center of his brand, a love story.
Shahrukh’s brand is success and love. His failure in Jab Harry Met Sejal manages to destroy both of those concepts. He is no longer “The King”, and he is no longer “The Lover”, all at once. So, where does he go from here? His value on the market has shrunk and younger rivals are taking his place.
Heck, where do they all go from here? Salman is saved by Tiger, but without its massive success, this would be a bad year for him too. Ajay, without Golmaal, would be in the same place.
The solution is simple, to lower their prices and make smaller films. But they can’t do that, because they are still perceived as expensive. It’s the upside down mortgage problem.
The upside down mortgage means that your house has so lowered in value that you are still paying off a mortgage that is higher than what your house is now worth. That’s where Shahrukh is now, along with many of his generation. They are still paying off on their past fame in a way that makes it impossible to take the films that reflect their current fame.
(It’s not actually all about the money. It’s about how the money is perceived)
Shahrukh’s failures last year put him below Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Judwaa 2, Kaabil, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, and Jolly LLB 2. So, logically, his next films should be lower budgeted, lower promoted, just overall smaller than those films. While Varun Dhawan should be moving up and getting the bigger and bigger productions.
But, Shahrukh can’t do that. Despite the on paper value of his name slipping, he perceived value is such that once he is attached to a film it becomes a “Shahrukh Khan Film” and therefore is immediately priced out of the range he can now reach. This is what he mentioned in the Ittefaq promotions, he loved the script, but he knew he couldn’t be in a film like this and have it be the film it is supposed to be.
And this is what they are all facing, all these big names of the 90s. Let me take a brief detour. Remember in 2016 when there was all this fuss about how many celebrities were dying? I read a smart person in a comment on another site who pointed out it was false correlation. What really happened was a new kind of celebrity culture which blossomed in the 60-70s thanks to the growth of television, international connections, mass music companies, etc. etc. And because that celebrity culture began in the 60s-70s, the majority of the first generation of these celebrities are dying now, 50 years later, as they reach old age. It’s just a function of time since certain changes happened, that’s all.
(WAQT: the Race Against Time! Also, a reminder of the kind of stupid film Akshay used to do before Twinkle gave him an ultimatum)
The 90s era of Hindi film stars, they were the first to get the massive international media attention of the kind the industry has today. And so they feel “bigger” than stars since them, just because they were the first. They are bigger in a lot of ways, yes, but they are also shrinking now and struggling to get out of the shadowed outline of what they used to be.
They have all come close to succeeding in breaking out of the trap of who they used to be. Ajay in Golmaal, playing the wacky comedy guy instead of the action hero. Akshay in his serious social dramas instead of his action-comedies. Aamir of course, with his various character tics and tricks that let “Aamir Khan” disappear in front of our eyes. But its still a struggle. They can’t just mix in the smaller films with the bigger ones, or take a smaller part if they like the script.
Anil Kapoor, for instance, in 1999 played the second hero in Taal, a special appearance in Mann, the hero’s friend in Biwi No.1, and the hero in Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain. For the next several years to today he has mixed together hero parts with supporting roles, and it hasn’t seemed to cause any massive cognitive dissonance for the audience, it wasn’t a huge story in the media, it was just where his career went at that point. Anil was only 15 years into his career at that point, when he started to slip at the box office and let his prices drop, Shahrukh is now 25 years into his career and most of the other 90s brigade even longer.
(Anil Kapoor, moving on to comic relief roles, 10 years younger than Shahrukh is now)
The market needs to adjust around them. Their value needs to be corrected and recalculated. And, as important, the value of others needs to be increased.
Virat Kohli is now, accurately, considered a bigger brand draw than Shahrukh Khan. But the same consideration needs to take place in the film industry as in advertising, that smaller subsection of the Shahrukh brand needs to do the same assessment as the larger brand world. It’s harder to assess then simply looking at this list. Varun, for instance, can you consider Judwaa 2 fully his hit, or is it also partly a hit of Salman’s?
But looking at 2017 as a whole, certain films stand out as doing significantly better than expected. And from those films, certain actors also stand out. Rajkummar Rao, Ayushmann Khuranna, Arjun Kapoor (right below Shahrukh!), along with Varun, are all on their way up. Sushant Singh Rajput, depending his next release, would be on this list too. Ranveer didn’t have a release in 2017, and Ranbir only had the troubled Jagga Jasoos, but both of them are generally hitting as consistently as the 90s brigade by now.
The 90s stars are now being over-valued, not in terms of their actual film payments, but the kinds of films that are being made around them, the expectation that they can open and serve as the lead for massive massive productions. But the new stars are being undervalued. They are being kept in small films with lower budgets, or big films that eclipse their center characters, instead of having films built around them. Where is Ranveer’s Raees? Or Varun’s Tubelight? Or Rajkummar Rao’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha? Or Arjun Kapoor’s Baadshaho?
To go back to the upside down mortgage idea, these young actors are the houses in the undiscovered neighborhoods, the ones that someone needs to snap up and spend a little money on paint and decoration, and then resell for twice the value.
(Remember, Shahrukh needed quite a bit of work himself before his “house” had any value. Also, young Kabir Bedi!!! My My!!!)