The 51-year-old actor started his career as an action figure in the early 1990s, with movies like ‘Mohra’ and the ‘Khiladi’ franchise.
From debuting in 1991 as an action hero to interviewing Prime Minister Narendra Modi on all things ‘apolitical’ right in the middle of the general elections, Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar has certainly come a long way. Consider how the actor, who ranked 76th in the global Forbes Top Earning 100 Celebrities 2018 list, also secured the third spot in the Duff & Phelps Celebrity Valuation Report 2018, with a total brand valuation of $67.3 million, behind only Virat Kohli and Deepika Padukone. This was one rank up from 2017 for Kumar, when he featured at number four.
The 51-year-old actor started his career as an action figure in the early 1990s, with movies like ‘Mohra’ and the ‘Khiladi’ franchise. “Even the kind of brand endorsements he did at that point, like Thums Up, reflected his stuntman-ship and action imagery,” says brand consultant Harish Bijoor. When the action space became cluttered with a clutch of heroes vying for the top spot, Kumar segmented himself around the turn of the millennium with comic movies or more holistic, family-oriented cinema, with titles like ‘Hera Pheri’, ‘Namastey London’ and ‘Singh is Kinng’. His marriage to fellow actor Twinkle Khanna also lent to his family imagery, making him the ‘bankable’ star for brands.
“His latest avatar, though, is like today’s Manoj Kumar,” muses Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting. “With his current selection of movies, you can see signs of a nationalistic urge within him.”
While Kumar is currently trending online for his light-hearted camaraderie with PM Modi over an interview released to the media by news agency ANI, one can’t ignore the timing: This is just days after the Election Commission issued a ban on the Prime Minister’s biopic, while the general elections are also underway. Add to that, Kumar’s recent alignment with socially-relevant/patriotic, mature movie plots, like ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’, ‘Padman’, ‘Airlift’, ‘Jolly LLB 2’ and ‘Gold’, and you have a celebrity that is slowly but surely carving out a new avatar for himself, that of a ‘responsible’ actor, brand endorser and personality.
At 22 brands as of November 2018, Kumar scores the second highest when it comes to the number of brands endorsed by any celebrity (cricketer Virat Kohli tops the list at 24). Some of Kumar’s associations include HUL’s Ayush, RB’s Harpic, Tata Motors’ commercial vehicles, Honda Motorcycles, Prince Pipes, RR Kables, Revital H, Relaxo Sparx Footwear, Fortune Oil, Policybazzar.com, Dollar, Eveready, Liv Guard, Lodha Developers and Svarn Saathi. He is known to charge an endorsement fee of around Rs 2-3 crore per day.
Kumar’s interview with Modi isn’t his first tryst with matters of community or socialism. In the past, he was the face of a social campaign in 2018 before the launch of his movie ‘Padman’ to create awareness about sanitary napkins. Titled #PadManChallenge, the campaign had celebrities posing with sanitary napkins on social media to break taboos. Kumar also collaborated with the ministry of road transport and highways around Road Safety Week to spread awareness about traffic rules and road safety, with the theme, Sadak Suraksha Jeevan Raksha.
With the Modi interview, though, Kumar has “cemented his image as someone who can converse with people who matter, much like Aamir Khan did by chatting people up on his TV show, ‘Satyamev Jayate’”, according to Bijoor. So, the actor is now even more likely to attract socially responsible, inclusive brands to his endorsement kitty. But there’s a flipside.
“Although nuanced, Akshay Kumar has shown through the interview that he seems to be subtly aligned with Modi. So if a brand picks up such a celebrity, it risks polarising its audiences,” cautions Sinha. This may hold true, even though a brand is typically influenced by commercial motives more than ideological ones when hiring a celebrity. As the country is polarised at the moment, those in support of the current dispensation may view Kumar in a positive light but those not in favour of it may find “Akshay’s credibility a bit suspect”, Sinha points out.