Now that it is clear that Aamir Khan’s
latest movie, “Dangal”, is a blockbuster hit (it’s already recorded the second-highest
opening of any movie in 2016), and
with significant financial contributions in the form of ticket sales from the
so-called right-wing brigade, it is time to go back in time a little and look
at lessons learned and not learned. Lessons on brand management, on social
boycotts and boycott-fatigue, and on adaptability.
On November 23, 2015, actor Aamir Khan
jumped on the “intolerance” bandwagon and, in a conversation with Anant Goenka
at the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards function, made certain statements.
The subject of “intolerance” bandwagon is beyond the scope of this article, but
it should suffice to state that the “intolerance” tamasha was a
media-orchestrated campaign to manufacture stories to malign the Narendra Modi Government
as “intolerant” to minorities.
The Bollywood star said his wife “feared
for her child” and that there was an “atmosphere” of “disquiet” in the country,
and that Kiran (Khan’s wife) wanted to “move out of India” (IndiaToday, The
From a video clip available (one clip),
it is instructional to hear what exactly Aamir Khan had to say (transcription
“There has been a growing sense of
despondency I would say [applause, claps]. I mean, when I sit at home and talk
to Kiran, you know, Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the
first time Kiran says “Should we move out of India?” Now that’s a disastrous
and very big statement for Kiran to make to me [claps, applause]. She fears for
her child, she fears ... for you know what the atmosphere around us will be...
err... she feels scared to open the newspapers every day. uh... so that does indicate that there is a
sense of growing disquiet, there’s a sense of despondency...”
While mainstream media lapped up his
statements wholly and uncritically, social media predictably went into a tizzy.
For mainstream media, Aamir Khan’s statements were ripe fodder for the narrative
it had been spinning ever since Narendra Modi came to office in May 2014, and
even before that. Social media, on the other hand, had been meticulously
deconstructing every single lie, exaggeration, half-truth, distortion, and
selectivity that mainstream media spun out.
Since Aamir Khan was then a brand
ambassador for online retailer SnapDeal, there were immediate calls for
the company to drop the actor. It eventually did. Some in mainstream media,
including journalists, one of whom had called for a one
of whom had called for a boycott of Honey Singh in 2012, but by 2015 had
turned into an anti-boycott diva, rubbished such calls of boycotting Aamir Khan
as yet another example of “intolerance.”
This was not the first time that Aamir
Khan had courted controversy – some say, deliberately, calculatedly. In 2005,
Khan lent his name and signature to a “petition”
by ANHAD, an NGO formed within months of the brutal, cold-blooded murder of
more than 50 Hindus – men, women, and children – on a train in the Gujarat town
of Godhra, and the ensuing riots. ANHAD would later come under scrutiny from
the Government for “its undesirable activities against public interest” (link).
ANHAD would claim to fight against
communalism in the country, but the Union Ministry of Home Affairs would cite
ANHAD for indulging in “undesirable activities that would increase inter
sectarian tension among Muslims in India as well as increase fundamentalism.”
The irony of Aamir Khan, a supposed “intellectual”, lending his signature to a
petition by such an organisation would not be lost on most.
Then there was Satyameva Jayate,
show on social causes”, where Aamir Khan cried (or pretended to
cry – it’s never possible to tell) bucket loads of tears. Given that he charged
?3 crores (approximately US $450,000) per episode for
the first season, and ?4 crores (approximately US $600,000 at today’s exchange
rates) for the second season, one can only wonder.
Aamir Khan to then state
that “If I look at it financially, commercially then I am earning less,” one
can only speculate what those tears were about. That Aamir Khan has a right to
be paid for his television or screen appearances is not in debate here. One
could however point
to the example of Amitabh Bachchan who did not charge a single paisa for the
work he did as Gujarat’s brand ambassador, or for his work on the polio
eradication campaign, but that may be setting the bar very, very high for Aamir
But what smacks of cold-blooded
myth-making is for anyone to make the case that Aamir Khan is some noble,
altruistic modern-day Bollywood mahatma. Far from it. While Bollywood actor
Akshay Kumar was donating
fifty lakh rupees rupees to Jalyukt
Shivar Abhiyaan, an initiative by the Maharashtra Government to alleviate the
water crisis in rural Maharashtra, Aamir Khan was content with “working” with
yet another NGO that he himself had co-founded!
Whereas Snapdeal had extensively
featured Khan in its ‘Dil Ki Deal’ print, television and digital
campaigns, (link) it stopped featuring Aamir Khan in its
advertisements almost immediately after the controversy broke out. The company sought
itself from the actor’s statements by saying Aamir Khan had made those comments
in his “personal” capacity, nonetheless, when his contract came up for renewal
in February 2016, SnapDeal chose
not to renew it.
Disclaimer: views expressed are
(To be continued…)
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