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Why do Bollywood actors stick to the same image for ads?

Aamir Khan is all set to appear as a woman in an upcoming ad. However, it’s nothing new for the actor. He has donned this persona twice for TV commercials (TVC) back in 2005 and 2008. What’s worth noticing is the actor’s penchant for experimentation.

Saif Ali Khan
Saif Ali Khan is always seen in a suave avatar

Interestingly, what it also indicates is a persona cultivated over the years. It’s almost impossible to imagine a Shah Rukh Khan or a Salman Khan in sarees. On the advertising backdrop of the small screen, the battle seems to be between the stars and the products. And the resulting campaign is a synergy between the two.

Aamir Khan
Aamir Khan is almost unrecognisable in ads 

Bollywood actors may attempt to overcome stereotypes in their filmographies by choosing not to stick with one particular image for long. For instance, Akshay Kumar, who started off as an action star, gradually found his way into comedy films. But when it comes to the ads that he features in, it’s always the Khiladi who triumphs. Why so? Theatre personality Rahul Da Cunha says, “Akshay recently did Special 26 where he is neither playing an action hero nor a comic character. But then, he isn’t known for serious roles. So to the populace, the image already set for him is that of a guy who can leap from buildings without injuring himself.”

Apparently, an onscreen image is the ultimate selling point. The actors are signed because the brands wholeheartedly believe in their ability to deliver. For what the deals are worth, this trend also begs an ironical question: Why can’t they experiment in commercials the way they try in their films? Wouldn’t it be nice to watch Saif Ali Khan shed his Nawabi background for a change in an ad? Or Ranbir Kapoor play someone who is not upto a naughty trick?

Perhaps the understanding between the brand and the ad agency involved makes all the difference. “Since the brand owners bear the cost, they can’t afford to lose much in the name of creativity. In the end, the idea is to sell with someone who has a saleable personality,” says ad filmmaker-film director R Balki.

Lyricist and ad filmmaker Prasoon Joshi too points at the need to highlight an actor’s admirable traits. “When we shot the Chlormint ad with Salman, we focussed on his humourous side more because we already had a funny template. They are stars, yes, but they are also messengers for the brands they endorse. Every actor has something that clicks with the market so our job is to find that pulse and make the most of it.”

So if one particular actor is scoring more endorsements than the others, it means people not only love him but also look up to his clichéd image? Well, Big B certainly proves this point. “It’s funny how Amitabh Bachchan has effectively broken all personas. He can sell anything under the sun. He puts on a personality for one ad campaign and then shrugs off it for another,” gushes ad-maker Prahlad Kakkar.

Speaking of set frameworks, Irrfan Khan is seldom seen essaying a full-fledged comedy role but his recent ads show him essaying a man who blurts out one-liners. As filmmaker Abhinay Deo notes, “There’s a certain perception about how actors behave when the cameras are not rolling. For instance, Aamir is very conscientious. No wonder he’s seen in several social awareness campaigns as well. Having said that, sometimes it works against you. Remember that not all ad campaigns are a success.” 

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