I was almost sure that if Prime Minister Modi returns for a second innings on May 23, Khiladi Akshay Kumar will get the job of at least a junior minister in the Information & Broadcasting ministry. Or he could get the chairmanship of the Censor Board or helm the National Film Development Corporation or head Prasar Bharati or some such visible ‘spoils of war’ will come his way for being so openly and unashamedly a Modi supporter. However, a position in government, or an elected office is now entirely ruled out for Kumar, because of revelations last week, that he holds a foreign passport.
But Akshay Kumar’s politics doesn’t really worry us. It is his brand, so assiduously cultivated, and so strategically well-handled, over the past few years that may have taken a bit of a hit. And that is what worries us.
The Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB) ran a small straw poll over the last couple of days to check consumer reactions to Akshay being a foreign passport holder and not being an ordinary Indian like us regular folks. The results are very interesting.
Akshay Kumar got oodles of good PR when he went back to being the pre-Bollywood Rajiv Bhatia that he once was, donned a chef’s apron, and cooked up an amazing home-cooked meal for army jawans in Fortune cooking oil’s ‘Ghar ka khana, Ghar ka khana hota hain’ campaign. The campaign gained instant fame and positive word-of-mouth because of the endearing role played by Kumar.
Kumar (dressed as an army officer) has been even more nationalistic and patriotic in selling #DeshKiTile Kajaria which proclaims Jee Jaan Laga Dete Hai Kuch Log Desh Ki Samman Ke Liye and that it is ‘desh ki mitti se bani tile’. Now that Akshay Kumar has acknowledged that he is not a bona fide Indian citizen, some of this in-the-face ‘desh’ stuff seems a bit contrived. In the last few days, Akshay has been trolled and pelted on social media… though all of the criticism and negativity was not really warranted. But then nationalism is a double-edged sword.
Akshay Kumar’s ‘patriotic’ India trip has been kind of visible in the roles he has essayed in movies like Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo, Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty, Baby, Gabbar is Back, Airlift, Rustom and even Jolly LLB 2 and Gold to some extent. The Kumar cameo in Naam Shabana too had patriotic shades. Toilet, Ek Prem Katha and Padman were out-and-out driven by the nationalistic slant that Akshay Kumar has been displaying since 2014, bidding almost complete good-bye to his action-man Khiladi image, and to all the funny rom-coms he did in the 2000-2010 period. His latest movie, Kesari, while being a period film with a historical theme, still smells very much of desh-ki-dharti. Even among his upcoming films, Mission Mangal, Prithviraj Chauhan and Sooryavanshi are all movies that come under the category of nationalistic fervour. No wonder, Akshay Kumar is increasingly seen to be the true modern day inheritor of ‘Bharat’ Manoj Kumar. Well, the Canadian citizenship kind of dents that ‘my-Mother-India’ brand positioning of Akshay Kumar.
The IIHB poll amongst 484 millennials is quite revealing.
The people's verdict on Khiladi Akshay Kumar
94% did not know till last week that Akshay Kumar had a Canadian passport
17% in fact thought he may have a Thai passport as he used to live and work in that country
Being ‘Canadian’ means he is not really ‘Indian’ say 52% of those surveyed
74% feel NRIs, PIOs and CIOs are not truly ‘Indian’
But 82% millennials see nothing wrong in Akshay playing ‘patriotic’ roles
91% of those who participated in the straw poll said they would like Khiladi Kumar to continue playing the ‘Bharat’ roles he has been playing lately
So, it is a big thumbs-up for Akshay Kumar in the IIHB poll. Despite all the trolling on his citizenship, his not coming out to vote, his non-political interview of PM Modi, Akshay Kumar remains a darling of the public for the Mr India kind of roles he plays these days. His advertisers too have no reason to worry. The desh theme seems pretty fine with consumers. Kajaria may really not have to change tack for now.
I am an unabashed Akshay fan. I personally think this controversy was kind of unnecessary. Aamir Khan suffered the same kind of fate some years ago for his intemperate comments on ‘intolerance’ which deeply impacted the Snapdeal brand he was then endorsing. But these are the perils of being a public figure, in fact a public hero especially known to play roles that glorify the mother country.
In any case, I suppose, this controversy will get erased from public memory pretty soon. And Akshay will be back to playing the roles he plays best… that of desh-ka-bahadur-beta! Aamir too is back to endorsing the likes of Vivo and PhonePe. Public memory is very short-lived.
More power to Akshay Kumar! May he flourish and prosper and feature in many more movies that give us goosebumps and the occasional moist eye. And sell many more brands draped in the Indian tri-colour. Yes man, Akshay, go for it!
(Dr. Sandeep Goyal tracks all the goings-on(s) that impact the equity of Celebrities as Human Brands.)