There could not have been a bigger or better gift for Virat Kohli on his 31st birthday last week. The captain of the Indian cricket team, Virat Kohli, got himself his own TV show with the persona of a superhero, Super V, on 5 November taking his birthday celebrations to a new high. In the TV series that airs on OTT platform Hotstar, as also on Star Plus, the Star Sports Network, Disney Channel and Marvel HQ, Kohli is portrayed in the avatar of an animated teen superhero based on his own early life incidents.
Virat Kohli was quoted at the launch event saying, “As a kid, I was always fascinated with superheroes, and animation is one of the best mediums to reach out to younger audiences. With Star India’s extensive reach, I am positive that the show will entertain and engage viewers across age groups.”
He added, “Super V is an exciting series that shall captivate viewers’ interest with its unique storytelling and lovable characters. With the tagline of ‘Let's Play’, it's also an attempt to inspire kids to be more active”.
The 13-part series, it is said, will have liberal helpings of humour, action and drama. The weekly show will be based on the story of how a teenager at the cusp of adulthood finds his identity between his own aspirations, parental expectations, and peer pressures. Super V is presented in the series as an adventurous 15-year old teenager, who is a cricketing prodigy. The young boy discovers his own superpowers and goes on to fight big super villains in order to save the world. Fighting the super villains not only helps save the world but protects the goodwill of the young Virat.
But the question that needs to be asked about Brand Virat Kohli is whether all this adulation is going too far. Sure, Michael Vaughan did say, “Kohli is from a different planet”, and for the record, the Indian Captain does boast a formidable track record of 11,250 runs in ODI cricket, 7,000 plus runs in Test cricket and nearly 2,500 runs in T-20s, with 69 centuries across formats.
He is the only possible challenger in modern cricket who can one day possibly rival the 100 centuries and 34,000 runs of Sachin Tendulkar. Virat is at the peak of his cricket; has already crossed 60 per cent of Tendulkar’s accumulated stats; and still has 7-8 years to go at the international level. But is a superhero incarnation a bit too much? Isn’t making a God (or Superhero) out of a mortal human being putting him on a pedestal too high for even a super-achiever like Kohli?
Superheros, at least the ones locally minted, like SRK in Ra.One and Hrithik Roshan in Krishh have done reasonably well in the past. The Shahrukh film released in 2011, did a box office business of Rs. 208 crores. The Krishh franchise of Hrithik released three movies from 2006 to 2013. The first of the series was the second highest grosser in the year of its release. The sequels too were commercial successes. So, the commercial success of Super V is really not in doubt.
In the case of Shahrukh, his kid-friendly persona in Ra.One apparently got him his most visible endorsement contract, that of Byju’s, pipping Aamir Khan in the eventual choice. The same magic however did not extend to Hrithik who really does not count any of major kids brands in his endorsement portfolio of Hero Honda Karizma, John Players, J. Hampstead, HE, Provogue, Fair & Handsome, Coca Cola, Mountain Dew, Donear, Acer, Macromax, Rado, Etisalat, Nirma, Oppo, Tata Tigor, HRX, Cure.Fit … no Boost, no Bournvita, no Kinder Joy, no Britannia, no Cadbury, no Maggi.
Virat too is fairly light in the kids endorsement segment … Mobile Premier League (which is more teen plus), Puma, Colgate, Wrogn, Too Yumm and Boost can be said to have significant teen interest as brands but despite all the adulation, Brand Virat has really not been exploited for younger audiences. Super V could well ‘young-ise’ Virat. Also give him the halo of a do-gooder out to save the world. Hence, a more idealistic dimension to his existing personality of a hard-hitting-never-failing batsman.
The larger question is what will it do to Virat Kohli who already features as the brand ambassador of 25+ current live endorsements? Will Super V’s addition to the list enhance the clutter, and the over-exposure? Will the superhero persona make him distant or closer to his audiences? Will becoming a comic character trivialize his brand? Will the kiddiness of his new portrayal dilute the macho/alpha plus imagery that his brand evokes? Brand managers of all his 25+ endorsements must surely be scratching their heads.
There has already been some criticism of Kohli as Super V. One school of thought is that the very notion that superpowers are needed to become someone special is a negative stroke to adolescents. Kohli is already a superhero as a cricketer. Why imbue him with the supernatural? Does that not belittle his talent and his achievements that came through years of grit, determination and hardwork? And that too superlative talent, rather than un-human powers?
Well, it is as yet too early to say. But one thing is for sure … the Marvel franchise will propel Virat Kohli to 70 countries, or more … many of which do not even play cricket. Virat could therefore become a more-exported human brand from India than any other, save Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and maybe PM Modi.
Dr. Sandeep Goyal, an expert in the study of celebrities as human brands, gets stirred and moved by every new happening in this space. This new rendition of Brand Virat fascinates him.