Anil Kapoor, one of India’s most popular actors with 40 years’ worth of an industrious film career behind him, is relatively new on the celebrity endorsement circuit by his own admission. The 64-year-old actor began carving a serious niche for himself as a brand ambassador in just the last decade or so.
Today, his advertising portfolio boasts of some big names across categories – music streaming app Spotify, credit card bill payment app Cred, jewellery brand Malabar Gold and Diamonds, digestive supplement brand Softovac, P&G’s flagship detergent brand Ariel, and Scott Eyewear, among several others. In fact, two ads from Campaign India’s round-up of 2020’s Top 50 ads were Kapoor-starrers.
In an exclusive chat with Campaign India, the actor spoke across a wide spectrum of topics – from what keeps him relevant as a celebrity across demographics, how the new-age celebrity has become more accessible, the international brands he wished he endorsed to the best parts about shooting a commercial.
Anil Kapoor, as a brand, is synonymous with style, fitness, grace and overall ‘cool’. How do you make yourself relevant across demographics and categories? And how do you choose your brands?
It’s overwhelming for me to hear you say that I have style, fitness, coolness and grace! I believe in completely investing myself when it comes to the brands I’m working with. They become family; I have to believe in them and understand how much I can add to the brand. If they want me, I need to do my best for them. It’s more about them than me.
The only times I think about myself when it comes to endorsements is when I don’t know anything about the brand. I then begin scrutinising further, learning and understanding more about the brand. If they are newcomers, then I ask how legitimate they are. Usually, I meet the people behind the brand personally and to see their passion.
For instance, I’ve been associated with Malabar Jewellery for the last seven years. Associations like this become family. We’ve grown together and gained a lot from each other.
There are several such brands I’ve been endorsing for about four or five years now. To be honest, ads and endorsements aren’t a cash cow for me like they are for so many others. To me, it’s as important as doing a film. I see who the producer, writer, co-stars and director are on a film. And it’s the same when it comes to a brand.
Are there any brands or categories you wouldn’t associate with?
I have a great team who screens literally everything before it comes to me. I have a great manager and a legal team, along with my family who has been in this world for several years. My wife (Sunita Kapoor), who was a model, and Sonam (Kapoor, daughter) – who began doing ads before I began – encouraged me. My daughter Rhea (Kapoor) is a stylist and producer. So, my entire family has great knowledge about what to do or not. I keep getting great feedback from them all.
By the time a brand comes to me, it’s so screened and scrutinised, that it’s much easier for me to choose what’s right from wrong. And then I go with my instinct on yeh karna hai ki nahi karna. Badi simple si baat hai! (The simple truth is that I go with my instinct on whether I should do an ad or not.)
Celebrities, today, are constantly under the scanner with feedback on social media being almost in real-time. In light of this, how does the responsibility of a celebrity endorser change? What are the considerations and factors you have to bear in mind while signing up a brand?
I have been very fortunate that the brands I endorse have many more do’s and don’ts than I do. It’s like with a film – if something goes wrong, the filmmaker and producers have more to lose than I do. I try to associate with people who have more to lose than I do (laughs).
Corporate brands have big teams and so much at stake. They are already very careful before they come to me. One has to be even more careful with social media; put something out and it might go completely against you.
So today, I’ll say we most definitely are under the scanner more than actors or celebrities were 10 or 15 years back.
We happened to see that you’d shared two pieces of work that appeared in Campaign India's top 50 for 2020. Do you take it personally if an ad film doesn't do well?
There are times when someone is putting in a lot of money and effort to create something and if it doesn’t do well, it does affect me personally. This is one of the reasons I put in more effort and time for meetings before a shoot. Sometimes, I even go to the set to rehearse one day before the actual ad film shoot.
Celebrities are usually so conscious about their hours and timings that they just come for two, three or eight hours and leave. For me, though, I see to it that I am completely prepared before I step on a set to execute an ad.
Despite all this, if an ad doesn’t do well I do feel bad. Things go wrong sometimes, though; you unintentionally choose the wrong film, for instance. What you can do is not repeat your mistakes, and move on.
In my 40-year-old career, I’m a very late entrant when it comes to endorsing brands. In the first 30 years, I saw that Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand never endorsed brands, and neither did Amitabh Bachchan at the time. Then Bachchan Saab started, and shortly after, the new generation brought in Shahrukh (Khan) and Aamir (Khan) who endorsed several brands. Back then, I always believed my responsibility was first towards a filmmaker who wants to make a film with me. I wanted to keep myself as exclusive as possible for them.
Things changed so much since then. Filmmakers changed, the quality of films and money changed, everything changed. Creatively, everything became more exciting. The first ad I ever did was a Mont Blanc ad. It was an international, prestigious brand.
I used to get so many offers in the first 30 years of my career and I just kept refusing them. I believe, however, that it’s one of the reasons my ads look very fresh. Because I’ve just started doing them!
For instance, all the younger actors – Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, etc. – as far as the film business is concerned, have been around for 10-12 years. However, when it comes to the ad business, I’ve been around for the same amount of time as their careers. I’m a young, newcomer in the ad world!
What do you enjoy most about starring in ads?
My biggest takeaway is getting to work with fresher filmmakers, writers, copywriters, cameramen, technicians and directors. I get to meet talent that isn’t just from the usual filmmaking pool. Several filmmakers make ads, sure, but I am exposed to writers and directors who don’t make feature films at all. Take Ayappa, for instance. I worked with him for Cred, and he has never made a movie ever! Then there is the writing team at Spotify (Leo Burnett India) who’s fantastic.
I get a chance to work with these genius filmmakers who don’t want to make films, just ads. For me, money is secondary; it’s the creative satisfaction and collaboration with this young talent that’s very exciting.
The idea of a ‘celebrity’ has changed so much. With Mr Bachchan coming into our homes through KBC every night, to you inviting the audience for a peek into your actual home in AK v/s AK, do you believe the modern celebrity is more accessible?
No one in the world could do Who Wants To Be A Millionaire better than Bachchan Saab. Other anchors do this show all over the world; I know because I had researched extensively for Slumdog Millionaire. I watched each of the show’s anchors from around the world. But what Bachchan Saab gets to the table is something very extraordinary. It just suited him; his voice, his command over the language, everything. And it came to him at the right time.
For me, 24 came to me at the right time. I was the first mainstream, big-screen star on TV to achieve success without doing a reality show. I essayed Jack Bauer’s character on the small screen and it was a huge risk. Somewhere, the entire film and trade fraternity thought I was committing hara-kiri.
Life is all about taking risks, though, and thankfully, this one paid off. People didn’t know what a show’s seasons are at the time I did 24. I asked for a certain budget for each episode, which everyone thought was too much. But I was going to make each episode like a film; 10 days to shoot each episode. This was eight years ago before OTT was even in the picture.
It’s the same with AK v/s AK, where I am secure within myself to take that risk. The dividends are 10 times more when it pays off. I was asked all sorts of questions with the diss rap track for AK v/s AK: How can they make so much fun of you? You’re a big star and they’re saying things like you’re irrelevant. You’re being roasted!
No one can imagine a mainstream star doing this. Honestly, though, you need a pulse on what youngsters are going to love, and they’ve loved AK v/s AK. You just can’t take yourself so seriously.
That’s also the secret behind the Cred ad. When it came to me, it’s more about making fun of myself. I was told, “If you say yes to the ad, the others will agree as well.” And that’s what happened. Any mainstream actor would ask themselves “Why would I become such a fool where I’ve been shown to fail an audition by trying to recreate the 80s magic?” But I’m just making fun of myself! It’s why the ad became such a success and youngsters enjoyed it a lot.
You had mentioned the exclusivity you sought as an actor. Are you okay with the level of accessibility your fans now have into your life?
The quality and exposure with ads are so good, today. Anything clutter-breaking in an ad helps you gain as much as you did with a film. People have appreciated the Spotify and Cred ads, I’ve been told I’ve said academic lines effortlessly in my jewellery ads. Ads become like a showcase for your own talent.
Actors anyway make one film in a year and a half or so, so ads help with great exposure between films, as well.
Have you always been a great sport or is this kind of ‘chilled out’ behaviour the reason you’re one of the most loved brand ambassadors at the moment?
I’ve always been a sport. For instance, fans keep on telling me to say ‘Jhakaas’ and ‘Ae Ji, O Ji’, but I’m not like that in real life. I don’t go about saying “Jhakaas!” and “Ae Ji O Ji”!
I’m a serious, thinking actor. I work hard, I go home and spend time with my family. Then there are roles I’ve done like Dil Dhadakne Do, Ishwar and Lamhe that are all very serious. But it makes fans happy when I say “Jhakaas!” so be it. Herein, I’m going to reiterate how no one should take themselves so seriously. Be cool about yourself!
Presidents and celebrities abroad are roasted. There are shows like The Crown in the UK, where you either agree or disagree on the depiction of the Royal Family is right or wrong. But does it take away from the Family? Of course not. In fact, people are more interested in them now. At the end of the day, it’s just a show. Which is why I wonder, why do people get upset over tiny things? You have to be a little broad-minded and liberal, globally.
Could you name 3-4 of your favourite international brands that you wish you’d endorsed?
Coming to my mind immediately is Nespresso featuring George Clooney. I love that entire campaign and wish I could do something like that internationally.
Then there are the exceptional BMW films made by some really big international film directors.
BMW: The Hire
Ambush (2001): Directed by John Frankenheimer
Third come John Travolta’s ads for Breitling. He has been associated with that brand for so many years and I love the ads.
And of course, there’s always Nike, who I’d love to be associated with. It’s one of my favourite brands. These kinds of categories interest me immensely.
In closing, could you tell us your favourite bits about shooting a commercial, and the not-so-favourite bits? Some occupational hazards, if you will!
What annoys me about ads sometimes is when the teams want to pack in too many things into one shoot. Besides the actual ads, they sometimes try to pack in bytes or some digital clips quickly. I need everything to be prepped the same way that they shoot the main ad. Do it properly; let the same DOP and director shoot it. Why rush things? This really upsets me sometimes.
The favourite bit is like I mentioned earlier – getting to be around new filmmakers, writers, directors and camera people. I love how I get an opportunity to make someone smile, laugh or move emotionally in 30 seconds!