Brand Salman set for a sunset? Bhaijaan's allure won't survive behind bars

Salman Khan in a scene from Tubelight.
Tiger Zinda Hai. But Tiger is now caged. He is likely to stay caged for perhaps 5 years. Tiger is 52 years old. Going behind bars for 5 years is going to be a disaster for Tiger Salman Khan, the enfant terrible of Indian cinema. The judgment in the black buck case surely came as a surprise for Bollywood’s most successful Khan in Jodhpur today. All his other four friends were acquitted but Sallu was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years in jail. He could have got 6 years, the maximum punishment in the case, since he is a ‘habitual offender’ as the prosecution put it. So, in a manner of speaking, he got away somewhat lightly. 

As the superhit superstar of a string of Bollywood supersuccesses … Dabangg, Ready, Chillar Party, Bodyguard, Ek Tha Tiger, Dabangg 2, Kick, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and Tiger Zinda Hai … it seemed like Salman could do no wrong. Every one of his movies would unerringly and effortlessly go past the Rs 1 billion mark, sometimes in the first weekend itself. After trailing the other two Khans (SRK and Aamir) for most of his initial career, for the last 7 years, Salman had just left these two, and everyone else far, far behind. He has had the Midas touch. But he has also had a Sword of Damocles hanging over him all the time. Salman did a jail stint when he was involved in a hit and run. His white Toyota Land Cruiser allegedly crashed into American Express Bakery at Hill Road at Bandra in Mumbai, killing one person and injuring four on September 28, 2002. He was acquitted in the case but the Maharashtra government has filed an appeal. And, while the court will consider his bail plea tomorrow in Jodhpur in the black buck case, bail may not come Salman’s way immediately since the sentence is longer than 3 years. 

Brand Salman is in peril. Salman recently completed the shooting of Remo D'Souza's Race 3 in Abu Dhabi. The film is scheduled to hit theatres on June 15 on Eid. Besides Race 3, Salman has signed on Atul Agnihotri's Bharat, to be directed by Ali Abbas Zafar. And after Bharat, Salman is expected to start shooting for the third instalment of blockbuster franchise Dabangg co-starring Sonakshi Sinha. Not just this, the second instalment of Kick too has been announced and expected to go into production next year. Bollywood estimates say there is over Rs 10 billion riding on Salman right now. With Salman in jail, all these movies could be stuck for a long long while. 

Salman has TV show Dus Ka Dum scheduled to go on air in the next few months. Promos have already started to be aired. A big question mark now hangs over the future of Dus Ka Dum. Bigg Boss, now in its twelfth season as India’s favourite reality show will also most likely have to do without Salman. 

Advertisers too are likely to miss Salman. But perhaps not too much. The dashing Khan has been the brand ambassador for Thums Up, Revital, Wheel, Suzuki Motorcycles,, Dixcy Scott, Splash and Relaxo, besides possibly a few others, including Being Human. But with all the controversies surrounding him over the past few years, most brands have been a bit circumspect in using him as their face to the market. As it is, while SRK (Tag Heuer, Airtel, Videocon, Nerolac, Emami, Hyundai, Pepsodent, Dish TV, Big Basket etc.) and Aamir (Vivo, Samsung, Tata Sky, Coca-Cola, Titan, Snapdeal etc.) always endorsed classier and more up-market brands, Salman somehow had to remain content with middling to down-market offerings to the market. Thums Up was his most prominent endorsement but there too he got replaced by Ranveer Singh. Despite his superlative success on the big screen, somehow ad agencies and brands shied away from Salman. He was a successful brand but a flawed brand. Not safe to use despite all the explosive success he had had. 

If Salman does go to jail for 5 years, then it is the beginning of the end for him. In fact, I would stick my neck out and say it is really the end for him, at least as far as brands and advertisers are concerned. The stigma of jail is not something any brand wants to be associated with. Sanjay Dutt is a good example to analyse here. After his release from Yerwada jail, Dutt made a big splash with claims of a big come back. However, his first movie post his jail stint, Bhoomi, received at best a very lukewarm response. He is shooting these days for Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3 which releases later this year but Bollywood feedback on the movie is not very optimistic. Similarly, Torbaaz, an action thriller set in Afghanistan is still only a bundle of hope. But the failure of Bhoomi has prompted Sanjay Dutt to give up on Omung Kumar’s Good Maharaja and also Total Dhamaal. Same is the fate of Sanjay Dutt in Blockbuster. Perhaps even Panipat and Housefull 4

The truth of the matter is that the public forgets, but deep down never forgives.  Salman Khan, at age 57, five years from now after spending time behind bars may not really remain the Bhaijaan that he is today. Whether he likes it or not, unless the courts give him an immediate reprieve, Brand Salman is headed into the sunset. 
Sandeep Goyal is doing his PhD from FMS Delhi on Celebrities as Human Brands and has been tracking this domain for over a decade. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal. They do not reflect the view/s of Business Standard.