Aamir Khan And Brand Intolerance

12/02/2016 8:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
Reeta Gupta

Aamir Khan has no brand endorsements left in his kitty. Ostensibly because of his recent statement on 'intolerance'.

There were lots of initial reactions, including that Aamir's statement was...

Poorly timed.

A result of poor judgement.

Ungrateful to the nation that has been his 'karmabhoomi'.

Aamir is a professional who has built his work and reputation in India in the film and entertainment industry. He then turned entrepreneur, producing cinema and content. Many admire his brand because Aamir is regarded as a master-storyteller, perfectionist, marketing genius, actor par excellence and somebody who does selective cinema.

He has lived here, worked here, made it big and is talking about his own country. And there are problems in every country.

His wife -- whose 'brand value', in factual terms, is not in the same league as Aamir's -- apparently spoke to him in private about India's intolerance. But Aamir chose to speak about it in public, and it became national news.

Do you think an intelligent, successful man like Aamir 'forgot' to consider the consequences of his statement?

Highly unlikely.

The three questions that may have crossed his mind before he said it are:

How will people react?

Will the brands I endorse have a problem with it?

Will there be a political backlash?

Consequently, what are the questions that we must mull over before we decide to sit in judgement?

Bollywood celebrities, today, perhaps taking inspiration from the gutsy Deepika Padukone, are not interested in being role models. They are successful human beings doing their job. That's it! The rest of their life and views are theirs alone.

Many people have left India for better prospects --and we celebrate. Five celebrated, immensely talented Indians (I've chosen their names at random) who chose to work/build a name in another country are...

Harvard professor and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen

NextEV CEO Padmasree Warrior

Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Berkshire Hathaway's Ajit Jain, widely believed to be Warren Buffet's successor

I am wondering how the US/UK governments would react if these people turned around and said their country of work was intolerant? There would definitely be a backlash.

Do we know why these people chose to work out of India? We know that they have upped 'brand India's' image. What about the millions of Indians in the last two decades, who left India? They went for education perhaps and stayed on. It doesn't matter, and all the best to them, because they send in foreign exchange.

But they did leave, didn't they? Infrastructure, intolerance, lack of opportunity... what were their reasons? Don't you know at least one human being, who turned around and told you something like, "Dubai is a tax-free country; I think I want to relocate there."

Aamir, in sharp contrast, has called his 'own country' intolerant. That's a totally different scenario. He has lived here, worked here, made it big and is talking about his own country. And there are problems in every country.

And in case Aamir is not your role model or you don't look up to him, then his statement is inconsequential anyway.

Looking back a little in history, both Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose had their own methods to fight against the British. A recent book claims that the British feared Bose more than Gandhi. Who is to verify this? But different methods and views have co-existed in my country; that's why it is a democracy.

If he were to be appointed as the brand ambassador of my country, and speak at the UN, I doubt if intolerance would be his topic of discussion.

Patriotism is a very natural emotion. The internet has injected a global appreciation into our patriotic minds: I love my country, but Japan's bullet trains are great -- can we have them? I love my country, but I know that female literacy rate in Bihar is 53%. Can I get the world's best education technology here? And how do I work on mindsets, so people send their daughters to school? It's ok to want more or have a contrarian view.

Brand India is the sum total of all its achievers, as well as its poor and downtrodden. Its millionaires and its slum dog millionaires. Its scientists, entrepreneurs, CEOs, politicians and artists.

Indians who work abroad carry the 'India' tag. They sit down together, in 'Indian' restaurants all over the world to eat butter chicken and naan with their hands and wonder whether Amitabh and Rekha ever really had an affair or not? They discuss Mohd Rafi's songs, hum "Purani Jeans", get nostalgic about mom's homemade food, gajar ka halwa and corruption, all in equal measure. Every Indian, living and working anywhere in the world is contributing to the imagery that makes up Brand India.

Brand Aamir, is a small subset of brand India. If he were to be appointed as the brand ambassador of my country, and speak at the UN, I doubt if intolerance would be his topic of discussion.

But then again, Aamir may have just shown us his most honest face, as a citizen. We all live and we learn. The debate is dead, long live the debate!

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