Just this month, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni called off his deal with real-estate group Amrapali as their brand ambassador. Reason: the miffed residents of realtor's Sapphire project in Noida launched a campaign on social media requesting the cricketer to either disassociate himself from the brand or ask them to complete the pending work as promised. Dhoni set the right example by dumping the brand he endorsed for over five years and also assuring people that he'd take up the matter with the company.
Now take this. A group of 15-20 people gathered outside a lounge at Connaught Place recently to boo Anupam Kher; the actor was there to launch a book titled The Kashmir Story. The narrative of the book is based on the history of the Valley and displacement of Kashmiri Pandits. However, the protesters had nothing to do with Kashmir or Kher's enthusiastic opinions on national issues. They were the victims of another real estate firm, Vigneshwara Developers, once endorsed by Anupam Kher. The directors of the group, now in jail, are accused of duping 650 investors of nearly ₹260 crore.
Kher mocked the protest, saying, "They are saying haaye haaye because I was associated with [Vigneshwara] Group some ten years ago. These people are desperate to discredit me."
Some of them had come to speak to Kher and urge him to push the builders to fulfill the promises they had made. However, the actor snubbed them in no uncertain terms, walked into the lounge and for the next hour, spoke passionately about the "rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits" in a discussion hosted by News X editor Rahul Shivshankar. He, with utmost guts, fervour and dramatics, urged another panellist, BJP's Ram Madhav, to ensure his brothers' and sisters' safe ghar wapsi to the Valley.
It was ironical that Kher, a champion of public welfare be it Kashmir or other national issues, chose to ignore the plight of the people who are now paying the price for his endorsement of the real-estate company. Remember those television ads where Kher was promising risk-free investment in Vigneshwara Developers?
I'm not suggesting that the actor should squarely be held responsible for what these people are going through, but why is it that the actor who doesn't shy from speaking his heart out on issues nothing to do with him, had to hide his face? What would have cost him to acknowledge people's grievances and explain his situation? Worse was his apathetic reaction to their sloganeering. When he came upstairs, he mocked the protest, saying, "They are saying haaye haaye because I was associated with the Group some ten years ago. These people are desperate to discredit me." To which, the audience burst into laughter including the panellists involving Kashmiri activists.
I suggest Kher watches those advertisements once again... The commitment in his voice, as scripted by the builders, laid the foundation for this entire con practice.
After the discussion got over, Kher was overheard telling Shivshankar how "funny" it is for people to hold him responsible for the fraudulent practices of the group. But why is Kher running away? Clearly, this issue is not going to earn him brownie points from his political gurus. Besides, mainstream media doesn't seem to be interested in covering the case, the next hearing of which is due on 26 April, 2016. So Kher has assumed that India doesn't want to know about it and his callous behaviour is likely to go unnoticed.
He has conveniently buried the fact that the celebrity as a brand ambassador is not only the face of the product but also morally responsible when something goes wrong for the consumer. I suggest Kher browses YouTube and watches those advertisements once again to know the answer. The commitment in his voice, as scripted by the builders, laid the foundation for this entire con practice.
A brand ambassador who rakes in moolah to build palaces may not investigate what goes into the making of a product or company but the least one can do, as Dhoni demonstrated, is address the grievances of consumers.
The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist and founder of www.bornofweb.com
Also see on HuffPost: