Zubaan ek ho toh...” One innocuous line in a not-so-innocuous ad has sparked off so many debates.
When Akshay Kumar was mob-thrashed for joining Shah Rukh Khan and Ajay Devgn to promote an unhealthy substance dressed up as elaichi, he had to publicly apologise for making a choice that angered his fans, had to announce that while he had to let his contract run its course, he would be withdrawing from further association with the product and that all earnings from the ad would be earmarked for a noble cause. I asked a youngster why Akshay was marked for such outrage while the other two hefty names had got away with it. “Because Shah Rukh and Ajay are smokers,” came the prompt reply. “So they don’t give gyaan on health unlike Akshay, who is a non-smoker and stands like a beacon of good health.”
A fair reply because SRK and Ajay have never hidden their fondness for the cancer stick and are, therefore, no poster boys for healthy choices. On the other hand, Akshay has himself told me how he reluctantly did a cigarette ad way back when he didn’t have money even for petrol in his old Fiat. But as soon as he became financially sound, he not only distanced himself from the product but also vowed not to endorse anything that was unhealthy. So was it just the tempting cheque that made him bite the bait? He’s also currently endorsing a soft drink (with Adah Sharma and a kingsized gorilla), which clearly states that it’s high in caffeine content and not recommended for children, and pregnant and lactating women. But since it also claims to contain “non-caloric sweeteners”, Akshay would perhaps like to believe it’s healthy even though one is pretty sure it’s not something he stocks in his fridge.
Meanwhile, it’s not as if SRK and Ajay should go scot-free because, whether they are smokers or not, role models of their stature have a social responsibility to fulfil. Filling their already-bursting coffers cannot be their raison d’etre.
SRK and Ajay, two diagonally opposite personalities who don’t really care too much for each other but have Kajol as their catalyst, would have been any filmmaker’s joy if they’d done a film together. One has said this before but Karan Johar had once attempted a pre-Partition family drama with Ajay, SRK and Kajol, which he had to shelve. What a shame that instead of pitting their talents on screen they decided to partner over a surrogate ad that does them no credit. If the ad world buzz is to be believed, Akshay, SRK and Ajay didn’t even come together for the shoot. Their individual shoots were put together through computer wizardry.
Mr Bachchan, who had once assured me that neither he nor son Abhishek would renew any contract to endorse a cola, is as culpable as the above trio. It’s pretty cringey to watch him cavorting so unsuitably like flirty Sam from Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and downing packets of the banned stuff in yet another surrogate ad.
Incidentally, was the “zubaan ek...” line responsible for Devgn and co. to conclude that theirs was the chosen zubaan of the country? If yes, that incorrect ad too needs to be knocked out of circulation soon. Meanwhile, the veterans and the young need to do a spot of self-questioning. Allu Arjun of Pushpa fame and Yash, “the rocking star of KGF” have walked away from colossal amounts offered to them to endorse gutkha, while Ranveer Singh co-stars with AB to push the same banned stuff. So does Hrithik Roshan, unforgivably. Similarly, a video clip juxtaposes Alia Bhatt screeching, “Eeks, no sugar for me, sugar is bad,” on a Kapil Sharma show while guzzling calorie and sugar laden soft drinks, chocolates and biscuits for various commercials. Ranveer and Alia are in the country’s coveted top income bracket, not financially needy newbies.
Hey, Mumbai, whatever your age. It just might help elevate you in the public eye if you learn not only box-office tricks from Allu Arjun, Yash and ilk but also how to be rich and famous with your inner voice intact.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author