A Cinema-TV symbiosis

Recently, I was surprised (pleasantly at first, but grew tired after a thousand repeats on TV) to see Vijay in a jewelry advertisement. A couple of weeks before that, it was Vikram who surprised us by appearing as father and son, endorsing a financial establishment offering gold loans. Then, Mammootty has been quite regularly doing the rounds on TV these days, endorsing a brand of dhotis and Jayaram has been at it for quite a while.

Well, why are we surprised then? Because, top south Indian stars doing ads is not a very common occurrence. Most of our first level stars have never ventured into commercials. In the last decade or so we can cite an odd few instances where stars consented to do commercials. A few of them are Vijay, more than 5 years back for Coke, Vikram, also a few years back for Coke; Ajith, the only time in his career, for Sunrise etc. The real biggies, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth have never even got close to doing a brand endorsement or commercial. This is in stark contrast to the North where big stars endorse almost every

available brand to the point that the media began building stories about rival stars being chosen for rival brands. Like Shahrukh for Pepsi and Aamir for Coke etc. There is almost no star in Bollywood who has not tried his hand at endorsements. It is almost as if there is a surplus of stars and dearth of brands. SRK endorses more products than one can remember Pepsi, Compaq, Dabur, Pepsodent and the list is endless. Even a senior star like Amitabh Bachchan is an active presence in the field of brand endorsements so is Abhishek. Other big players include Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan and the new kid on the block Ranbir Kapoor.

So, what is it that keeps the southern stars from endorsing brands? It is not that companies don’t want to engage them as ambassadors. They are as big in the south as SRK or Big B is up north, and their face value is unmatched in their part of the country. But, there has always been a share of reticence shown by stars down south when it comes to doing ads, or appearing on TV in general. Some might say that it all comes down to a matter of principle because endorsing a product means effectively manipulating public opinion and some people would not want to be involved in such a thing. But, something more than just principles seem to be involved here.

There are two ways of looking at TV appearances of top film stars. One is that the small screen tends to diminish the aura and mystique brought about by being in cinema; in other words, it affects the big screen appeal of a star. The other way to look at TV appearances is that they boost the accessibility and familiarity of a star to the public, developing more proximity and thus endearing the star in people’s minds. The southern film industry seems to believe in the former while Bollywood seems to believe in the latter. How or why, we don’t know.

The most probable reason might be the concept that TV is a lesser medium, a rung or two below cinema and that appearing regularly on TV is much like a demotion from cinema. Bollywood seems to treat TV more like an equal medium and also as a medium which can be used to leverage the popularity of cinema. This can be gauged from the way movie stars have embraced the small screen in recent years.

It all started, one supposes, with the arrival of Amitabh Bachchan and Kaun Banega Crorepati. Not only was it a huge success on TV, it also reinvented Big B as a national star and firmly put his second innings in cinema on track which still shows no signs of slowing down. From then on there has been a beeline of stars from Bollywood eagerly trying to be part of the small screen. Reality shows, talk shows, game shows – name it and there are active stars in Bollywood anchoring them. Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Govinda, Akshay Kumar etc. have anchored TV shows at different points of their highly successful careers. And, any star who is not directly hosting shows on TV never fails to make regular appearances on such shows, especially when their films are about to release – remember the number of celebrity episodes on KBC and Dus Ka Dum. The reality shows hosted by film stars are used as vehicles to promote films – it is practically a win-win scenario for everyone involved. A stint in TV – Big Brother- gave the tottering career of Shilpa Shetty a lifeline and she is now on her way to becoming an international celebrity. In Bollywood, a top star being chosen to do a TV show is seen as a proof of his/her star power to keep audiences glued to TV sets.

But, the attitude is different down south. The moment a big star starts appearing regularly on TV there is a school of thought which says that the concerned person is no longer getting opportunities in cinema. He/she is here because chances have dried out and succumbing to TV is the only means of earning. I became aware of such an attitude when some of my friends recently asked me whether Prasanna was having no work in movies. When I asked the reason for such a doubt, they pointed out that he had been anchoring ‘Honeymoon Travels’ on TV and that was a good enough indicator that he was out of work in cinema. I had to remind them that it was not very long ago that Naanayam released and he had also done a good role in Baana. I remember the press and media expressing similar doubts when Sarath Kumar first anchored Kodeeswaran in TV. According to the attitude down south, TV is only for retired, over the hill stars who have no hopes of doing lead roles in cinema.

Is it necessary for a film star to be on TV? Not really. It is just a matter of choice. But, a film star can gain much out of being on TV. It need not be commercials or shows. But, they can at least give regular interviews so that audiences are in touch with their stars, especially when there are big gaps between films. Big Bollywood stars are seen giving interviews practically every quarter. TV can also be effectively used for publicity of films; much like what Suriya and Karthik did recently for Singam and Naan Mahaan Alla recently – it becomes possible to vibe more with audiences.

But, it need not be even such events. Stars can appear more often on TV for much more noble purposes. Spreading awareness about a variety of issues, supporting causes and other such things that have a larger picture associated with them. Most of our stars do many things for the society in which they live. But, by appearing on the all pervading medium called Television, they can also inspire many others to do so. Some stars have shown the way; let’s hope others will take it up too.

Cinema and TV can be symbiotic. The presence of stars makes TV viewing more exciting and pleasurable, naturally enhancing the TRPs while cinema gets popularized. No one stands to lose. The Tamil film industry cannot miss out on this opportunity.

(By Sudhakar, with inputs from Arun.)

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