The package arrived, was dutifully unwrapped and out popped a book that seemed like Shah Rukh Khan’s biography. Yes, another one. Reviewers can’t be choosers and so while I debated whether to go and watch the DDLJ 1000th week version as prep, I absently flipped through the book. Imagine my shock when I discovered this was a management textbook: a treatise on Consumer Behaviour explored through the SRK phenomenon. And I’ll tell you why the shock.
The subcontinent, we are all aware, is not exactly known for academic innovation. To put it bluntly, if academia is not decades behind its Western counterparts it is merely because we have dutifully paraphrased every aspect of more robust university systems. There are grave lacunae in available study material in many streams that require original thinking or practical application like management, lit-crit, cultural or film studies: fields in which a mere cut-paste of alien cultures and their focus areas will not do.
I had given up hope of ever finding a textbook that guides us to concepts we do not know or need to explore through cultural markers and other accessible knowledge aspects we are experts at.
And who on our subcontinent is not an expert on the phenomenon himself, Shah Rukh Khan?
In Power of a Common Man author and Management Studies professor, Koral Dasgupta, attempts the unthinkable. Urbanely juxtaposing well-known facts and facets from the superstar’s life graph, she breaks down and deciphers consumer behaviour templates that have contributed to the actor’s immense success. And through this misdirection, manages to drive home the fundamentals of market behaviour and consumer reasoning in a textbook both entertaining and unique. What makes the book remarkable is the heroic effort right from the concept, researching, analysis, extensive scope and the in-depth writing.
Peppered with quotes from industry leaders and gurus in cutting edge domains of advertising, image and brand management, the book takes us on a tour of the workings of the finest minds in advertising vis-à-vis King Khan.
A work good enough to retain in our personal libraries ideally ought to offer more than just one strand. Apart from being a record of the career graph of SRK and his brand persona the book offers an encapsulated history of Bollywood cinema; a voyeur’s view of the glitzy world of ads; the hard-nosed business aspect of branding; close re-readings of Khan’s movies; SRK as a manifestation of pop culture and, of course, some solid extensive and painstaking researched data to make this an enviable case study. It is commendable how thoroughly the object of analysis has been dissected and disseminated.
SRK lends himself magnificently to such an exercise: “My motto is early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise!” One can almost visualise the great actor dimpling as he delivers this in his unique mix of arrogance and simplicity. Behind that boyish, almost roguish, self-deprecative smile are the canniest business brains in Bollywood firmament. Where he triumphs over compatriots is his immense talent, the astute positioning in consonance with mainstreams cultural values, a deep perhaps innate understanding of how brand perceptions work, the capacity to reinvent himself to counter each surge of societal change; and a rare respect for and understanding of business and finance.
The author demystifies these qualities linking each to milestones that mark the incredible journey of Shah Rukh Khan from his Fauji days to the omnipresent brand SRK.
Bringing in her own unique brand of scrutiny the author interestingly points out in a chapter on Ad Analysis, Khan’s unique foray into endorsing products traditionally considered women-oriented: Lux, Gitanjali Jewel and Fair and Handsome. Regarding the Lux ad, “HUL claimed that the ad not only challenged the existing communication practices of a feminine brand but also became a trend-setter for a brave initiative, perceptionally positioning the brand as a market leader once again.” By boldly going where no man had gone before, SRK extends his brand reach ensuring that his film and ad personas wholesomely feed off each other.
As Dasgupta puts it: “The actor’s romance with the media through brand endorsements, interviews, reports and controversies planned in line with his PR, show an SRK which may or may not be him; yet his strong presence and larger-than-life personality is capacitated to influence, convince and sell!” Other stars have had meteoric careers too, but in terms of business rarely went beyond maybe a couple of smart investments. It is SRK who has been the master innovator, re-inventing himself periodically to synch with the needs of his ginormous fan following.
Dasgupta hones in on the three important pivots on which brand SRK rests: homework, namely the tremendous effort put into preparation; vision, namely the wisdom to pick and choose his projects accurately; and finally leadership and team motivation by which he actively delegates and elicits the best from each member of his core team. I would perhaps add his indefatigable energy and enthusiasm. For building an empire out of nothing but an image is truly heroic.
If I were to fault any aspect of the book, it would be the hope that the language, material and format were not quite as pedagogic. Though extremely well written, there is a certain subject specific dryness; as if to remind the reader that this is earmarked as an academic textbook and woe to any student who seeks to derive joy from the exercise. I refer to the narrative skill in books like Genome, Freakonomics or The Tipping Point with a similarly academic agenda.
In the author’s defence, I guess the very act of defiantly picking SRK as a research topic is rebellious enough.
This is a book every business management student, brand or image consultant and advertising professional should read word by word for it embeds domain specific wisdom that is invaluable. Should others invest in it? If you are a follower of contemporary film studies of the subcontinent or yet another die-hard SRK fan, this is a must have!