Having stopped its production for over three years, Hyundai Motors re-launched Santro on Tuesday. While the car was launched by Shah Rukh Khan, film star and HMIL’s brand ambassador for two decades now, in a conversation with The Indian Express, Khan said that integrity is a key while endorsing a brand and the brand ambassador has to trust the product before telling others to use it. He also spoke about his association with Hyundai, electric cars and corporatisation in the film industry. Edited excerpts:
Do you think that the brand ambassador carries the responsibility of a brand he endorses?
Yes and I think it depends on your personal integrity. Pepsi, I drink and Santro, I drive but there are lot of things that I may not be using before I became the brand ambassador and afterwards also I may not be using it as often as I don’t really need to. I have been very lucky that I got the top brands in the world to endorse, they already had the reputation of being the best and nice, so it kind of made me look dependable at times. Over a year, I must have refused some 7-8 brands, as I thought that I would never use them. There may, however, be some brands that I don’t use, but I understand that people would like to use and so I may go for it. The integrity has to be there and when you are telling someone, you have to trust it yourself. My philosophy of brand endorsement is that, I use it, if it’s good for me I am not saying it’s good enough for you. But yes, you owe that much integrity.
How do you see your two decade association with Hyundai and what kept it going?
In my career to there are very few companies that started when I started. Some companies used me in a positive way at their start when I was already a star while some that were big such as Pepsi wanted a new boy for the future. Hyundai and I were nearly at the same place and we have done well. While Santro became a success, it’s kind of them to sometimes say, you started it but I didn’t, maybe I gave a face.
Honestly, 20 years ago neither of us knew we would last 20 years, but sometimes business leads to emotional connect as I have with some of my directors. And in this case very strangely, a company comes from Korea, forms a bond and it becomes a relationship. I see it as a relationship between a set of people who were starting at the same time—they came together, had a good relationship and shared friendship and warmth. While God, audience and customers have been kind, somewhere the strive has been to try to give something back.
While you can now be happy about the association and success of Hyundai, did you have any apprehensions two decades ago as you were supposed to carry the brand on your shoulders?
Times then were simpler. If anyone at that time came and said that you are going to be brand ambassador of a car, that itself was unheard of. As far as I remember, at that time there was no movie star who was brand ambassador of a car in the world. I was really shocked when they approached me. The television was new, advertising was new, at that time we did not even know if the advertisements would run like this. Now I have a team of good people, sussing and telling this brand is good etc, it was nothing like this. You went on instinct and sometimes on necessity, as you need the money. While I knew Hyundai very well as it was a global brand, I had this feeling that will they keep me for long, maybe they will do something for 4-5 months and then stop. These were my first thoughts 20 years back. People come with dreams and thoughts, these guys had technology and reputation to back it up. I think I did not do any favour, if anyone did a favour, they did to me.
What is your view on discussion around lower emissions and the time now for electric cars?
I think it’s very important as pollution is a reality we have to face. However, it should not be the case where we jump into a new world without fully understanding it. I have been speaking to people and reading about it and I understand that even in a battery operated car, the battery has to be disposed and it is one of the few things that is not disposed nicely. So, you have to be careful that we do not shift the bad environment from one place to another. While I is important to shift to electricity immediately, we have to keep looking for fuel cell, hydrogen or a better technology.
How has corporatisation within film industry benefited and have there been any pitfalls?
Corporatisation has a big plus point of organising. Organisation in general is very good whether you call it corporate, office hygiene or discipline. When international companies came, they came with their own thought and they are more organized and I think everyone of us can do with a little organisation. However, organisations brought stringent rules with them and some of them curbed creativity. So, we saw a phase where marriage between a poet and a CEO was difficult. Then a phase came when corporates began outsourcing by giving money and letting them do it. But now there is a nice mix of corporate with creative sensibility. Dharma is like that, hopefully Red Chillies is like that. In corporatisation of films, it is important to demark your job– be together on off-sites but at work you have to let each do their own job. I think that is happening now and you would notice that some of the home grown companies have taken the corporate structure and made it their own. I believe that in India every innovation will have Indianness to it and Indian culture always seeps into everything that is introduced in the country.