As is evident from the many other celebrity controversies and legal cases we have witnessed on the home turf in the recent past, whether the celeb is actually a convict or not, there are consequences and collateral damages beyond anyone’s control. Not to mention, there is also a parallel, repugnant and debilitating social media trial even though the law has not taken its course. The most recent case in point being that of Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan who was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau in October 2021 for allegedly doing recreational drugs at a party. Even though the 23-year-old star kid was cleared of all charges last month, he spent around a month’s time in jail, faced harsh criticism and slander online, which must have caused more harm than is visible.
Be it a successful businessman, an artist, a politician or a person from any vocation of life, once arrested and kept in custody, it dents their reputation drastically. In most cases of arrest, the offences may not even be proved and might result in acquittal. Criminal lawyer Majeed Memon says, “The Supreme Court maintains that arrest should never be the first step in an investigation, precisely what happened in Aryan Khan’s case. Arrest has to be the last step or deferred at all. The financial, psychological, reputational damage that such incidents can cause is beyond repair. In Aryan’s case, there was gross misuse of power to arrest. If there was no evidence because of which he was discharged, was there any evidence during arrest?”
Whether the final verdict is in favour of the celebrity or not, such controversies certainly impact the public image and the brand value of stars. To what extent, and for how long? What does it take to safeguard one’s best interests and whether the old glory of stardom can ever be restored? The impact it can have on a star’s career prospects, their personal and public life… we seek answers to all these deliberations and more in this week’s #BigStory. Read on…
An industry of perception
Showbiz thrives on perception. It is an industry that can take you to unimaginable heights, but at the same time, survival here can be quite a challenge. One gets judged on their looks, mannerisms, style, personal decisions, relationships, success, failure and much more. As casting director Kunal M Shah says, “Casting is one of the most delicate fields in our industry. Everything depends on how your film performed last Friday, or the success or failure of the last project.”
Ask him how being involved in a controversy can impact a celebrity in landing a role, he says, “It definitely affects big time. If an actor is involved in a controversy, the producers definitely shy away from casting them. We have seen many high profile actors who have been in legal issues and the producers are wary of taking them in projects simply because huge money is at stake. Nobody wants to get stuck. In the recent past, I was working on a film and the actor who was finalised for a role got stuck in a legal situation and he was dropped at the last minute.”
Sooraj Pancholi, who has been facing a trial in the Jiah Khan death case, feels his image was ruined. His mother Zarina Wahab explains, ”It is a very big setback for anybody. In our country, or anywhere in the world, once somebody is an accused, even before the final verdict comes out, people start referring to the accused as a culprit. In our industry, perception is very important. When this happened with Sooraj, he was only 21 years old. It has been 9 years and we have been waiting for this trial to get over.”
Sooraj’s father Aditya Pancholi adds that producers are reluctant to sign him. “If I was in the producers’ shoes, I would feel the same,” he says. “At one point, filmmaking used to be a passion, but now filmmaking is money. No producer will be passionate enough to wait for an actor for 5 years to complete a film. Aaj kal woh baat nahi hai (Things have changed). There are so many choices for actors and since the industry became corporate, perception has become very important. We are waiting for the case to get over, God willing in 6 months, Sooraj’s trial will come to a conclusion. Just like Aryan Khan got a clean chit in his case, we also want a closure in ours. If we are guilty please punish us, but if we are not, please give us a clean chit and acquit us,” he adds.
Rhea Chakraborty, who was arrested in Sushant Singh Rajput death case in 2020, was released on bail after 28 days. After a major setback in her personal and professional life, the actress still cannot travel abroad for work as she has a lookout notice against her. Writer-director Rumy Jaffery, who has been a pillar of support for the actress, believes the media and public trial is unfair on celebrities. “It impacts them hugely. Even when they are acquitted after trial, the loss is done. They suffer for years. Look at the way Aryan Khan was spoken about in the press and on social media. A beautiful and talented artiste like Rhea is in a legal case in her prime years. That is such a big loss for her. Sure, the opportunities will come, but the closure is still awaited,” he says.
Recalling an incident from 2005, Rumy spoke about the way the posters of his film ‘Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya’ starring Salman Khan were torn, effigies were burnt and screenings were halted over a suspected telephone conversation hinting at his underworld connection. “People don’t realise that several other artists and crew members are involved in the making of a film besides the stars. Why cause them a loss? People like Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt are like brave fighters who battle such tough, testing situations and come back stronger,” he says.
While controversies can impact the image of a celebrity, it can also have varying degrees of impact on the brands that they endorse. As research analyst Karan Taurani states, a celeb’s appeal holds a lot of weightage in brand endorsement because it has a big coalition in terms of sales growth, and that is a reason why advertisers choose celebrities to endorse their products. “They make a very heavy impact, which is why, whenever there are any kind of controversies, like a legal case or any kind of negative situation going on in their personal lives, there is a negative impact on the mindset of the advertiser. But more than it impacting the brand sales or the current advertiser sales, it has a sizeable impact on the ongoing contracts that celebrities have. The prices can be revised and reduced, or the contracts can be cancelled temporarily till that entire issue or controversy is sorted. It also impacts future contracts. Contracts where the celebrity and the advertiser are still negotiating can stand cancelled or the star can be forced to settle for a low fee,” he says.
There can be small mercies in such cases as well. Despite facing criticism from all quarters, at times the celebs can have the advertiser’s support, too. Taurani explains, “Some advertiser could end up thinking that the controversies or allegations are baseless. While some advertisers will avoid celebrities who are involved in any kind of controversy, others could be very much okay, because they could believe that these kinds of controversies don’t have any negative impact on their brand.”
Adman Prahlad Kakkar believes the impact can be good or bad depending on the case. He says, “In the case of Aryan Khan, his brand value went up through the roof after he got arrested. Everybody realised there was nothing in it. He was victimised. Today, if Aryan was actually willing to endorse a product, or be a part of a film project, every youngster in this country, who may not even like SRK, will actually support him. That may not be the case for other celebs like Shilpa Shetty, because people have formed the idea that her husband Raj Kundra is a thug. Look at Rhea Chakraborty, she came out looking like a gold-digger, who was after Sushant Singh Rajput’s money.”
The clean-up act
When controversy strikes, it is important to exercise damage control. Being a celebrity is all about being good in the public eye. “I feel having an image that the audience loves is good for every public figure. They work hard to create that image. When it is tarnished they definitely try to repair it. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes, like in Shiney Ahuja‘s case, they fail. After all, they know it is the audience’s love and respect that makes them winners,” says producer-director Swapna Waghmare Joshi.
Several philanthropic attempts by celebrities have been perceived as a clean-up act. Be it Salman Khan’s Being Human or Jacqueline Fernandez’s YOLO Foundation, or even Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic Sanju. According to Prahlad Kakkar, “Salman is bulletproof, he gets labelled as a killer and still gets away with it. His brand value got affected, so he started Being Human. Some smart PR guy told him you better come across as a little more socially responsible otherwise you’ll be perceived as a spoilt brat. The venture didn’t make any money, but it saved Salman’s life. Talk about Shiney Ahuja after his rape case, he was not a bad actor, but he was relatively unscrupulous in his method to try and get to the top. Nobody really liked him. So when people got an excuse they sent him tadipaar. When you are an outsider you should be grateful that you got a break. Then the industry slowly accepts you like it accepted Akshay, Shah Rukh…”
The legal recourse
Defamation is a serious offence and it can have serious effects in the personal and professional life of an individual. While nothing can make up for the damage such public scrutiny causes to one’s social life and mental health, there are provisions in law to claim monetary compensation. It’s some sort of commiseration. One such example is the recent plea that producer Vashu Bhagnani had filed seeking injunction against the defamatory tweets and false allegations made by Kamaal R Khan on Twitter. Bhagnani had moved the Bombay High Court last year seeking Rs 1 crore in damages, with a suit accusing KRK of defaming him on social media.
In 2020, filmmaker brothers Mahesh Bhatt and Mukesh Bhatt had moved the Bombay High Court to file a suit seeking Rs 1 crore damages over the allegations made by actor Luviena Lodh on social media. The court restrained Lodh from making any further defamatory comments. The Bhatts also asked that the disputed content be taken down from social media and that Lodh should tender an unconditional apology for the same.
Lawyer Ameet Naik who handled both the cases states that the only defense against defamation is truth. “Aryan Khan’s is just one case in point. People’s reputation is everything. Once a case is done, it’s done. It shouldn’t cause any damage to one’s career. There must be immediate relief and apology especially if you get defamed. I think the time has come for celebs to really go after people who defame them.”
Last year, Shilpa Shetty filed a defamation suit in Bombay High Court against 29 media personnel and publications accusing them of “false reporting and maligning her image” after her husband Raj Kundra was arrested for alleged creation and distribution of pornographic content. The 46-year-old actress urged the High Court to issue a ‘permanent and mandatory injunction restraining the defendants’, (which featured the most popular media houses from around the country) from publishing or communicating any derogatory and defamatory statements against her, her family and her husband. Whether that legal manoeuvre acted as a deterrent or not, it certainly proved a point that Shilpa Shetty was not going to take the mudslinging lying down.