Namah Chawla

Amitabh Bachchan gets personality rights: Is it a fair demand by the persona-led brand?

Industry experts share their views on the repercussions for brands who use the actor's personality for their brand's motives.

Recently, the Delhi High Court passed an interim order restraining brands and individuals from infringing on the personality and publicity rights of Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan.

There is no doubt that the actor enjoys high credibility and has several brand endorsements in his kitty. Given that there have been multiple incidents where the actor’s personality traits have been misused by multiple businesses without his consent, the actor has appealed to the high court to protect his persona to curb such instances of misuse.

Such a personality theft is not only a threat to the actor’s image but also to consumers at large who might end up getting misled into believing something that is not true. 

After the court’s decision, not just such brands, but individuals and his look-alikes whose source of livelihood comes from mimicking the actor could come under the scanner. While it is known that most of this imitation is an act of admiration by Big B’s fans, is it a fair demand by the celebrity to protect his personality through legal intervention?

Naresh Gupta, co-founder and managing partner, Bang In The Middle, says that it is absolutely fair to demand as the celebrity has the right to protect himself. All credible voice-over artists will not mimic an actor unless they receive specific permission from the celebrity, informs Gupta.

“What Bachchan has done will have ramifications on other celebrities as well. There are too many brands mimicking celebs these days. This needs to stop. Further, there is a chance that consumers will get misled by the wrong usage of voice and may think that the brand is endorsed by them,” he points out.

It is reported that the actor has been concerned about individuals and brands using his personality in the wake of a recent incident involving the television game show Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). As per reports, Bachchan’s mimicked voice message was widely circulated on WhatsApp and other social media platforms claiming that KBC is rewarding Rs. 25 lakhs as a lottery cash prize to ‘lucky winners.’

Shivaji Dasgupta, founder and managing director, INEXGRO Brand Advisory, feels that from the actor's perspective, what needs to be protected is significant illegal earnings by exploiting his imagery. “Which I suspect is fairly limited given an enlightened legal and socio-ethical environment, as well as social media vigilante patterns. Otherwise, a move like this on behalf of Bachchan is totally ill-advised and counterintuitive to celebrity stature building,” he adds. 

Celebrities become who they are when people start adoring physical symbols of adulation and hero worship. "Every time we hear a clone copy of Bachchan's voice or a picture in some private event, the actor’s stature shoots up multiple times," observes Dasgupta. 

This also allows the celebrity to monetise their image further due to popular culture superstardom and timelessness. Dasgupta shares an example that explains the current scenario.

“Shikhar Dhawan is referred to as Gabbar (the famous character from the movie ‘Sholay’) by his fans and his dialogue 'kitne aadmi the' is still so catchy. Is Amjad Khan's family asking for money all the time? Celebrity stature is built on unquestionable love and trying to get courts to censure exposure is counterintuitive,” he exclaims. 

KV Sridhar (Pops), global chief creative officer, Nihilent Limited & Hypercollective, agrees. For Pops, it is unfair for the actor to ask for a legal order.

Whatever the actor is today, the fame and money that he earns are because of his fans. “In a country like ours, every celebrity is worshipped like a demi-god. It is like every time people use Lord Venkateshwara’s picture, they need to give Tirupati (the holy place) some money as royalty.”

If a celebrity is being mimicked, they should take it with a pinch of salt as this is part and parcel of their profession, advises Pops. However, if someone crosses the line of humour and tries to defame him by using his personality, then that is incorrect. 

If brands are trying to imitate the actor in unethical ways, then the actor can take them to court and ask for compensation, says Pops, but feels, “When innocent fans are using his name or personality with affection towards the celebrity, then there is no point in taking them to court. This will be detrimental for the actor as well, as people might not be able to relate with him any further.”  

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