The celebrities make a lot of money. When one talks of a celebrity, it is obviously about those who have met with success and are adored and admired by the masses. Be it a film actor or a sports person. Films and cricket are such fields that with a little hard work and a lot of luck, a person can be elevated to unbelievable heights.

India is a country of opportunities. Especially so post 1990s, when the country’s economy opened its doors to the world to be a part of it. Or, more like wanting the world to be a part of the Indian economy.

A lakh turned into a crore in the film industry. Amitabh Bachchan, assuming he was paid Rs 15 lakh per film in his prime, when he was the guaranteed draw at the box office, was now being paid in many crores in his second innings not as the hero of a film, but to play a character role.

Corporate culture had entered the Indian film industry with foreign investments. Multiplex properties had replaced the single screens. Cinema ticket rates shot up to hundreds instead of Rs 2 to Rs 5! As a result, film stars who used to be worth a few lakh, were now drawing in crores.

The stars were taking home Rs 50 crore to Rs 60 crore per film, but they did not leave behind their greed. Some of our stars rate among top income taxpayers and earn media headlines. Though they earn in crores, they still stoop for an extra lakh.

There are not many actors-turned-stars who have come from wealthy families. Most of them are from the middle class and even lower middle class, if not the deprived lot. Should that make them greedy enough to forsake principles?

Stardom brings prosperity and opens doors to more wealth. A lot of today’s stars/celebrities make more money from endorsing brands than they make from films or a sport that elevated to iconic status. Still, certain ads should be taboo even for them.

What about their moral duty? Earlier, the trend was that models did all the endorsing (it was called modelling in those days). The ones who became popular were quickly picked up by filmmakers for film assignments. Over the years, there were many, such as Kabir Bedi, Prem Chopra, Deepak Parashar, and so on, and then there were contemporary stars like Jackie Shroff, John Abraham, Salman Khan, Arjun Rampal, Randeep Hooda, Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai, Katrina Kaif, Siddhartha Malhotra, and so on.

Yes, when it came to female stars, almost all of them promoted the Lux soap brand. That has been the tradition for years.

Old-time actors stuck to their moral values. They were film stars and they stuck to acting in films. They kept to themselves and avoided public appearances as much as possible and, possibly, that is what created an aura around them. They made people want more of these stars. They were not known to crave for an extra rupee.

Where did it all start? It probably started with the Dubai calls. The dons called the shots and there was no way a star could say ‘no’. Childbirths, birthdays, weddings, just a party or a cricket match, stars were at the beck and call of the don. Their presence led to a certain amount of positive media coverage. They earned a return gift, a video player maybe or a Sony TV, for such an appearance. These gifts were precious for the stars.

Soon, the practice filtered down to India. A film star attending your wedding function, birthday bash or any other function could add glitter and glamour to your function. Within friends and relatives, the stars made allowances. Soon, they realised that they could attach a price tag to such appearances.

A lakh for a few minutes of blessing a function was bonus earning. One popular villain of that time even joked that for a couple of lakh, he would even attend a funeral! They were much in demand among the nouveau riche who wanted to flaunt their wealth.

Originally, the trend was for models to aim for a film career, soon, but now, the stars became the models, brand ambassadors, faces of brands, or whatever. There were many crores to be made. So much so, the media listed the highest-paid brand promoters! If that was not a high, what else was?

It is all right if a star is popular and a brand wants to use this popularity to promote itself. The stars makes money and the brand believe their purpose is being served. Or so they thought! How can you expect a star promoting the same or similar brands without conviction deliver you the kinds of returns you are looking for? Most such ads are found to be monotonous.

Take the case of Ranveer Singh. Does he have to play a buffoon in just about every ad? With the image that he enjoys, that of the larger-than-life Amitabh Bachchan, did he have to act in an ad where he begs for a cold drink from Arshad Warsi? Maybe the ad agencies don’t care for a super star’s image, but a star can’t trust their judgment.

Bachchan was criticised for promoting a chocolate brand found to be worm infested (that was not his fault) and he came under fire for promoting a certain drink that was found to be unhealthy, especially for children.

The stars who’re trolled for doing a wrong ad, always end up making excuses and feigning ignorance about the ill-effects of the product! You have a battery of lawyers at your command and you are supposed to have common sense (with which you decide on what scripts are good for you and which are worth rejecting). Beyond all that, being a public figure and a film star, you are supposed to have morals and a conscience.

If any star says he was merely promoting ‘elaichi dana’ sharing the ‘gutka’ brand name), he is lying, for he knows exactly what he was doing. He also knows what is surrogate promotion.

For a long time, since the Government of India banned the promotion of cigarettes, alcohol and ‘gutka’, advertisers have found a new way of promoting these products via the surrogate advertising route.

A whisky brand is promoted as a soda or even as a music CD collection, a ‘gutka’ brand as ‘elaichi’ (cardamom). And if certain ‘gutka’ brands do not have tobacco, the ‘supari’ is still processed with harmful chemicals. If the film stars do not consume ‘gutka’, why do they promote it? And, if they consume ‘gutka’, more the reason for them not to promote it.

Is it all about money? Stars are known to attend weddings for money to the extent that their fans started calling them ‘bhands’ (the traditional folk who danced and performed at marriages to make a living). Not too long ago, the biggest stars were seen acting as stewards at a billionaire family wedding! Award functions also started using these ‘bhands’ because these began to get sponsored. These stars are made to dance for an award and cash.

The actors of yore never indulged in or were lured by the greed for money. I don’t recall the likes of Raj Kapoor, Raj Kumar, Dilip Kumar or Dev Anand doing ad films! In fact, Dev Anand was offered one and is known to have refused the offer. He did not believe in selling his image created over a lifetime for a little extra money.

It is not about only film stars. Even other celebrities fall for the lure. M.S. Dhoni, for instance, is promoting a games app and he’s shown welcoming a kite-flying buff into the world of gaming apps. And to think that all Indian elders lament the fact that young people today have given up outdoor activities/sports and taken to online games!

The social media is harsh when a celebrity betrays its faith. Recently, Padma Shri Akshay Kumar was added to a surrogate ad campaign of a brand known for its ‘gutka’. The product was so far being promoted by Padma Shri Shah Rukh Khan and Padma Shri Ajay Devgn. It must have been the promoters’ idea of a multi-starrer ad (may be they were not aware of the recent multi-starrer with Akshay, Ajay and Ranveer, ‘Sooryavanshi’, flopping!).

There were no reactions till Akshay was added to this surrogate ad campaign for a ‘gutka’. But all hell broke loose after Akshay joined the ‘star cast’. The other two were doing it, okay. But this was not expected of Akshay Kumar, so much adored by the masses in last few years.

He was the crusader fighting against all the wrong things, such as smoking and open defecation, and also promoting the use of sanitary napkins. And here he was promoting a ‘gutka’ maker.

Especially with Akshay, the fans have reacted with disappointment and accused him of betrayal of faith. Akshay, on his part, has apologised to his fans publicly on social media and elsewhere for his association with such a product. There is no such reaction to the other two, Shah Rukh, and Ajay, doing the same ad. That also makes a statement.

Actually, what do these stars think? That the people are fools to believe that the stars are promoting only cardamom or is the public smart enough to know that it is a ‘gutka’ product and see it as that?

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