You may have heard about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe where different superheroes are introduced in multi-million-dollar movies in a series of interconnected films. While India may not have such vast universes, it certainly has one that packs a punch and puts the rest of the category to shame. It is the ‘Vimal ‘Zubaan Kesari’ Universe’ where Vimal – a gutkha company openly sells its tobacco products by using surrogate ads and A-lister stars. And after Shahrukh Khan and Ajay Devgn, the latest to join this franchise was Akshay Kumar.
A few days back, a new trailer of Vimal ‘Bolo Zubaan Kesari’ was released with the three actors in it. As soon as the video went viral, netizens started trolling Akshay Kumar for partaking in an advertisement that promotes tobacco – a carcinogenic product through surrogate advertisement. While Akshay was selling Elaichi (cardamom) in the ad, it was simply a smokescreen to sell the tobacco product of the brand.
Akshay Kumar Before and After Eating Vimal pic.twitter.com/QUJGWvNT5o
— Unsocially M’idiotic (@m_idiotic) April 13, 2022
Akshay kumar Charging Vimal Packet For his Upcoming Ad-: pic.twitter.com/wemmcPmThA
— Pulkit🇮🇳❤️ (@pulkit5Dx) April 13, 2022
Akshay apologizes and steps down as the brand ambassador
Sensing the increasing backlash for his involvement with a tobacco brand, Akshay Kumar on Thursday (April 21) released an apology letter and announced that he was ‘stepping back’ as a brand ambassador of the Vimal Elaichi brand.
In a social media post, Akshay Kumar apologized to the fans for endorsing the brand and pledged to donate the fee to a charity. He wrote, “I’m sorry, I would like to apologize to you, all my fans and well-wishers. Your reaction over the past few days has deeply affected me. While I have not and will not endorse tobacco, I respect the outpouring of your feelings in light of my association with Vimal Elaichi. With all humility, I step back,”
— Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar) April 20, 2022
The actor further remarked that the brand may continue to air his ad due to legal obligations, “I have decided to contribute the entire endorsement fee towards a worthy cause. The brand might continue airing the ads till the legal duration of the contract that is binding upon me, but I promise to be extremely mindful in making my future choices. In return, I shall forever continue to ask for your love and wishes.”
Apology or a PR stunt?
Akshay’s apology was soon met with positive responses as the gullible public praised him for taking the moral high ground. However, the semantics of the letter and the history of Akshay suggest that it was simply a PR stunt to gain the audience’s sympathy through emotional manipulation.
If one looks closely at the sentence structuring of the apology letter, it becomes clear that Akshay did not have a divine change of heart. It was simply an attempt to satiate the public anger. Akshay Kumar starts off the letter by remarking that the audience felt bad after seeing him in the ad for a Tobacco brand.
Akshay Kumar and Vimal – A thread
Akshay broke many hearts when he chose to endorse Vimal ‘elaichi’ along with Ajay Devgn and Shahrukh Khan. And why not! Akshay is a fitness icon, cleanliness icon, anti-open-defecation icon, women hygiene icon and a nationalist.
— Atul Mishra (@TheAtulMishra) April 21, 2022
It implies that he did not feel bad for appearing in the ad, albeit, if there was no backlash, he would have continued being the brand ambassador of the company. Quite convenient on Akshay’s part to blame the audience instead of owing up to his lapse in judgment.
Akshay Kumar refuses to accept he endorsed a Tobacco product
Secondly, Akshay Kumar did not even accept that he was, in fact, appearing for a Tobacco company. He referred to the ‘Gutkha’ company as selling ‘Elaichi’. And as has been established earlier, even a little kid in India understands that this is not what is being advertised when the likes of Shahrukh or Ajay Devgn appear on our television sets and chew Elaichi. It is the same way, alcohol brands sell themselves through music CDs and soda ads.
Moreover, Akshay Kumar, who presents himself as one of the most health-conscious actors in the industry had always maintained that he will not promote such brands. In a 2018 interview that is currently doing rounds on the internet, Akshay could be seen preaching to his fellow actors to not endorse such products.
I was offered a lot of money to endorse tobacco brands but I refused: Akshay Kumar in 2018
He remarked, “Audience should know who to follow or not. Whatever is wrong is wrong. I’d request them to not endorse such products. People follow these actors and I hope they get the message. They don’t do it.”
Furthermore, Akshay Kumar thumped his chest by stating he was offered a lot of money for tobacco ads and yet he refused to play ball with them, “I get offers from big tobacco brands to do their ads. They are ready to offer me any amount. However, I stand for Swasth Bharat and thus I will never stand for such products or ads”
Listen! ALL INDIA HEALTH & FITNESS EXPERT @akshaykumar's Views on Tobacco Advertisements, a Few Yrs Back 🤣
— YOGESH (@i_yogesh22) April 13, 2022
Akshay had been endorsing Tobacco products from 2016
Akshay made these revelations in 2018. However, internet does not forget anything. In 2016, Akshay Kumar was already endorsing another tobacco company through surrogate advertising. He starred in a Baba Elaichi ad and in a rather bespoke way, influenced the public to taste ‘Pleasure’ as was the punchline of the ad.
Thus, it is clear that Akshay knew about such advertisements prior to the current controversy. And yet in 2016, he did not back out of the contract nor did he contribute any money towards a charity. Safe to say, we can make an assumption that Akshay is a hypocrite who can say, preach or do anything if the money involved is alright.
However, there is no problem with any actor promoting Tobacco brands. It is their free will and they are allowed to make money whichever way they deem worthy. However, when a person publicly claims that he will not endorse Tobacco and in the same breath signs a contract to become the brand ambassador of the carcinogenic brand, therein lies the problem.
Shahrukh Khan and Ajay Devgn are not the fitness, cleanliness and anti-open-defecation icon. They never preach the audience on these issues – Akshay does. Thus, when he attempts to garner positive PR from his brain-fade actions, it is pertinent to call him out. He did not back out of the ad because audience felt bad. He backed out because he was called out for the first time. As simple as that.