The word “Celebrity”​ has a new definition.


The recent report by Kroll has created quite a stir, with Ranveer Singh pipping Virat Kohli as the most valuable celebrity of 2022. The new Top 5 are:

  • Ranveer Singh
  • Virat Kohli
  • Akshay Kumar
  • Alia Bhatt
  • Deepika Padukone

In absolute terms, celebrity brand valuations accounted for $1.6 billion in 2022 as compared to $1.4 billion in 2021. Even though Bollywood has performed badly overall, we see a lot of stars growing in valuation.

In 2014 the list looked like this:

Here’s my theory of how the world of celebrities has evolved over the decades.
There are 3 reasons for the shift in the “definition of a celebrity”:

  • The invention of Twitter and Instagram.
  • The personality of the person off-screen matters as much, if not more.
  • The politics of it all…and the power of the narrative.

The chart below shows where a celebrity stands in the on-screen/field and off-screen/field popularity. This article details out the theory with examples to show you a pattern. Some very interesting trends emerge…so read on…

THE VULNERABLE STAR-Those who find themselves in Q1

(High on-screen popularity, Low off-screen popularity)

They need to be more accessible if they wish to increase popularity. If a movie flops, they will see a huge drop in valuation. So, there is little cushion from failure. Many shy and private talents find themselves in this quadrant. Ranbir Kapoor went from $129mn in 2014 to $54mn in 2022, and I believe it is because he went off social media.

THE ULTIMATE SUPERSTAR-Those who find themselves in Q2
(High on-screen popularity, High off-screen popularity)
These are today’s superstars. They are ruling the roost. They are playing the game right and are aware of the pulse of the audience and public (both are no longer the same). They have strong personalities and are using it to their advantage, like Ranveer Singh who has nothing to hide. These artists are very talented and also interesting as people.

THE CELEBRITY INFLUENCER-Those who find themselves in Q3
(Low on-screen popularity, High off-screen popularity)
These are your celebrity influencers. They will enjoy good valuation and earnings from brands, without the burden of professional success. They are in a sweet spot and can steer public opinion. Brands will always love these guys since they are relatable personalities. A lot of celebrity kids and retired celebrities are in this category.

THE THREATENED TALENT-Those who find themselves in Q4
(Low on-screen popularity, Low off-screen popularity)
These people are in trouble and are not understanding the game. They are possibly too idealistic and believe that their work will speak for themselves. These talents need to overhaul their personal and professional perception or they will perish, no matter how good they are. That is the harsh reality.

To elaborate on this theory, let me address each point in detail:

1. The invention of Twitter and Instagram

Before the social media age, film stars were mostly admired for their characters/roles in movies. People loved “Raj” from DDLJ, or “Prem” from Maine Pyar Kiya. When they saw the actor or actress, they first thought of the character they played. Not the person who played it. Back then, fans had negligible access to the off-screen personality of the celebrities and therefore there was little consideration given to the same. You could be a really boring person off- screen, but still play the most iconic character on-screen and be a huge star. You would get endorsements based on the on-screen popularity alone. So, it was all about the professional talent and success.

All this changed once Twitter was launched. It suddenly allowed fans to get a peek into an actor or player’s personal life and his/her lifestyle. It gave them a chance to know them better off-screen. This led to 2 sets of opinions being formed about the individual- one that was personal and another that was professional.

Soon fans started to mix the two opinions and felt empowered to have conversations with their heroes on various topics outside of movies or sports (the two big fan bases in India). They suddenly wanted to know more from #SRK not Raj. They wanted to guage #Aamirkhan not Rancho.

Today, #WillSmith is known more for this action than for any of his on-screen action roles. Thanks to the invention of social media.

The launch of Twitter and Instagram, led to a huge change in the way celebrities started to be defined. There was suddenly a new KRA for celebrities, other than professional success. Fans who imagined their heroes to be a certain way were either disappointed or elated. There was no fantasy anymore. There was no barrier. No dreamy sequences. Everything was exposed and for all to see. It made celebrities naked and they could no longer hide behind any charades.

The access to your favorite celebrity started off as a way to connect with fans. But turned into a way to be scrutinized by them. Nobody expected that to happen, but it did. And it took all celebrities a while to understand this. The power shifted from the celebrity to the public at large.

2. The personality of the person off-screen matters as much, if not more:

#Shraddhakapoor is a newbie in Bollywood but has over 70 million followers on Instagram. That’s more than #AliaBhatt #KatrinaKaif, you name it! Shraddha has not had a very huge hit to explain this. But professional success is not a prerequisite anymore. People like her more for who she is, than what she portrays in her movies. #SelenaGomez recently became the first woman to have 400 million followers on Instagram, even though she has been taking time-off addressing her mental health issues and is enjoying a break from music tours. Yet, these celebrities continue to make money and soar in valuation. They have created a new genre that is the “celebrity influencers”. Sharapova and Ana Kournikova were possibly the pioneers in this, but there was no Twitter back then 🙂

#NaomiOsaka is another good example of this. Her career path has not been as expected due to her mental health issues, but her popularity online has led to her getting richer by the day

This tells us, social media demands that people like who you are or are curious about you. This can be a boon and a bane depending on who you want to be as a celebrity. Many celebrities who have chosen to be only about meritocracy or professional prowess, have paid a heavy price in terms of valuation, because fans want you to be likeable off-screen too, and be more accessible. The power has truly shifted.

There is a reason why celebrity wedding telecast rights are selling for $50million on OTT platforms. We crave access beyond professional talents and also judge the celebrity for it. Now, that is harder on actors than sports stars. Simply because actors are meant to play characters of all kinds (not necessarily being them in real life). #ShahidKapoor faced a lot of flak for his dark role in Kabir Singh, and was labeled as an advocate of obsessive relationships. Clearly, we as fans are unable to separate the two anymore. And this again affects celebrity valuations.

On the other hand, this trend has given an opportunity to many celebrities to earn a living. Especially the ones who have retired from the field.

#SachinTendulkar has revived his earnings and value by being more active on social media and so has #SuneilShetty and #MSDhoni. These are traditionally shy and private people who have now understood the importance of off-field engagement to earn money. #ZeenatAman joined Instagram last month and already has 150k followers. She can make money my being a mentor or an influencer even though she is not active in Bollywood.

As per the Kroll list, Bollywood actors constituted 81.7% of the overall brand value for India’s top 20 celebrities, while the remaining 18.3% was comprised of sports stars. However, in its current analysis, the share of Bollywood stars has fallen to 67.6% in the overall brand value, with 28.9% comprising sports celebrities, and the remaining 3.5% belonging to Tollywood stars.

The above trend proves that more and more sports stars are sharing access to public about their personal side. Each time #ViratKohli posts a video of him dancing casually, it makes him more popular. He also needs to score centuries to be on top of the charts. But only professional success is not enough these days, to be a superstar.

The favorable narrative requires one to be liked as a person. Of course one can argue if this is a fair ask. Does an athlete need to be a nice person or play to the galleries? Shouldn’t he be judged only on the basis of his performance in the field? Well, ask #Djokovic this question and you will get your answer 🙂 It is the classic debate between who is the greatest. #Federer or #Djokovic? We all know who will be seen as a legend and who will be seen as the Greatest!

3. The politics of it all… and the power of the narrative.

Anyone who denies that politics has seeped into all aspects of our lives is living in a fool’s paradise. Today, we as viewers wear our voter hats to the movie theatres. We have very staunch views on what is right and what is wrong. Who is for us and who is not. Religious factors and political narratives are affecting us and our perceptions daily, and confirmation bias is rampant. Be it the performing arts, music, sports or even wildlife conservation… Politics is everywhere.

Today, there are people who will never watch an #AamirKhan movie ever again because he said something off-screen that did not sit right with them. His brand value has dropped tremendously over the last 10 years no matter how fine an actor he might be. The AU bank ad was banned because it had Aamir playing a Hindu husband who leaves his home to come to his wife’s house after marriage. Only Aamir was trolled, not Kiara.

#SRK and family faced some political wrath as well, and he went from No.1 in 2014 to No. 10 in 2022. But the star handled it gracefully in the media and therefore his brand value revived. He kept the narrative positive and also increased his social media interactions over the last few months. #AkshayKumar is a popular figure today and has soared in value, because he has openly declared his political leanings and makes no qualms about it. He has understood the power of politics in being a big celebrity. This loyalty is very powerful today and many actors are riding the political wave. Whether that is ethical or not is debatable, but I think it is a personal choice and a personal strategy.

Frankly speaking, if this report had included politicians, they would come out on top of the list. I believe that with the growing visibility of politicians with ads in newspapers, social media, hoardings and so much screen time on TV, they are the biggest celebrities today. No longer seen as public servants, the political class is doing everything a Quadrant 2 person is doing. Once again, this trend is debatable as good or bad, but it is currently the reality across the world. Politicians want to be superstars!

Overall, we are seeing a sea shift in who will be seen as a SUPERSTAR. And the trends are a reflection of our society because our heroes are nothing but that!

Last but not the least, I personally love the growing list of female celebrities in the Top 20 this year. It is certainly a testimony to the increasing trend of women role models.

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