Book review: Power of a Common Man (2014)

Baadshah of Bollywood. King Khan. King of Bollywood. King of Romance. SRK. Tom Cruise of India. All these names describe one man: Shah Rukh Khan.

Actor, producer, KKR owner, spokesperson, and businessman. These words also describe SRK. In her book, Power of a Common Man: Connecting with Consumers the SRK Way, Koral Dasgupta explains SRK’s revolutionary approach to the business of Bollywood and dissects how he markets himself and his movies to consumers.

The good

A Mumbai-based college professor, Dasgupta began the project to make marketing concepts accessible to her students using their favorite obsession: Bollywood. Dasgupta argues that SRK has revolutionized the Indian movie business in much the same way that Chetan Bhagat revolutionized book publishing. Both men produce products marketed to India’s largest demographic: youth. Both have diversified potential revenue streams by reaching those consumers in new ways. In SRK’s case, he reaches beyond traditional film audiences and extends his brand through social media, product placement, and gamification. SRK was also the first Bollywood actor to receive profit-sharing rather than a flat fee as compensation. To American actors, SRK’s approach isn’t revolutionary, but to Indians, it’s groundbreaking.

Dasgupta’s style is conversational, and her premise is sound. She makes an excellent case for SRK’s status as the King of Bollywood. She painstakingly recounts his rise to the top and illustrates how SRK connects with consumers in ways other actors do not. Her case study for Chennai Express, Bollywood’s biggest blockbuster, is insightful. With Express, we see Brand SRK at its best and most profitable.

The bad

While the premise of the book is sound, the execution is weak overall. Dasgupta begins the book with a note to SRK, which is sycophantic at best and borderline stalking at worst.

For an academic book, it’s surprisingly short on footnotes (fewer than 100) and references (0). Dasgupta relies heavily on Internet sources, including Wikipedia, Rediff, and Miss Malini, for primary source material. In some cases, she has little choice. Weekly box office results are published online. Yet, when offering a definition of innovation, she does not use one of the dozens of business textbooks available (or create her own definition), but relies on Wikipedia instead.

Moreover, the reader longs for Dasgupta to connect revenue more closely to SRK’s brand strategy. We see that connection in the Chennai Express case study, but lack that detail in the overall trajectory of his career. The directors of SRK’s films also deserve more credit for their contributions to Brand SRK. While SRK brings his characters to life, he is, more often than not, realizing the director’s vision, not his own. The foundation of Red Chilies Entertainment is a watershed, but its importance seems downplayed. Perhaps, a chronological structure would have produced different results.

Exclamation points scattered throughout the text undermine Dasgupta’s argument and give the book an unprofessional feel. The book feels rough, not final.

The verdict

Power of a Common Man presents an insightful, yet superficial, portrait of the power of Brand SRK.

[usr 2.5]

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