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Bollywood actors with vast social media followings but not-so sterling film careers are thriving online, attracting eyeballs and brand deals. Actors such as Disha Patani, Urvashi Rautela, Neha Sharma and Genelia D’Souza create content on their daily lives, family, fitness and travel to engage their millions of online followers, resulting in lucrative brand collaborations.

With 53.6 million and 56 million followers, Patani and Rautela are among Instagram’s most popular Indian film celebrities. While they may not boast big film deals, these actors have flourishing influencer businesses, making between 25 lakh and 40 lakh per Instagram Reel or post, according to executives at celebrity and influencer management agencies

“Social media has made celebrity-fan interactions much easier and more convenient. For not-so-popular actors, it is the best way to come into the limelight and gain followers. Apart from movies, the audience admires several aspects of an actor—their relatability and mass appeal among millennials," said Megha Marwah, solutions head, strategy at digital agency White Rivers Media.

More than big film stars, marketers prefer to connect with celebrities who can offer good reach for their communication, Marwah said. With millions of followers and the ability to engage viewers, these actors provide an accessible and affordable option to brands and are picked by marketers for better market penetration, she added.

D’Souza has collaborated with Garnier and coffee chain Starbucks for Imagine Meats, the plant-based food company she launched with her husband, Riteish Deshmukh. Patani has acted as an influencer for brands like Myntra, Bata and Washington Apples India. Sonu Sood, known for supporting roles in films and becoming a social media sensation for helping out the distressed during the peak of the covid-19 pandemic, has just collaborated with Dabur India for its packaged honey.

Social media has given a new lease of life to actors struggling in the tight-knit Bollywood world, said Tarunjeet Rattan, managing partner at Nucleus PR, a public relations agency. “The way brand perceptions of a celebrity are built or what is defined as a ‘celebrity’ has also become fluid. Celebrity status was achieved by select availability or complete inaccessibility in an earlier era. Today, it is about the role, relatability and accessibility," Rattan said. These actors have honed their understanding of consumer behaviour and leveraged it seamlessly for an audience that wants to consume their kind of content, Rattan said. When not endorsing brands, D’Souza and Riteish post funny clips of couple fights, while Patani is known as a fitness icon for posting her workout videos.

These actors continuously engage with fans to stay popular, creating and posting about seven to 10 content pieces every week, said Pratik Gupta, co-founder of Zoo Media and Pollen, an influencer marketing agency. “These pieces of content are usually professionally shot and are generated keeping a digital strategy in mind, in most cases," Gupta said.

Currently, several influencers are making more money than second-rung celebrities, thanks to the quality of their content, said Gautam Madhvan, CEO of influencer marketing agency Mad Influence. For example, Patani’s posts impart fitness goals, while Rautela is seen as one of the best fashion influencers in India.

A-lister Bollywood actors sign up for larger deals and not one-time social media posts or collaborations, said Aastha Beecham, business director- RevUp, the branded content vertical of digital agency Puretech Digital. “That’s because if they are seen promoting a particular product, that category closes for them in the eyes of other brands from the same category. On the other hand, these actors (such as Patani, Rautela or D’Souza) primarily do influencer campaigns, like one-off posts with an eye on social media deliverables like a post, Reel, Tweet, Story, and so on," Beecham said, meaning that there is no conflict of interest in case of the latter.

Such celebrities can start a conversation and drive engagement among fans, interacting with them through content and comments, Kunal Khandelwal, group head, outreach at digital agency SoCheers, said.

“This is a sought-after trait for brands. Brand collaborations with big stars like Alia Bhatt and Deepika Padukone usually don’t allow much fan interaction. They bring star power to the endorsements, but it’s done mostly through TV or digital ads, which are meant to be seen and heard, not conversed with," Khandelwal pointed out.

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