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Top Bollywood stars named in the alleged drug use case following Sushant Singh Rajput’s death may end up bearing the brunt of the probe, with brand endorsement fees and public appearances set to take a hit, media and entertainment industry experts said.

To be sure, the fate of these popular stars at the box office remains to be seen.

That apart, credible corporate brands that like to play it safe may turn shy of picking ambassadors like Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor, who have been named in the case.

And though she may be popular among a section of consumers, polarizing figure Kangana Ranaut, known for her controversial views, may be avoided, too.

For many of these celebrities who endorse brands such as L’Oreal, Louis Vuitton and Britannia (Deepika Padukone), or Fanta, Puma, Vivo and Garnier (Sara Ali Khan), fees could decline.

“Brands are always cautious of people with polarizing views. Given that India is such a large country, they are looking for people who can cut across and work as instant levellers," said Kishan Kumar, vice-president at media agency Wavemaker.

To be sure, none of the stars mentioned above has been proven to be drug abusers, and these are mere allegations at this stage.

Research by the Indian Institute of Human Brands in mid-September said that at least 82% youngsters in the 18-30 year age group said drug abuse by a celebrity made them ‘untrustworthy’, and that they would not buy a brand endorsed by such a celebrity.

Soumitra Karnik, chief creative officer at Dentsu Impact and Mcgarrybowen India, said celebrities such as Padukone, Khan and Rakul Preet Singh are being vilified even before a legal verdict. This means they could end up suffering a huge financial loss as the brands they endorse at present, or those that are planning to sign them could have a rethink.

“This may well be an expensive lesson for everyone. From now on, all contracts between celebrities and brands would be re-drafted. All personal facets of the celebrity which may hamper the brand’s image may have to be clearly notified—drugs, cigarettes, alcohol consumption, medical history, political leanings, social media history and criminal charges if any. It’s like an insurance policy for the brand," Karnik said.

Declining to be named, an executive working at a top brand whose leading ambassador has been named in the alleged drug scandal, said the company is monitoring the situation closely, and drug use is already a strict clause mentioned in all its contracts.

Besides, people dragged into a related industry nepotism debate have been affected too.

Celebrities like Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt and Sonam Kapoor have minimized social media activity and Star TV network is reportedly not renewing the popular chat show Koffee With Karan for another season. Star did not respond to Mint’s queries for the story.

Ranaut, according to Wavemaker’s Kumar, enjoys certain equity in small-town India and may get work from a brand that, say, is trying to reach out to women in those places.

Shardah Uniyal, vice-president, branding and communications, Birla Cellulose, which has Ranaut on board for its fashion brand Liva, said the company has not faced any backlash because of the actor, who, she said, has acquired a bigger following.

“Some may hold Kangana in high esteem as someone who takes upon herself to clean up what she thinks is muck. Others may despise her for exactly that reason, calling it vengeance to suit her purpose and political will. In either case, a brand would think a thousand times before signing her up as an ambassador," Karnik said.

Kumar said Indians have a very short memory, and the backlash on social media platforms does not represent ground reality.

However, Lulu Raghavan, brand expert and managing director Landor Associates, believes the past few months have amplified the level of scrutiny around stars.

“It’s like a can of worms has opened for the film industry and eroded the aura of invincibility around stars."

Actor Kangana Ranaut. The past few months have amplified the level of scrutiny around stars, say some analysts.pti
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Actor Kangana Ranaut. The past few months have amplified the level of scrutiny around stars, say some analysts.pti
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