Before he became an actor, Salman modelled for Limca, a local beverage, in which he with his innocent face, suffused with sweat after an intensely competitive football match, appears holding a Limca bottle. The tangy, lemony drink was being introduced to Indian consumers, like its endorser, as the new star to look out for. In a market largely dominated by soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, Limca was trying to find its own market, much like Salman Khan.

Later, he appeared in advertisements for Hero Honda bikes and Double Bull shirts. The Hero Honda advertisement with Salman riding the CD 100 is again quite interesting, wherein, the durability and stamina of the bike along with it being proclaimed as a fun ride is highlighted, like its rider who was touted as the next superstar.

Of the young Salman in those days, Kailash [Surendranath] says, ‘What used to happen in those days was I used to live in town in Breach Candy. Salman used to come to Elphinstone College and use my house as a base. I started out pretty early and some of our friends would either be in college or studying. Anyway, I had enough money; we used to hang out at this club called Studio 29 and I made sure that we were all having a good time. We would hang out at night in our house, even if we had early morning shoots. We were rather young and energetic back then and it was never an issue staying up late at night and working early. So, this went on for a few nights and Salman used to enjoy this quite a bit. So I told him, “Salman, why are you wasting your time and your father’s money?”, hinting that he should be doing more. But I had said that casually, rather like a joke, I liked the phrase. He said that it hit him and he never took money from home again. He lived off from whatever he made through his modelling and other projects. In that sense, I must have been an example, as I was working from an early age. To Salman, family has always been very important and he is working selflessly and tirelessly to support them. He has immense respect and regard for his loved ones. He must have seen that quality in me, along with some others which may have left an imprint on his psyche, at that point of time.’

‘Muscularity with a hint of attitude’

The tagline ‘Grow up to Thums Up’ was based on Salman Khan’s inclusive image as portrayed by him in the Hindi films of the nineties, in which he appeared as a soft-spoken, decent young man, but one who could defend himself and his ilk if the need arose. Eminent ad filmmaker K.V. Sridhar, who has been associated with Leo Burnett, a renowned advertising agency, for over two decades, had worked with Salman Khan for the Thums Up campaign. He has spoken to me at length about the concept behind the advertisement.

Pops (as KV Sridhar is popularly known in the advertising world) says, ‘Thums Up, as we all know, is fizzier, stronger and less sweet, than Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Thums Up has always been marketed as a potent drink ... The metaphor for Thums Up is muscularity with a hint of attitude. It also entails a little bit of fun.’ The aspiration of this brand has always been higher, Pops reveals, and 40 per cent of its drinkers are women. In fact, the southern state of Andhra Pradesh is the biggest market for Thums Up.

He begins telling me about two of its most famous brand ambassadors – Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar. ‘In 1995,’ Pops says, ‘the brand made a bid to shift from emphasising pure brawn to brain power, portraying bungee jumping, incredible stunts and thrilling action. Both these actors have different ways of doing work.’ He considers Salman a cool guy who prefers working in studios that are close to his film set. ‘When on set, he jokes around a lot. He also improvises.’

Pipes to pens

While Salman has often been accused of interfering at work in films, this, Pops says, actually helped in improving the commercials. Pops goes on to add that contrary to reports, Salman is, in fact, extremely punctual. Perhaps, one cannot belie other reports of Salman reaching his sets late but with age and maturity, he may have understood the value of work better and tries to give his best shot at everything he undertakes.

Much like his contemporary Shah Rukh, Salman, too, encashed on his eminent marketability as a huge draw in the box office, complementing the controversies dogging him, which only increased his appeal by keeping him perpetually in the public eye. In recent times, he has endorsed Dixcy Scott, an innerwear brand for men. A behind-the-scenes video on the making of the advertisement reveals volumes about Salman Khan’s viability as a brand, his appeal and work ethics.

Interestingly, in spite of possessing a perfect physique, it is not just Salman’s physical type that is packaged for global consumption. Salman has endorsed products as diverse as pipes used in construction, jewellery, washing detergent, pens, slippers, bikes, a travel portal, a rival soft drink as well as an automobile company. Most of these advertisements, like the ones for Relaxo Hawaii slippers, draw on personal traits of Salman’s, such as his devil-may-care attitude and ability to carry off anything with panache. The advertisement of the Rotomac pens draws on his appeal as a philanthropist.

With the launch of Salman Khan’s Being Human foundation, his allure has increased manifold. A sculpted physique heralds strength and has, therefore, been utilised by brands such as Force and Suzuki to convey durability.

Excerpted with permission from Salman Khan – The Man, The Actor, The Legend, Devapriya Sanyal, Bloomsbury India.