Star Popularity vs. Box Office: Not The Same Thing!

Last week, @OrmaxMedia tweeted annual results of its star popularity tracking research called Ormax Stars India Loves (OSIL). As per the results, Akshay Kumar ranked as the third most popular male star in India, in 2013, behind Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan. Katrina Kaif led the female stars list, well ahead of Deepika Padukone.

Every time OSIL results are tweeted, we get some standard questions in response. These examples capture their essence:

1. How can Katrina be no. 1 when Deepika has given four big hits this year?
2. Akshay Kumar at no. 3? All his films this year have flopped except Special 26.
3. Rani in the top 10! Are you kidding me? When did she last do a film?
4. Salman at no. 1 without any release in 2013? But Chennai Express and Dhoom 3 are the biggest grossers. Your survey is wrong.

Most of these questions (largely from fans and fan clubs) have a common and rather simplistic answer. That popularity and box office are two different metrics.

Box office depends on a wide array of factors. While star cast is the leading factor amongst these, other factors can play more than a significant role in determining the box office fate of any film, be it the opening or the lifetime collections. Some of these factors are genre appeal, music, promos, director, word-of-mouth, reviews and franchise appeal.

Popularity, on the other hand, is only about the star’s recall value and equity amongst the audiences. No other factor, including those listed above, have a bearing on a star’s popularity. In simple terms, star popularity, as captured through OSIL, is a measure of a star’s fan base. OSIL covers an annual sample size of more than 40,000 cine-goers in 29 cities in India. Statistically, that’s as representative as we can realistically get in estimating a star’s fan base.

Let’s take the case Akshay Kumar. His fan base being bigger than that of Ranbir Kapoor, Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan, as per OSIL 2013 results. So when his films flop, it simply means that he is not using his equity well. He is either working with the wrong scripts and directors, or signing up films in dead or declining genres (such as masala action in Boss). If he continues to do this for a while, his fan base will obviously take a hit. But fan bases, fairly loyal as they are, don’t desert their favorite stars overnight.

Then there is the other aspect of acting abilities, often mentioned in the Katrina vs. Deepika debate. Katrina can’t act, is a social media argument often given for her supposedly undeserving place on the top. This argument rests of a flawed assumption – that acting skills play a pivotal role in building and strengthening the fan base for a star. In fact, there is very little research evidence to this effect. Katrina’s “personality”, defined in India as a mix of looks, presence, speech and attitude, has driven her fan base for more than five years now. Her careful selection of roles that allow her to use her personality well, has played a crucial role in making her as popular as she is today.

“No. 1 star” and “No. 1 actor” are two entirely different things. And the day they merge, the concept of stardom will die a natural death. Thankfully, we are nowhere close to that happening.

This was a clarification post to settle the incessant twitter debates on OSIL results. Hope it does that at least in some measure!

About Shailesh Kapoor

Founder & CEO - Ormax Media. Film Lover. Media Insights Detective. Budding Author. Lifelong Student.
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12 Responses to Star Popularity vs. Box Office: Not The Same Thing!

  1. Avinash singh says:

    Very well written and aptly described. Cudnt agree more on salman n srk. They r way ahead of their competition and can make the movie cross the safe mark irrespective of content n marketing. However, srk arguably is the best marketing mind in business but still his star power cant be refuted. Aamir, akshay n ranbir still dependant upon other factors as you have pointed out. People still use katrina as a name in a debate rather than deepika n that says a lot, actresses still cant carry a movie on their name alone and thats a bitter truth that industry needs to accept, they only work in pairings. Bigger the star better the prospect. Acting abilities not withstanding

    • its absolutely true by Avinash singh.

    • VIp says:

      Salman has been dependent on the masala genre for his blockbusters though and had flops outside of it.

      A film with just the actress as the star can be hits as kahaani and ram-leela showed.

      • Chetan says:

        ETT wasn’t a masala fare. Still rocked the BO. Kahaani & RL didn’t do well because of Vidya or Deepika. Kahaani had a dismal opening. It grew due to positive WOM. RL took very good opening due to the hype & DP-Ranveer rumor link up. In 2nd week it totally fell flat.

      • avinash singh says:

        Thank you media musing or shailesh himself.

        VLP n chetn, I agree with u partially. Salman realised his brand value only after wanted and Veer which was released almost immediately after lacked what his audience wanted. Salman has been a peoples man specially to lower strata who worships him, irrespective of whatever his image portrayed by media is. In wanted, and corrected by dabangg he hasn’t looked back since then. He is playin on his strength just like SRK who balances it still. Salman until he diversifies – looks dangerous for him, Jai Ho onwards. As he is tryin to take it too far. ETT was a complete masala movie even though made by Kabir Khan but made to please salman fans n the brand of Yashraj always helps.

        As far as heroine oriented movies are concerned. I agree on kahani but ram leela was more of Bhansali brand along with gujrati brand 1st n ranveer deepika offscreen hysteria later. And the movie worked well on WoM for a long time than expected in Maharashtra Gujrat. Where the business was optimum. Other movies to be named are Tanu Weds Manu, fashion, etc. But again it was content+director brand at play. WoM is crucial for any feminist movie. Last names I remember being Pratighaat, chaalbaaz n tejaswini, apart from Kahani n dirty picture.

      • Alexi says:

        Ooh goodie! A Pilates post! I used to take cselsas last year and even practised at home for a while but left it after I got a little busy. When I did Pilates though, my posture was great, the core was at its strongest, and except for some little flab on my arms, I don’t think I had any complaints with my body. Must get back to it. BTW, I read somewhere that Katrina Kaif got her awesome upper body through Pilates.

  2. its fine content have been published above Bollywood popularity…..i am quite impressed.

  3. VIp says:

    Good post. Though consistent big box office hits or flops will affect a star’s popularity. And having your last film being a big hit would surely help the next film.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Sorry your survey is wrong. Saying Akshay Kumar has more equity or recall than Aamir Khan is too much. Ask yourself if you believe that.

  5. Rohan says:

    I am late to comment but would like to comment the author by saying “Even Da Furher wouldn’t have articulated it better.”
    The biggest example today is Amitabh Bachchan. He is still a huge star but his solo movies don’t find too many audience.
    Unfortunately, this is a lesson that (non-bollywood) stars like Ajay Jadega, Leander Paes and Vijendra Singh should learn.

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