Kamal Haasan has probably lost count of the number of times he has been approached to endorse a brand. In fact, there have been offers till as recently as last year. “The money was too small and it was not hard to say no,” says the actor, laughing. More seriously, the actor’s discomfort with appearing in commercials is quite evident. “I think the cost of my own integrity is far greater,” he adds.

Haasan like his contemporary Rajinikanth has stayed away from commercial endorsements and it is apparent that the decision is one of choice rather than default. “I am here to act and why should I do anything else?” asks Haasan. Rajinikanth, like him, has also been clear about why he will not be drawn anywhere close to either appearing in commercials or lending his name for anything beyond what he is best known for, which is acting.

Take the case of late 2000 when a couple of senior officials at Star TV flew down to Chennai hoping to sew up a deal with the Southern superstar. The purpose of the visit was rope in Rajinikanth for a Kaun Banega Crorepati for Tamil satellite television. The success of the gameshow in Hindi with Amitabh Bachchan was a huge boost for Star and they were keen on doing something similar on Vijay TV.

What transpired during that meeting was really informal conversation before the broadcasters decided to break the ice and ask the Tamil superstar if he would be open to playing the host for the Tamil version. Apparently, Rajinikanth was happy to be considered, but politely declined saying he was not ready for it. Keeping Rajinikanth and Haasan company is the Telugu star, Nagarjuna who again has steadfastly stayed away from brand associations. So, what would these super heros cost to a brand, if they were ever tempted to turn brand ambassadors. But, more about that a bit later.

There are a couple of interesting similarities between Rajinikanth and Haasan. Both began their careers in the 70s and acted in many a film together as well. The peak to stardom too took place at pretty much the same time and for close to three decades, the two have controlled the fortunes of the Tamil film industry in more than one ways.

Strangely enough, the phase during the 80s and to a large extent the 90s as well saw the South catering to a specific and a small audience. That limited the appeal of Rajinikanth and Hassan to Tamil Nadu and other parts of the South in addition to having a small spillover in Tamil-speaking countries like Singapore and Malaysia. “Around 10-15 years ago, films with these stars were not really watched a great deal in the North as was the case with stars from the East (Uttam Kumar and Biswajit). These actors were largely restricted to the South and East and therefore, they were never top of mind names to most people,” points out Sunil Alagh, Chairman, SKA Advisors and well known brand consultant.

At that stage, it was more than common to watch a Dharmendra or a Rajesh Khanna or even a Sanjeev Kumar being in the brand endorsement story in some form. Those from the era of the late 70s or early 80s would find it hard to recall too many advertisements with Southern stars barring those with Jaya Prada for a saree brand or a handful of male stars making a rare appearance.

“It’s not a problem at the brand’s end. It’s a lack of inclination at the star’s end,” points out Vivek Kamath, Director, Matrix Entertainment, a celebrity management firm. For Rajinikanth and Haasan, their iconic status often comes in the way of endorsing brands. Films and politics are often closely interlinked and messages made through films often have significant political overtones. It is this image which often needs to be managed carefully.