Sep 13, 2017

Blog: Arre baba re! Baba Ramdev rocks on ‘Om Shanti Om’

Baba Ramdev
Campaign India
September 13, 2017

India's first television-made guru is now the title sponsor of a television reality show. Smart strategy or money down the tube? 

Baba Ramdev is Maha-Judge of Star Bharat’s bhajan-singing reality show, ‘Om Shanti Om’. Sonakshi Sinha, singer Kanika Kapoor and composer Shekhar Ravjiani are on the panel of judges. Aparshakti Khurana, of Dangal fame, and brother of Ayushmann Khuranna, is the anchor. The channel and the show were launched by Ranveer Singh. The inaugural episode had Badshah and Sukhwinder chanting hymns. Shankar Mahadevan has been on one of the later episodes. But why should this excite me? 

I love Baba Ramdev. I love him for his sheer spontaneity. I love him for his sheer arrogance. I love him for his easy demeanour. I love him for his sassy exuberance. I love him for his down-to-earth simplicity. The Baba is a one-man army. Yogi, yoga-teacher, god-man, business-tycoon, brand-endorser, political-activist and now a maha-judge! I just can’t seem to have enough of India’s most visible Baba. In 2016, Virat Kohli was on Indian television once every 8-minutes. Baba Ramdev is going to beat him hands down in 2017, for sure. 

But first, back to Om Shanti Om, the bhajan-singing reality show that has just debuted on Star’s latest channel, Star Bharat, which replaces Life OK that launched about 5 years ago. Media pundits had predicted that Star Bharat would be a free-to-air (FTA) channel, with fresh content, and Star would use it to maximize reach in the Hindi-speaking markets (HSM). But for reasons best known, Star decided not to take Star Bharat an FTA, but nevertheless introduced a slew of fiction and non-fiction programs on the new channel. ‘Om Shanti Om’ is the flagship show and Baba Ramdev is its ruling deity. 

I was frankly quite intrigued by Star’s choice of a bhajan-singing reality show. Bhajans have limited appeal and don’t necessarily lend themselves to a reality format. To be fair, this idea was originally pioneered and presented by Baba Ramdev on his Aastha TV in 2016 and brought live on screen as ‘Bhajan Ratna’, featuring amongst others celebrated bhajan-singer Anup Jalota. 

The Baba’s Patanjali Ayurved as anchor sponsor is now the force behind ‘Om Shanti Om’ which in style, pomp, presentation and ostentation is no less than any of India’s other leading singing reality shows like Indian Idol, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, L’il Champs, The Voice of India, Dil Hai Hindustani, Super Singer, and more. Star has not stinged on lavishness of the sets, or spared any expense in the choice of the judges or show-stoppers. Baba Ramdev adorns an out-sized and mammoth ‘throne’ on which he sits cross-legged mostimes dispensing ‘gyan’ and encouraging the participants with spiritual invocations. 

To understand and validate the choice of Baba Ramdev as the Maha-Judge and mascot of the singing show, I got my research team to run a quick check on Baba Ramdev’s popularity and brand goodness in Kanpur last week. Since the research protocols are already part of my PhD study, getting a dip-stick done on the Baba was not difficult. The results were very interesting. 

The Baba scores extremely well on Trust, Respect and Identify-with. Scores on Attractiveness are good too. The Baba trails on Likeability. 

The Baba’s brand map shows highs on Innovative, Authentic, Unique, Progressive and Good Value. He is also seen to be very Successful. Which almost matches his scores on Arrogance! The Baba also is seen to be Macho, Sexy, Fun and Helpful. Stylish is a downer. So is Pedigree. Baba Ramdev also has a long way to go in his journey as Best Brand. Also, a long way to go on Friendly and Caring. And the god-man is still way short on Loved by All. 

This research is a good pointer on the Baba as a brand. His marketing team at Patanjali could do well to do a more in-depth and continuing brand track on him as he is the brand face of all of Patanjali’s offerings. Specifically to ‘Om Shanti Om’, Baba Ramdev looks like a good choice. Strumming a guitar, the saffron-clad-khadaon-wearing man of God, looks quite an image of contrasts but then Brand Baba Ramdev is all about native cockiness and limitless self-confidence.

The Baba is never out of his depth on camera, shows no signs of nerves or any signs of inferiority in the company of a Ranveer or a Sonakshi. Again, to be fair to him, he has been on television for well over 20 years now, having started out as a yoga teacher on Aastha TV. And reality shows are no novelty for him as he was on Nach Baliye too just a few months back preaching to the participants.

Baba Ramdev is the first television-made guru of this country. Acharya Rajneesh, later known as Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh (Osho) made his mark through audio cassettes of his lectures that were widely circulated in the late 1970s and through the 1980s. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi got himself the halo of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Transcendental Meditation and Siddhi. Dhirendra Brahmachari was the Indian Rasputin. Sri Sri and Sadhguru are more sophisticated and somewhat corporate. 

The now infamous Baba Ram Rahim and Asaram Bapu concentrated on their ‘dera’ and congregations. Baba Ramdev is more ubiquitous; more universal. He is more a man-of-god, less god-man. Hence more real, more touchy-feely. 

I don’t know if the ratings for ‘Om Shanti Om’ have come out, and how good they are. But I think the show will do well. It may be targeted to a narrow and niche audience thematically, but in its execution and presentation, the show is all-reality, and just incidentally bhajan. I also like Aparshakti Khurana, not just because he is from my city, Chandigarh, and my school, St. John’s, but also because of his pleasant disposition. He reminds me of Annu Kapoor in the early days of Close-Up Antakshari. He may not have Kapoor’s range and encyclopedic knowledge, but he makes up for all that with his enthusiasm and earnestness.

The Baba, with his ‘Om Shanti Om’ avatar has added one more facet to his multi-dimensional personality. No text book could ever have prescribed a bhajan-singing reality show as a brand extension for a god-man or anyone else of his ilk. To me, more than a yoga expert, and now a business tycoon, the Baba comes across as a super-smart strategist who can think through not only shiny teeth with ayurvedic toothpaste, but can harness the power of every medium to commercial gain and personal brand glory. Baba Ramdev rocks! (Sandeep Goyal is on the verge of finishing his doctorate on Celebrities as Human Brands. And Brand Baba Ramdev fascinates him.)

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