Decoding India’s great NFT rush and the celeb connection

When Collins Dictionary declared ‘non-fungible token’ (NFT) as the word of the year in 2021, people’s interest in knowing more about the concept grew manifold. India was still familiarizing itself with NFTs and their relevance when the country’s biggest star Amitabh Bachchan’s NFTs were rolled out and sold for more than Rs 7 crore. The collectibles were purchased by his fans and included his autographed posters, his father’s famous poem Madhushala and a few of his other works. Two NFTs of Bachchan’s recent film jhund, too, were priced at Rs 2.15 lakh each. Earlier this year, NFTs of Ranveer Singh-starrer sports drama 83 were sold for Rs 10 lakh. In 2021, actor Salman Khan launched NFTs of his Dabangg series. Southern superstars like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, too, jumped on the NFT bandwagon to have their own tokens. Another recent Bollywood project that launched its NFT was Radhe Shyam, the film starring Prabhas and Pooja Hegde. ngageN, an invitation-only platform for brands and creators to list their unique assets for potential buyers, rolled out the NFTs for the film. The limited-edition collectibles were minted only once.

“Fans and followers can buy these tokens and brag about their association with the movie on their digital walls. They can also transfer these assets to their MetaMask (a software cryptocurrency wallet) and sell on OpenSea (an American online NFT marketplace). These NFTs can be bought only from ngageN / UV Creations (a film production house),” says a spokesperson of the company. The prices for Radhe Shyam collectibles on the platform ranged from Rs 999 to Rs 50,000.The recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival at Hotel Clarks Amer in Jaipur was not only special because it returned in a hybrid avatar but also because it had its own NFT collection this year. Teamwork Arts, the producer of the event, launched a new NFT collection on the concluding day of the festival. It included 15 moments to celebrate the 15th edition of the festival. The moments included Amitabh Bachchan, the 14th Dalai Lama, Aamir Khan, former president of India late APJ Abdul Kalam, late actor Rishi Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha, among others. The limited edition NFTs were hosted on the NFT marketplace abris.io. Sanjoy Roy, managing director, Teamwork Arts, says that the international audience was quite happy to hear about the festival doing an NFT drop.

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For celebrities in the entertainment business, NFTs are proving to be an extension of their identity as they cash in on their brand value. The fact that fans are curious to get their hands on the limited-edition collectibles of iconic names from the entertainment industry and blockbuster films proves that there is enough potential in this sector to begin with. In fact, for big brands and names from the film industry, NFT is another chance to earn money as well. Last year, singer Ritviz released two of his albums with 21 songs along with one-of-a-kind artwork with collaborator and visual artist Santanu Hazarika. The NFT, released on WazirX NFT Marketplace for $388.5, was sold out in 37 seconds after going live. NFTs are apparently becoming a growing industry across the world. Several Hollywood artists and celebrities are now launching their own collectibles. Popular footballer Cristiano Ronaldo has invested in cricket NFT company FanCraze through his company CR7. Rapper Snoop Dogg’s NFT collection earned over $100,000 in just 48 hours last year. Entrepreneur and socialite Paris Hilton’s NFTs were sold for $1.1 million in 2021. Lindsay Lohan’s tokens were priced at $50,000… and the list goes on.

The demand for celebrity collectibles is so high and the scope of business so strong that a Los Angeles-based start-up Ethernity is building a blockchain network to allow celebrities and sportspersons to launch their NFTs. The recent NFT explosion has not happened out of the blue but was a gradual development. The founders of GuardianLink, which initially began as a blockchain research and development firm in 2016, began to realize the potential of the market in 2020 and started thinking of products. Ramkumar Subramaniam, co-founder and CEO of GuardianLink that has minted Kalpana Chawla and Amitabh Bachchan’s NFTs, shares that their transition was more of an extended one as they had the capability and resources and just had to align with what was there in the market. GuardianLink, which was also behind Asia’s first metaverse wedding that had wedding invites as NFTs, is receiving more queries for other events to be celebrated in metaverse along with their NFTs. Ramkumar says that they are open to partnering with others and providing NFTs for them and are developing their own metaverse with another partner. “We want to have people engaged in the metaverse and not just roam around in it,” he says. According to the co-founder, GuardianLink plans to make its platform accessible to several artists and creators to be able to sell their own NFTs in the next one to two years. They will also be launching their app soon.

big business

The NFT popularity began with curiosity, but its presence is being felt everywhere today. In January, Indian gaming tech group Quadrific Media’s 12th edition of India Online Poker Championship (IOPC) was announced with a new twist—the winners earned in NFTs launched by Spartan Poker. the world’s first NFT cricket game to attract gaming and cricket enthusiasts and they can monetize their time and effort. During the same time, online travel company MakeMyTrip, too, dropped its NFT collection on the NFT marketplace ngageN. Named Virtual Vacations, they are a limited-edition immersive NFT collection, featuring top Indian travel destinations including Goa, Rajasthan, Odisha, Meghalaya, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Himachal Pradesh. This was almost similar to the virtual tour facilities provided by websites and museums during the pandemic.Last year, designer Raghavendra Rathore took his personal art and converted it into NFTs via block-chain technology for art. The collection was launched as limited-edition on the WazirX NFT Marketplace in association with FDCI x Lakme Fashion Week. “The importance of blockchain is something we all need to take cognizance of as sooner or later it will be an inclusive part of our life in the near future. We need to design products and services that are inherent and imbibe this path-breaking technology,” says Rathore. On the development, Vishakha Singh, co-founder and VP, WazirX NFT Marketplace, says that the designers, globally and in India, have started to understand how NFTs can be used to engage with the larger community and believe that India has a promising NFT market for creators and collectors and this partnership will turn out fruitful for both parties. Video-sharing mobile app Chingari’s NFT venture plans to boost creator economy by helping them monetise through NFT. For this, they launched GARI—social tokens, backed by Solana blockchain—which acts as an in-app currency as well as gives the creators the governance power on the app.

According to the FICCI-EY media and entertainment report ‘2022 Tuning into Consumer’ that was released in March this year, the online gaming segment is expected to reach Rs 153 billion by 2024 at a CAGR of 15% to become the fourth largest segment of the Indian M&E sector, driven by innovations across NFTs, the metaverse and e-sports. Investors and business moguls are aware of the NFT craze and positive of its future prospects. It is, therefore, no doubt that heavy investments are flowing in this direction. NFT-startup Yuga Labs, which is behind the ‘Bored Ape Yacht Club’ collection of NFTs, recently rose to a valuation of $4 billion after a round of fresh funding. The company is behind the popular collection of profile pictures featuring cartoon apes. Going beyond entertainment, the publishing sector too is leveraging the business potential of NFTs. In February this year, author Anirudh Suri’s The Great Tech Game: Shaping Geopolitics and the Destinies of Nations—published by HarperCollins India—became the first book with limited-edition NFT collectible cards. Each card in the series is unique memorabilia digitally hand-signed and numbered by author Suri, who is also the creator of the NFTs.

NFT marketplaces

What’s attracting fans and investors to the NFT market is its uniqueness and non-fungibility in the sense that it cannot be replaced with any other NFT, making its owner the only authentic holder of the token in the digital space. According to a recent study from NFT data company Nonfungible.com, NFT trading witnessed a 21000% spike in 2021, going from $82 million in 2020 to $17.6 billion in 2021. The report also suggests that collectibles and gaming NFTs remained the most popular categories in trading.Subramaniam of GuardianLink says that NFTs of more Bollywood celebrities, sportspersons and other important persons are also on the cards and will be launched on marketplaces like BeyondLife.com. He further shares that entertainment, sports and gaming are big markets for NFTs as well. “In India, there is great affinity for cricket. So, we can think of participation in a lot of aspects,” he adds. It is only a matter of time when each cricketer and IPL team will have its own NFT. To begin with, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) has already announced foray into the metaverse and collaboration with a partner to develop RCB NFTs. Rajesh Menon, vice-president and head, RCB, says, “Our endeavor is to make RCB a truly global lifestyle brand. This expansion in our business portfolio is the right step in the futuristic vision with the launch of Hustle by RCB, a live and on-demand online fitness product, plant-based meat and the team kit, athleisure and many more. We are very excited to unfold the future of RCB brand world.”

Celebrity NFTs, including that of Amitabh Bachchan’s NFTs, are often launched as limited editions. This, according to Subramaniam, generates curiosity among fans and increases the demand. “We recreate moments or certain events as NFTs. They are limited and hence, the demand is more. People can also re-sell them,” he shares. And rightly so, when Amitabh Bachchan’s NFTs were rolled out in November last year, they were priced at $10 each and the re-sell value increased to $2500. Similarly, NFT invitations for Asia’s first metaverse wedding were sold at $10 and are now priced at $4400. Hence, the purchase and selling of NFTs is not only a hobby for fans but a good investment option for those looking for high returns. It looks like the NFT craze is here to stay.

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