Umang Agarwal is a Hrithik Roshan superfan. For the past five years, he’s run a YouTube channel dedicated to the superstar, who’s popularly dubbed “the Greek god of Bollywood.” Aggarwal typically reposts videos of Roshan’s dance performances, personal messages to politicians and actors, and behind-the-scenes shoots at exotic locations. During the Hindu festival of Rakhi this August, Agarwal shared a remarkable video.
“Hello Umang,” Roshan said in the 16-second clip. “Happy Rakhi to you.” The video was viewed thousands of times. Followers of the channel couldn’t believe Aggarwal had solicited a greeting from their favorite actor: “Brother, you are very lucky,” one person said. Another commented that his years of “hard work” running a YouTube fan channel for the superstar “paid off.”
Aggarwal wasn’t the only person to get a personal message from Roshan. Across social media, fans were getting the same, addressed by name. They weren’t real, not exactly. They were deepfakes, created for the confectioner Cadbury by Rephrase.ai, a Bengaluru-based startup that is pioneering the commercial use of artificial intelligence–generated avatars based on real people. Roshan had licensed the rights to his image to Cadbury, allowing the company, with Rephrase.ai’s help, to make him say whatever they wanted.