These three men prop up an industry

Published On: 2013-02-23

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These three men prop up an industry

Source: TOI

Date: January 21, 2007


Bollywood may be a 5,000-crore industry but only three of its stars are truly ‘saleable’. Meena Iyer on how the star system and big money are putting the film industry on an increasingly dangerous curve


For an industry that produces around 200 films annually, and where much hype is generated around ‘big’ ventures, you’d have thought the place would be teeming with saleable stars. The truth, however, is that Bollywood has precisely three actors who can sell a film on their name- Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Aamir Khan.


“Statistics have proved that others like Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar, Salman Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham have to be sold in clever packages,’’ says a trade analyst.


Of course, if the film itself is appreciated—like a Lage Raho Munnabhai, Malamaal Weekly, Gangster, Khosla Ka Ghosla or Corporate, all of whom made it to the 2006 hit list—the stars don’t matter.


“But apart from Lage Raho..., a huge hit, if you total the collection of all the others, it still doesn’t add up to what one Hrithik Roshan or Aamir Khan film collected," says the trade pundit.


The reality then is that corporates and independent producers jointly have just three or, at most, five actors to fall back on for truely safe returns. Those who can’t afford the fancy price tag that the eligible three command have the choice of picking up John Abraham, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgan or then opt for package deals with Emraan Hashmi, Shiney Ahuja, Fardeen Khan and Viviek Oberoi.


Manish Jha, whose recently released Anwar met with a disastrous fate at the box-office, says it is clear that whether in Bollywood or Hollywood, a superstar is necessary to set the cash registers ringing. “The star phenomenon rules globally,’’ he says. “Since European cinema hasn’t produced too many superstars, it lags behind Hollywood, and its far more critically acclaimed cinema does not find a market. Hollywood has a wider reach because the Hollywood superstar is well known in three-quarters of the world.’’


However, Hollywood has something which Bollywood can’t lay claim to—many more stars, in fact almost 25, who can take the onus of a film entirely on their shoulders. “It’s not just about the number of stars,’’ says Ronnie Screwala of UTV. “The kind of diversity that Hollywood has is amazing.’’


Corporate honchos admit that the film business needs many more saleable stars than it has at present. “Bollywood is playing with huge numbers by way of films, but we have very limited bankable actors,’’ says Sandeep Bhargava of Studio 18. “So it is becoming virtually impossible to meet the demands of the market.’’


The limited number of saleable names gives rise to another problem, says a trade source—unreasonable demands on the part of the star. “Akshay Kumar backed out of his multi-crore deals with Adlabs because he felt he should be getting bigger money,’’ he points out. [b]Hrithik Roshan too has signed a 35-crore deal with Adlabs, but rumours are that given his superhit status in 2006, his remuneration will see a sharp hike after the first project is complete.[/b] Salman Khan has rumouredly demanded a price hike from Subhash Ghai before the shooting even begins. In other words, the big names can now demand, and producers will have to comply.


“It is certain producers themselves who perpetuated this star system,’’ says Pritish Nandy of PNC. “In a bid to outdo one another, they started paying the stars absurd sums of money just to lock them in. I had commented then that when you play the game this way, you should be prepared to get hurt someday.’’


Nandy is of the opinion that if a producer backs a good script, he can free himself of the shackles of stardom. Ditto Mahesh Bhatt. “What is a star but someone elevated by 500 frightened, chicken-hearted producers?’’ he says. “Most producers are not film-makers, they are star cronies. Corporates sign these actors for big money, have huge marketing budgets, make their movies into an event, and confuse this with genius. But this is going to lead to guaranteed disaster. With the exception of a few, none of the stars can guarantee even an initial. I wouldn’t pay Rs 10 lakh to some of the guys the corporates have signed for Rs 5 crore.’’


Established names like Ram Gopal Varma are now forced to work with rank newcomers like Prashant Raj because star prices have shot through the roof. And though Varma defends his decision to cast a newcomer with logic like “He has the eyes and the intensity I need for my character’’, the fact is that he has to make do with what is available. For, the saleable actors are only willing to accommodate the Chopras (Yash, Aditya, Vinod) and perhaps a Johar.


Of course, optimistic people like Nandy and Screwala feel the situation will improve because Bollywood scripts are evolving slowly but surely. [b]But till then, two Khans and one Roshan are the Pied Pipers. And the fraternity called producers are rats who have to dance to their tunes.