seems to be forever, but he still gets paid Rs. 18-20 crore for every film he works in. Vidya Balan may have carried Kahaani to the winning post and bagged every award for The Dirty Picture, but would you believe that even after two hits, she is not the highest paid actress in Bollywood? That’s the dirty truth about star prices. Till the ’90s, Amitabh Bachchan was the only star paid in crores. Figuratively speaking, stars are supposed to be living up there in the sky. But now, it is their prices that are touching the sky.
Welcome then to the real world of stars and their unreal prices. You may even feel inclined to term their remunerations obscene, more vulgar than any adult sex film Bollywood has ever churned out.
Rules of engagement
Star prices are rarely, if ever, fixed, because actors make concessions for producers or directors who are friends or who are star names themselves. Stars are also emotional people. So you have Shah Rukh Khan doing films for Yash Chopra and Karan Johar at a price which is lower than what he would demand from other banners.
Salman had, years ago, gone out of his way to accommodate a film with the down-and-out Saawan Kumar Tak when the latter requested him to make his film with lesser actors saleable with his presence. Besides, if a script catches the fancy of a star or if he is keen to work with a director or producer, he doesn’t mind making a concession in his fees because, after all, stars need good scripts, banners and directors as much as producers and directors need top stars.
Like any other product, the price of a star is determined by the laws of demand and supply. The greater the demand and/or lower the supply (read availability of stars), the higher the price. If the entire family of lead stars is considered as one unit and all the producers put together, another, it is clearly a case of demand for stars exceeding the supply. That’s because the number of films produced each year in Bollywood is around 140-150 but the saleable heroes or those who can be cast in lead roles are barely 14 or 15. Ditto for the leading ladies. On an average, therefore, each star should be working in 10 films every year, which doesn’t happen now.
Ultra-selective heroes like Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh do one or two films whereas other A-listers like Salman and Akshay are seen in two, three or four films every year. There may be actors who have six to eight releases a year but they are very few in number.
That our actors, especially the A-list ones, command obscenely high prices is an open secret. Not just in absolute terms, even if one were to look at the ratio of flops to hits (80:20) every year, it is anybody’s guess that most of our stars get undeservedly high prices. For, even if a good script is the main reason why a film works at the ticket windows, the stars have a major role to play, especially the hero and heroine who work as magnets to draw the audience to the cinemas, initially at least. Considering that 80 per cent of the films bomb every year and 90 per cent don’t even open decently enough to justify the high prices paid to their lead actors, it is clear that most of our stars are paid remuneration that is far more than they deserve.
Box office magnets
Even today, it is on the strength of face value that the paying public patronises a film, at least for the first couple of days. In that sense, more than even the scriptwriter, director and producer, it is the star, especially the hero, who, in a manner of speaking, is the ISI mark for a film. In other words, when a star is asking for Rs. 10, 15, or 20 crore for a film, he is, by implication, assuring his producer of a great opening. But for the audience, his presence in a film is like a promise of quality cinema or, at least, value for their money. It is due to this faith which the audience has in a star (that the star will offer them an entertaining movie) that the latter commands the price he does. Or, only that actor should actually be considered worth every crore he is paid, who ensures that his film opens to bumper houses and also ensures that it offers entertainment to the paying public. So, Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh seem to be the only three stars who are being paid what they deserve. Ajay Devgn and Hrithik Roshan are inching their way to that position but the occasional Guzaarish or Aakrosh pulls them down.
Bang for the buck?
Akshay’s 20-crore price tag is wrong because his solo films just aren’t working at the box-office; Sunny Deol, Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan may deliver an occasional success but they’ve also given huge duds, which means they lack the consistency of Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman. However, the fees the stars charge don’t vary according to the fate of their films – the pay packet is not cut if a film flops. But Aamir Khan is a class apart. From charging a fee and a percentage in profits, Aamir now keeps a share in the profits his starrers make. “That way, I am not burdening the film’s budget with my cost, and I am also ready to put my neck on the line,” says Aamir matter-of-factly. “By not taking anything upfront and only charging a fee for acting if the film makes a profit, I am openly stating that if the audience doesn’t like my film, I don’t deserve a penny.”
The Indian obsession with a male child manifests itself in film viewing habits too. That explains why hero-oriented films open far better than heroine-oriented ones. Women-oriented films like No One Killed Jessica and Kahaani started slowly and scored only afterwards. The Dirty Picture, for all its claim of being a woman-centric story, still boasted of three heroes, hit music and titillating fare! Kareena Kapoor, the heroine of Heroine, has been paid a reported fee of R4 crore but she won’t be entitled to even one per cent of the profits in the film. By the way, Sridevi was the only actress who nearly touched the one-crore mark in the Nineties. The leading lady of such heroine-oriented films as Chandni, Nagina and Chaalbaaz had, years ago, signed a film for Rs. 1 crore but that film never got made.
Character actors rank even lower than heroines in the pay hierarchy. But over the years, supporting actors have started charging exorbitantly. So you have Irrfan getting Rs. 1.5 crore and Paresh Rawal insisting on a fee with seven zeros or, at least, Rs. 75-80 lakh.
(1) All figures are approximate.
(2) Rates/fees are never fixed. Adjustments/concessions are almost always made.
(3) Aamir Khan charges the maximum fee among all the stars, for endorsements.
(4) Shah Rukh Khan probably earns more every year by way of endorsement fees than for acting in films. He endorses about a dozen brands but works in one or two films a year.
(5) Shah Rukh has always maintained that he wouldn’t mind over-charging for endorsements and stage shows but would prefer under-charging film producers because he owes his stardom to films and film producers.
(6) Salman Khan is not as popular for brand endorsements as compared to the size of his superstardom because of his court cases.
(7) Till about four years ago Saif Ali Khan used to endorse the highest number of brands but he has since cut down on the number of products he sells.
(8) For performing on stage at televised events (like awards functions), stars get paid almost the same amount they charge per day for endorsements. For non-televised events, the payment is about 50-60% of the endorsement fee per day.
The cool club of Bollywood’s Khan Crorepatis almost always ensures a spectacular opening at the box office
Acting fee per film 23-27cr
Endorsement fee (per day) 1.5cr
Acting fee per film (share in profit, could go up to) 40cr
Endorsement fee (per day) 4cr
Shah Rukh Khan
Acting fee per film 20-25cr (including share in profit)
Endorsement fee (per day) 2-3cr
Stars’ big bucks come from…
Hosting stage shows
Hosting TV shows
Attendance at weddings/functions
Judging reality TV shows
Dancing/performing at events
The only appearance for which stars,
thankfully, don’t charge money are those made at funerals of friends, acquaintances and
respected industry people.
Actresses lag behind the men when it comes to money
Acting fee per film 3-4cr
Endorsement fee (per day) 1-1.25cr
Acting fee per film 3-4cr
Endorsement fee (per day) 1-1.25cr
Acting fee per film 2.5-3cr
Endorsement fee (per day) 0.25-0.5cr
Acting fee per film 2-3 cr
Endorsement fee (per day) 0.65-0.75 cr
Acting fee per film 1-2.5 cr
Endorsement fee (per day) 0.5-0.75 cr
Acting fee per film 1-1.5 cr
Endorsement fee (per day) 0.25-0.4 cr
Colour of producers’ money
With the remuneration of actors, actresses and
technicians soaring, how does a producer still end up making profits? Well, it’s not really tough because business has also grown manifold in the last 10 years. The main reasons for the growth are the high ticket prices in cinemas and the ever-growing sources of
revenue, particularly sale of satellite rights. The desperation of corporate houses is another reason why producers of star-cast films are not generally in the red.
Since most corporate houses have to show turnover to shareholders, they assign projects without weighing the pros and cons. As it is, they have deep pockets due to the availability of public money and institutional funding. Since they fund star-studded films, the
producers of those films could end up laughing all the way to the bank even if the corporates incur losses due to high costs. And frankly, even corporates don’t incur losses in their books of account because most of them amortise only 50 per cent of the cost of a film in the first year. This amounts to accounting jugglery but that’s the way it is.
This is not to say that these costs have not had an adverse effect on the viability of projects. Many of Akshay Kumar’s films would not be termed flops if his price were to be a third of what it is. And if that had to happen, most of his producers who have
been making losses, would end up making profits.
Enter, the actor-producer
Not satisfied with earning handsomely as actors, many of our leading men have turned producers. Right from Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman to Akshay, Ajay Devgn, Sunny, Anil, Amitabh, Saif, Sanjay Dutt and John Abraham, every actor worth his name and probably unworthy of his crores has jumped on to the production bandwagon. When the success ratio of films is barely 20 per cent and when it is the producer who suffers losses if a film flops, why would stars turn to such a risky business? It is because of three reasons:
(i) Of the 20 per cent films which click every year, 75-85 per cent are star-studded fares and so, it makes sense for stars to produce films with themselves acting in them.
(ii) It is a fallacy to think that it is the producer who bears the brunt of the losses when a film bombs at the box-office. If a film is pre-sold to distributors or a corporate house, the producer can make a profit even if the film fails at the ticket windows as, in such cases, the loss would be the corporate’s or borne by the distributors. Examples of producers making money while corporates or distributors incurred heavy losses are aplenty. Omkara, Guzaarish, Tees Maar Khan, Kites are some.
(iii) With theatrical earnings being only one part of the revenue stream of a film, a star-producer can make gains even if his film doesn’t fare well at the turnstiles, by pre-selling satellite, audio and other rights.
This is not to say that star-producers never make losses. Of course, they do. Saif Ali Khan, nicknamed Travel Agent Vinod after the many countries his character in his home production, Agent Vinod, travels to, will end up burning his fingers and toes in the thriller. Had Saif only acted in it, there was no question of him losing money. But in most cases, star-producers end up making profits because star-studded films have better chances of clicking with the public and also because star-struck corporate houses are willing to fund films of star-producers and take the risk of distributing them.
Interestingly, stars never brag about their earnings the way film producers do by announcing the gross and net collections of their released films on huge hoardings and newspaper advertisements. Therefore, in an industry where stars and their chartered accountants are the only ones who know their exact income, the grapevine and industry talk are the only sources of information about star earnings, star prices etc. But these are tried and tested reference points.
With star prices touching the sky, directors also started demanding fat salaries at the turn of the new century. Highly-paid directors include Raj Kumar Hirani, Rohit Shetty, Anees Bazmee, Farah Khan, Imtiaz Ali, Rajkumar Santoshi, Prabhu Deva, Sajid Khan and the like.
Of these, top ones like Hirani ask for a share in profits so that their fee could go up to R20 crore per film, or more! Some of the other above-named directors charge between R3 crore and R10 crore per film. Yash Chopra, Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Rakesh Roshan and Sooraj Barjatya could be among the highest paid filmmakers of Bollywood but if they aren’t, it is because they only direct films for their own banners, not for outsiders. Years ago, when there was a crazy boom in production, Anees Bazmee was rumoured to have signed a film for a business house for R20 crore, besides a share in profits! Of course, the film never got made because the boom did not last.
Bring on the money: it’s in the script
Years back, writing duo Salim-Javed’s names used to adorn the hoardings of films after they gave hits such as Zanjeer, Yaadon Ki Baaraat and Haath Ki Safai, all in one year (1973). Almost 40 years later, the tribe of writers felt short-changed. But things are changing for the better. So impressed was Aamir Khan with the script of Talaash when he heard it that he decided to pay 3 per cent of the profit of Talaash to Reema Kagti as her fee for direction and 2 per cent of the profits as remuneration to Reema and Zoya for penning the script. It is anybody’s guess that the 2 per cent in the case of Talaash will work out to at least Rs. 1 crore i.e. Rs. 50 lakh to Reema and Zoya each. This, as against the earlier decided fee of Rs. 5 lakh each.
If it was Salim-Javed who made the industry realise the importance of writers, it’s now Kagti and Javed’s daughter, Zoya, who’ve brought their contribution into focus once again.
Ruling the charts, note for note
Not just stars but technicians have also hiked their rates over the last decade. Among composers, only A R Rahman gets paid as a percentage of the price his music gets sold for. That way, he gets around Rs. 2-4 crore per film. Other composers charge between Rs. 30 and Rs. 60 lakh. The way it works for a top music composer is this: he charges around Rs. 10-20 lakh per song; if there are six songs, he gets paid Rs. 60 lakh to Rs. 1.2 crore. After paying off the expenses of recording, including fees of singers, lyricists, charges of the recording room etc., the composer is generally left with Rs. 30-60 lakh. Among lyricists, Javed Akhtar is perhaps the highest paid (Rs 3 lakh per song), followed by Gulzar (Rs 2 lakh). Other renowned song writers charge anything ranging from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 50,000 per song. Even action directors, who were paid moderately, nowadays demand Rs. 30-40 lakh per film. If the action scenes are too many and too stylish, the action master’s pay packet could even go up to Rs. 75 lakh.
Small screen, big bucks
Star TV Show Payment/episode
Salman Khan Dus Ka Dum Rs. 1-1.25 cr
Shah Rukh Khan Kaun Banega Crorepati Rs. 1.0 cr
Amitabh Bachchan Kaun Banega Crorepati Rs. 0.75-1 cr
Hrithik Roshan Just Dance Rs. 0.75-0.8 cr
Akshay Kumar Khatron Ke Khiladi, Master Chef Rs. 0.7-0.8 cr
Priyanka Chopra Khatron Ke Khiladi Rs. 0.3-0.4 cr
Madhuri Dixit Jhalak Dikhla Ja Rs. 0.1-0.2 cr
Farah Khan, Rohit Shetty For judging TV shows Rs. 0.1-0.2 cr
Komal Nahta is a trade analyst and the editor of Film Information
From HT Brunch, April 8
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