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Why Hollywood studios failed in Bollywood

business Updated: Dec 29, 2016 11:38 IST
Suveen Sinha
Suveen Sinha
Hindustan Times

Directed by Yash Chopra and written by Salim-Javed, Deewar established Amitabh Bachchan as the angry young man of Bollywood. It also started the era when Salim-Javed, the screenwriter duo of the 1970s, charged about half of what the highest paid heroes of the time did.(HT Archive)

Karan Johar, filmmaker and talk show host, has a book coming up. Sources in the publishing industry say it does not capture Johar’s troubles over using Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.

Johar is not alone in this. This year, other bigwigs in Bollywood have also bought truce in this matter – literally and figuratively. And none of them is much likely to talk about it. Our film industry is not throwing up too many real life heroes.

The reel life, in contrast, is falling more and more in love with the cult of the hero. So much so that all the other aspects of filmmaking have taken a back-seat. And 2016 bears testimony to that.

Also Read: Is Bollywood in the middle of a crisis?

Time was when Salim-Javed, the screenwriter duo of the 1970s, charged about half of what the highest paid heroes of the time did. Scriptwriters these days get a hundredth of what the hero makes. And that throws movie-making economy out of kilter.

Filmmaking is a business like no other. In any other business, what works once will work again and again. In movies, what has worked once will not work again unless you refresh it in an interesting way, as Manmohan Desai used to with his lost-and-found formula.

Secondly, every other business is about increasing your market share. But in movies, there is no concept of market share. Two movies released on the same day can be hits, or both can be flops.

With the hero dominating the scene in Bollywood, not everyone can cope. Companies have shut shop in the last two decades when Bollywood came to be corporatized. Formidable names such as Aditya Birla, Singhania, Mahindra, Tata, Times Group and Zee have walked out after testing the waters. But of late this has become endemic.

Chances are, Walt Disney Company won’t make movies in India anymore and, instead, will focus on distributing movies, and make money in India from its global portfolio, some of which will continue to be dubbed in the Indian languages. It seems Disney’s appetite for Bollywood has been satiated with the failures of Mohenjo Daro, Fitoor, Tamasha, Katti Batti, and Phantom.

Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Motion Pictures has not had a great time with A Flying Jatt, Great Grand Masti, Udta Punjab, Azhar, and Kya Kool Hain Hum 3.

Three other global biggies – Sony, Fox Star, and Warner Brothers – have already stumbled in India. Sony had its Saawaria, Fox Star hit a rough patch with Bombay Velvet, and Warner Brothers lost its way from Chandni Chowk to China.

Several Indian ones have not fared any better. Reliance Big Pictures (Hawaizaada), PVR Pictures (Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey), SaReGaMa (Jhootha Hi Sahi) seem to have had enough. Eros, one of the biggest in the business, is reeling under flops.

As Bollywood has corporatized, MBAs have come to run it with their excel sheets and PPTs. They play safe by signing on the biggest star they can. That done, they get the director the star wants. And then they look around for a script. If the movie fails, they can always say it is not their fault, after all they did get the most saleable star.

This has ensured that the same stars, now in their middle age, rule the industry. No one wants to bet on new faces. The small, indie type of producer who used to bet on new talent has been elbowed out.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, though a crashing bore, revived Ranbir Kapoor’s career after a terrible run with Bombay Velvet, Roy and Tamasha. Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan, and Siddharth Malhotra are either cocooned among other stars (Dhawan in Dilwale, Malhotra in Kapoor & Sons) or among a bevy of strong supporting actors (Dhawan in Badlaapur). When their solo movie does well, it does so because it is a really good movie. Now real star power is that which makes any movie a hit, not necessarily the good ones.

The top stars – the Khans and Akshay Kumar – therefore have everything their way. And if you love them you also have to love their dog. So the stylist, makeup person, and the driver get fat pays. These run into lakhs of rupees – for each. One eyewitness swears he saw a top star’s driver get Rs. 4,000 during a session of shooting. Another person says a star’s travel budget to promote a movie was Rs. 3 crore. A top heroine’s yoga teacher travels with her everywhere in the world, gets a fat pay, and has nothing to do after the one-hour yoga in the morning.

This means that the promotion and travel budget and overheads equal the cost of making the movie, which means it has to make three times its production budget to be a hit.

So who gets pushed to the margins? The writer. If the hero gets Rs. 40 crore for a movie, the scriptwriter is likely to get Rs. 40 lakh. Even the really successful ones get no more than Rs. 1 crore, that too if they throw in the dialogues, and even if the whole thing gets done by two or three persons. No wonder, people now look at writing as a stepping stone to becoming director, whose pay, though less than the hero’s, is still substantial.