An intense cold war is raging in Bollywood between a section of independent producers and big corporate houses engaged in filmmaking.
The independent filmmakers are up in arms against the recent practice of corporate houses entering into multimillion rupee, multi-filmmaking contracts with a just few reigning stars.
Corporates engaged in filmmaking and film distribution include Percept Pictures, Eros Multimedia, Adlabs Films, Shree Ashtavinayak Cinevision and K. Sera Sera.
Some earlier individual production banners, like Subhash Ghai's Mukta Arts, have also gone public and are producing films with public money.
Apart from these Indian filmmaking companies, Hollywood entities Sony Pictures and Warner Brothers have also recently invested in Hindi films.
Sony recently partnered with Sanjay Leela Bhansali in the making of Saawariya and Warner Bros has joined hands with Ashutosh Gowarikar for the latter's soon-to-be released Jodha-Akbar.
Not only are these stars being given a larger-than-life image, but this trend could result in disastrous consequences for the entire industry, independent filmmakers apprehend.
By pampering them with bagfuls of money, the corporates are only making these stars greedier and unaffordable for talented individual filmmakers who are not as resourceful, veteran filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani said.
"It is a well-known and accepted fact that Bollywood now has just a handful of stars who are capable of drawing the crucial initials (the critical first week's collections of a new release at the box office)," Nihalani told IANS.
Many others endorse Nihalani's view and feel that the trend portends disaster for the industry, as the prices of the stars, determined by the corporate houses, will never come down.
The result will be that only the corporates, with virtually unlimited funds at their disposal, will monopolise these stars.
Others wanting to make films with these few stars will be able to do so only if they subject themselves to the whims of the corporates to avail of their funds.
The situation in which individual producers find themselves is similar to the one small traders are facing today with giant companies entering the retail shopping business by way of mega malls, Nihalani said.
At another level, the industry buzz is that such multimillion rupee deals between the corporates and the stars are only on paper.
"By manipulating sections of the media, they (the stars) are publicising these 'mega-deals' with the sole aim of jacking up their stock prices. The stars and directors play willing handmaidens in this since it indirectly helps them raise their market value," a filmmaker said, requesting anonymity.
Well-known producer Mukesh Bhatt said: "When a corporate house announces through the media that a particular star has been signed for a nine-digit remuneration for a particular film, the star's market value definitely goes up. Naturally, he does not object."
According to Bhatt, all reports about corporates investing astronomical sums in stars and films are bunkum and should be taken "with a big pinch of salt".
He said it has always been an old practice in Bollywood to announce inflated budgets for films to get better remuneration from distributors.
"The corporates are only fine-tuning that practice, with a sophisticated professional touch that was probably lacking until now," Bhatt told IANS.
There are others who are confident that the ambitions of the corporates to rule the roost in Bollywood will crumble soon.
A few more flops and they will have to climb down from their high perches and face the reality on the ground, they say.
A prominent producer, who requested anonymity, told IANS: "From my experience with one corporate house, the mindset of their top executives is they treat a film as a 'commodity' like soaps or sanitary napkins. All they are interested in is packaging rather than in the quality of content."
However, the same producer admits that where the corporate houses score is in the field of effectively marketing a film.
"Since they have the expertise and knowledge to sell their products, it works the same for their films. But unlike products, if the well-marketed film is bad, there will be no repeat visits by patrons," he warned.
A majority of the recent releases by corporates have done exactly that. As a result, they are losing the audience's loyalty.
It is difficult to sustain oneself in the industry if a banner does not attract its loyal audience, the producer said.
An executive of UTV, when contacted, declined to comment on the allegations of the individual filmmakers.