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Bad times, bad blood

The distance between the old world dens of traditional Bollywood producers and the swank floors of corporate giants just got wider — and bloodier.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2009 22:16 IST
Shashi Baliga

The distance between the old world dens of traditional Bollywood producers and the swank floors of corporate giants just got wider — and bloodier.

The knives are out as spiralling budgets and star prices collide with a liquidity crunch that has resulted in dozens of films being halted mid-production. And many completed films are awaiting buyers.

Trade consultant and distributor Amod Mehra estimates that Bollywood lost some Rs 600 crore last year. “It is a situation of our own making and the recession is just a convenient excuse for all the over-spending, over-budgeting and over-pricing of the last couple of years,” he insists. Star prices have shot up 500 per cent and more over the last few years, he says, pushing budgets over Rs 40 and 50 crore.

“There are just five or six saleable actors and about 50 producers. So the corporates started offering fantastic sums to lure them,” points out director Madhur Bhandarkar, who says his costliest film, Fashion (for UTV), cost only Rs 17.5 crore . “This is just the beginning. After March 31, when the corporates have to declare their balance sheets, all those figures pumped up to increase their share prices will come out,” Bhandarkar predicts.

Mukesh Bhatt of Vishesh Films, known for their low-budget hits, has solved one problem by steering clear of big stars. “My job is to make stars, not work with them — not at their current stupid, unrealistic prices,” he declares.

The corporates, however, say they are just being treated as punching bags. “We — some four or five corporates — have become convenient fall guys,” protests Ram Mirchandani, chief operating office of UTV Rampage Motion Pictures. He insists that all the talk of Rs 60-crore deals with stars were “very inflated”, though he does not reveal any UTV figures. UTV also had low-budget successes like Aamir, A Wednesday and Welcome to Sajjanpur last year, Mirchandani points out.

Sandeep Bhargava, CEO of Indian Films Company and Studio 18, is more caustic. “Independent producers think their forefathers have been in the business and they have movies in their blood,” he says. “But the corporates have shown they can stand, walk and now run, in the business in a few years’ time.” Bhargava turns the tables by saying, “The independent producers were making 200 to 300 per cent profits and that’s why the actors started asking for higher fees.”

All agree, however, that the year ahead is likely to be grim.

“We won’t take too many leaps of faith in the coming year,” Mirchandani says. “And if a script has a hero who wants to do some soul searching, he’ll have to do it in Bangkok, not Europe.”