It pays to be a Bollywood star on TV today. Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar will vouch for this (Aamir Khan is still holding out). Television has become a vast playground, where actors command ‘obscene’ fees to helm big-ticket shows. Even as the fees keep soaring, the channels seem happy to oblige the ‘Big 5’ of the Bollywood jungle (Sony was rumoured to have chased Aamir Khan for
4), and are willing to bend over backwards to get them on board.
But at the end of the day, do the stratospheric prices charged by individual stars for individual shows really translate into a win-win situation for both parties? Is a star with all the baggage that he or she comes with, including temper tantrums and pre-conditions (the buzz was that Salman Khan wanted Sony to accommodate brother Sohail’s ‘shows’ before he would agree to
Dus Ka Dum 3
), really worth the while?
Sameer Nair, CEO, Imagine, started it all 10 years ago when he had the nation panting to see Amitabh Bachchan on
Kaun Banega Crorepati
on Star Plus. So it’s only right that we ask him about this enduring fascination that channels have with Bollywood. “It’s not a fascination as such, it’s more about giving something to a Bollywood-crazy Indian audience,” says Nair. “Over the years, we have seen a close proximity between Bollywood and television. TV is no longer a poor cousin. You see stars of every level appearing on TV to promote their films. And movies also form a big segment on TV – Aamir Khan’s
did wonders for Sony. So getting big stars on big ticket shows is a saleable business proposition.”
When Bachchan did KBC, he “legitimised TV for Bollywood”. “It became ‘OK’ for stars to do TV,” Nair says. “And what better way is there for a star to connect with his fans than through TV?”
The two-year-old Colors channel is like a child in a candy store as it continues to woo Bollywood. Whether it’s getting the father-son Bachchan duo for Bigg Boss and Bingo respectively (it’s a different thing that Big B’s magic dulled somewhat in BB while Bingo was a disastrous debut for AB Junior), Akshay Kumar to do stuntbaazi with 13 women in the first two seasons of Khatron Ke Khiladi or now getting Bollywood’s bad boy Salman to take over the Bigg Boss class and Priyanka Chopra to reprise Akshay’s role in KKK3, Colors has gone all out to get the best on TV.
Says Rajesh Kamat, Group COO, Viacom 18 and CEO, Colors, “For us, it’s about increasing the scale of our shows with star presence – advertisers want that scale – and also ensuring a new flavour for every show in every season. From Shilpa Shetty to Salman Khan, we have always delivered a host who fits with the different seasons of Bigg Boss. Stars do add to the ‘buzz’ of the channel.”
If Colors is going all out to get big stars, Sony is also not leaving any page in the TRP book unturned to pump up their shows. If they had Salman Khan in a ‘yaar mera buddy’ avatar for the two seasons of Dus Ka Dum, they have now swapped him with Amitabh Bachchan for KBC 4. Says NP Singh, COO, Sony Entertainment Television, “If you see a strong Bollywood presence on TV today it’s only a realisation of the fact that TV has a huge reach. A star no longer turns to TV after his or her career is over. All of them have film and TV careers happening side by side.”
Money, money, money
Salman getting Rs 1.5 crore for an episode of Bigg Boss or Bachchan getting an obscene amount for KBC 4 – how true are these figures that are bandied about? “Don’t trust every figure you read. The channels have never given them out. It’s the media that plays them up,” smiles Singh. Nair adds, “While most figures could be exaggerated, 70 per cent of it is true. There can’t be a fixed value for stars. There can’t be a rate card which says so and so will get only this much or that. Their stock rises or dips with every passing year or season and the channels cut deals accordingly.”
While some say the star rubs his stardust on to the show and the channel, others believe the allure is undeniable – it helps them in a big way. Says Singh, “We do recover costs and maybe a little margin on top, but they work for us, or why would we get them if it’s not a mutually beneficial deal? You may lose at times if a format doesn’t work, but then profit and loss is part of the business we are in.”
Adds Nair, “It pretty much works for both. Either a star propels you into the big league or just turns your fortune around; it’s never a losing roposition. The extent to which you go to get a star depends on your position in the pecking order. If you think you can take that risk you go for it. The idea is to utilise the star correctly – the right format, the right show, everything counts. A star alone will not do the trick. But if the show fails, the star is insulated from it while the channel alone gets the tab.”
However, not every channel is racing to sign up stars. After burning its fingers with shows featuring Manisha Koirala, Anupam Kher and Manoj Bajpai, Zee TV seems to be happy with Mithun Chakravorty playing ‘grandmaster’ on Dance India Dance (DID) and sundry other celebs on multiple seasons of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. According to Ashish Golwalkar, non-fiction head, Zee, “It’s not by design that we don’t have stars on our shows. It’s important for us to have the right celebrity for the right show. Probably that’s why Mithunda worked for us for DID.” He adds, “DID and Sa Re Ga Ma are 100-crore brands for us. We are a 17-year-old channel, and are conservative. To us, a proposition with a Bollywood star should mean profit on paper.”
According to Golwalkar, “All this talk of paying stars unheard of amounts is irrational because there is never a complete recovery. Forget profits, channels don’t break even either. There is no problem in getting stars on TV, but the pricing has to be rational. A couple of years ago, we saw a correction in the satellite rights of films, maybe we need one now for stars’ fees.”
So is the Bollywood presence here to stay? “KBC happened 10 years ago with Amitabh Bachchan and today we are still talking about him doing KBC again, so I don’t see a reason why stars can’t be part of TV in the years to come. As I said earlier, get them but utilise them through innovative formats and exciting shows,” says Nair. “We don’t rule out the possibility of moving away from music and dance-based shows in future. We are certainly toying with a few new ideas,” adds Golwalkar.
The latest to-do thing in Bollywood seems to be stars elbowing each other out of reality shows. Here are the changeovers this season:
Salman Khan replaces Amitabh Bachchan in Bigg Boss
Amitabh Bachchan replaces Shah Rukh Khan in KBC 4
Priyanka Chopra dethrones Akshay Kumar as the action superstar in Khatron Ke Khiladi
Akshay Kumar has switched loyalties from Colors to Star Plus with Master Chef India
Kaun bannta hai crorepati?
Who comes out on top when a channel hires a top Bollywood star for a reality show?
Are the huge star fees justifiable?
According to entertainment industry sources, A-grade stars are paid Rs 80 lakh-Rs 2.5 crore an episode, while the next rung of celebrities gets Rs 20 lakh-60 lakh per episode. Most figures are not off the mark. However, they are justifiable only if the show works for the channel – and if the star draws in the ratings.
So is it always a win-win situation for the channel and star?
It’s always the star who takes home the lolly! It’s a win-win situation for the actor and the producer of his latest film as they reach out to a wider audience. In the case of the channel, it bleeds most times. Though they can recover some revenue through ads, it’s not always a pleasant situation. That is why channels keep some ad spots free after a show starts so that if it picks up, they can increase rates. But more often than not, the channels don’t recover their money. There was an instance when a star committed to a specific number of episodes, but took ill in the middle and the channel waived his fees! Or in another instance, a star wasn’t able to deliver, so the channel recovered money by making him the ‘face’ of the channel (so you saw him at award functions, etc). This way the channel makes up for its losses in some way or the other.
Are stars better behaved on shows?
Yes, they are, because they take the success and failure of shows to heart. For them, it’s more than working in a film. They shoot for about 15 days a month, and they earn a huge amount of money. It’s a big deal for them to reach millions of houses at one go.
At the end of the day, does the star benefit more than the channel?
Anchoring a reality show on TV is lucrative, and has not seen the kind of drop in fees that stars have taken for movies. Stars are also required to commit shorter spans of time for shows. For the channel, it creates a lot of buzz – leading to high viewership and healthy interest from advertisers. Over the years, reality shows have done as well as regular serials on entertainment channels, attracting good television viewership ratings. Shows at times have also resurrected the flagging fortunes of channels and stars. For instance, when Kaun Banega Crorepati was first launched in 2000 with Amitabh Bachchan, Star Plus’ share rose from just two per cent to 25 per cent in the 9-10 pm slot. For some channels it’s a matter of improving their prestige, image, viewer perception and getting a short term TRP gain, so in that sense it is advantageous to the channel, but money-wise, it’s definitely advantage star.
Will this trend continue?
Most definitely, Bollywood rules! We live in a star-struck country.