When Saif Ali Khan, who was recently part of some flops like Happy Ending, Humshakals and Bullett Raja, reportedly decided to take a fee cut in his yet-to-start film like Ekta Kapoor’s adaptation of the Japanese bestseller The Devotion Of Suspect X, it made headlines. Aren’t our stars impervious to pay cuts, whatever the fate of their films? The answer, interestingly, is yes and no!
Yes, because there is a shortage of talent in the Hindi film industry, which churns out over 400 films a year. And there are only about seven-eight A-league actors, which include the three Khans: Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan, Ranbir Kapoor. Then there are about 10 B-league actors like Shahid Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan, Sidharth Malhotra, Arjun Kapoor, etc. Even if these stars work round the clock they cannot meet the requirement. It is the demand for a certain calibre that allows stars to get away after delivering flops and still charge their exorbitant fees.
No, because of the extraordinarily high fees that stars charge and the rapidly changing economics and logistics of film-making today, makes no one impervious to flops. So if not a cut in their fees, alternate financial agreements are sometimes made when stars sign a project after delivering consistent flops.
“One or two films flopping will not affect a star’s standing. Yes, a series of bad decisions start affecting people, but I have never seen a case where flops affect a star’s rates, or their endorsement fees, especially those of big stars. Anyway, it’s not that everyone’s films are consistently tanking. All stars make one or two bad decisions and after that they are far more careful. It is never a continuous process,” is film-maker R Balki’s opinion.
His opinion is endorsed by producer Ramesh Taurani of Tips who also feels that flops do not make a difference to an established star. “I think a lot also depends on the economics and genre of the new project he signs after giving flops. Otherwise I don’t think flops affect a star’s remuneration or the endorsements they’re offered,” said Taurani.
On the other hand Jayantilal Gada from PEN India feels that a depletion in pay packets of stars had to happen sooner or later, and attributes it to the changing logistics in the business of film-making. “Because of the competition between satellite channels to buy a film, they were paying astronomical sums to producers for the satellite rights of big films. Subsequently producers were willing to pay stars good prices because they depended on the satellite rights to compensate, if a film did not deliver at the box-office. Now with the prices of satellite rights hitting rock bottom, film-makers are faced with the original challenges of making a film for the box-office. Since it is the star’s fees that alone make up almost 50 per cent of a film’s budget, it is they who will have to take a pay cut,” said Gada.
But a cut in their fees is not the only thing that a star resorts to, when his films flop. There are other arrangements to safeguard a producer. Like it is heard that Imran Khan, whose Gori Tere Pyaar Mein flopped after Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Dobaara, went to return Rs.2 crores to Karan Johar, whose Dharma Productions had produced the film!
“There are a rare few who make amends after delivering a flop by returning a portion of their fees to the producer, or by accommodating another film with the same producer or studio at a discount. However, there have been negligible instances of stars cutting their price. He may work with a film-maker who is a close friend, or with the most happening film-maker in the business whom a star needs more than him needing the star. A reinvention of sorts is also one of the outcomes of flops. Amitabh Bachchan who starred in multi-starrers like Ek Rishta and Mohabbatein after several of his solo films like Suryavanshi, Lal Badshah and Hindustan Ki Kasam which flopped. Generally if an actor delivers a string of flops his fee remains constant. If he delivers a hit or two his fees soar!” says Akshaye Rathi, distributor and exhibitor.
Vashu Bhagnani who has produced over two dozen films, agrees that actors are likely to strike different deals with a producer if he has had flops. “Saif is a brilliant actor and two flops will not make a difference to his market price. It is not the actor who flops, but a character which has flopped. If a producer feels that an actor fits his character he will still sign a particular actor, despite flops. On the other hand if an actor feels that a certain film will be good for his career, he will do it, regardless of the price. But it’s understood that if a star’s film has not done well, he won’t be very demanding. He is likely to say, ‘my films have not done well let’s do a deal with the profits, you take this much and I will take an X amount’. After all, businesses, including making films, work on a long term basis,” said Bhagnani.
Going back to the 80s, one remembers how the late Rajesh Khanna became a superstar after a phenomenal run at the box-office between 1969 and 1971 with about 15 consecutive solo hits. Thereafter he suffered a down slide, but interestingly, he never cut down his price.
“I made Souten with Rajesh Khanna when he had not had a hit for almost 10 years. Though he was doing films all along, he did not have any phenomenal hits like he had with his earlier films. But there was nothing like a fee cut and I paid him the fees he had been charging as a superstar. Having said that, if today an actor is taking a cut after flops, it’s understood because the money they are charging, per film, is ridiculous,” said Saawan Kumar whose Souten with Khanna went on to become one of the biggest hits of 1983.
Interestingly, fee cut is one aspect where actresses rarely suffer, despite mediocre reviews and box-office failures. They seem to be impervious to flops as they are usually casted to provide the glamour quotient in films, and rarely does the heroine’s character take the screenplay forward.
“When you look into the economics of a film it’s not the fees that is paid to the actress that burdens the project. It’s an actor’s fee that affects viability because the amount paid to him is four times more in comparison to the actress. Also the credit for the hit or flop is directed to the actor, or the director,” said Rathi explaining that they usually bear the onus for the film’s performance.
Clearly, because of their small numbers, stars who can draw the audience into theaters get some immunity against flops. But for how long, only time will tell!