Shah Rukh Khan reportedly did it with Dilwale. Salman Khan is planning to do so for Tubelight, and Ranbir Kapoor has pledged to refund distributors prior to the release of Jagga Jasoos. Traders and distributors, whose businesses are on the verge of sinking due to unrealistic star prices and losing box office equation, have suddenly begun to see a big ray of hope. “It’s a very noble gesture on the part of Salman to look at compensating the losses made by distributors with Tubelight. It’s certainly a big precedent for other stars to follow,” says J.P. Choksey, veteran Central India distributor.
According to Choksey, the only other star to consistently show concern for the investors of his films is Rajinikanth. “He does not produce his films but makes sure that he compensates distributors when they fail to live up to expectations, which he did with Lingaa and Kochada-iiyan,” he says. He points out that the only Bollywood star to do the same was the late Raj Kapoor, who compensated his distributors for the failure of Mera Naam Joker. This trend should not be restricted to stars turned producers alone. Trade analyst-turned-filmmaker Rajeev Chaudhary, feels that it is encouraging news that stars are showing compassion, even if it is only after turning producers, “It shows that the industry is finally doing a reality check, though stars are realising it only after turning producers,” he says.
However, Chaudhary feels that this trend shouldn’t be restricted to stars turned producers alone, “It should also extend to those star-studded films that are produced by others. That’s because star presence decides the price tag of a film, and star prices constitute a major chunk of the film’s costing,” he says, adding that producers should stop paying unrealistic prices to the second rung stars, “A majority of them do not deserve the prices whether it is Sonakshi in Noor or Akira or Parineeti and Ayushmann in Meri Pyari Bindu, or for that matter Sunny Leone in a One Night Stand. These films were total washouts and didn’t even fetch an opening.”
Veteran distributor Ramesh Sippy has a rather different take on this. He says that it is merely a gesture of goodwill and that stars are not obliged to refund distributors. He also adds that the history of filmmaking has witnessed several big disasters but stars never took responsibility for it. “It has happened in the black and white era too, when there have been films like Kagaz Ke Phool. There have been other films but that didn’t prompt stars to repay distributors. Even in the case of Raj Kapoor (Mera Naam Joker) he compensated distributors by giving them his next film Bobby at a reasonable price but he didn’t refund back what they had lost,” he says.
Exhibitor Akshaye Rathi adds, “Distributors invest money knowing fully the risks involved, in the hope of earning big time. Nobody puts a gun to their head. However, the biggest expense for a producer is the star costs, especially those who are next in the line of stardom. There are cases where even the lifetime share of a film is not equal to their fee,” he says. It is not the star alone but the director too who is responsible for the failure of a film. However, Rathi avers that apart from the star, it is the director who is equally responsible for a film’s failure. “A film is a director’s baby,” he says adding that Rishi Kapoor was justified when he lashed out at director Anurag Basu, and blamed him for the failure of Jagga Jasoos, “Anurag, apparently, shot the film without any planning. The fact that Jagga took four years probably proved this. Even the biggest of films in Hollywood were completed in less than two years,” he says.
Director Anees Bazmee feels that it is imperative of directors to be cost-efficient and focused. “The age of Mughal-E-Azam is over when directors were passionate about filmmaking and shot endlessly for that perfect scene. Today, they need to be more practical about the potential of recovery, the choice of stars and the expenditure required, lest things go out of control. You cannot go ahead with a subject, have second thoughts and reshoot something else. It is a waste of time and precious money,” Anees says. He also feels that it is a star’s individual choice whether or not he wants to compensate. “You cannot impose this on stars considering the huge hits some of them give. Also, stars don’t claim a share of additional revenue for the success. It is purely a business, you lose some and win some,” he says.
According to Sippy, refund or no refund, the trade continues despite the fact that several distributors have closed down shop due to heavy losses. “There are always new entrants who are willing to take the risk. Apart from that, corporate houses do 70 per cent of distribution. Thankfully, they have become cautious about over-investment. Earlier, they went overboard with the prices they paid to stars,” he adds....