This is all industry news, really, but I find it interesting. Especially considering that UTV/Disney just announced it was shutting down, every little studio move is now exciting.
Balaji Telefilms is rumored to be considering shutting down it’s film wing. They aren’t saying it like that, of course, they are simply re-affirming their commitment to television above films, and re-assessing their focus and so on and so on. But what it comes down to is, after a string of failures, they are running scared and going back to a sure thing.
Film in India is just plain risky! The profits can be huge, but so can the losses. That’s why people run to stars. Not only can the guarantee a good opening, ultimately it can be cheaper to hire a star who can bring in the opening day numbers, than to try to pad the film out with special effects and promotional campaigns that may not work. And you never know when the censors or other outside forces that see the success of the film industry and try to borrow a piece of it may come into play.
Look at Balaji’s last 4 films, Great Grand Masti, Kya Kool Hain Hum, Azhar, and Udta Punjab. Victims of censorship, piracy, and changing public tastes. And all of them expensive to make. Not as expensive as the big budget big releases, but more expensive than the studio could afford. Really, they are just the victims of high expectations. Studios get in the habit of thinking if one film did well, the next one will do better. So the budgets grow with the expectation of growing profit. And it just doesn’t always work that way.
Balaji still has one more film coming, Half-Girlfriend, which should be successful, a Chetan Bhagat story, a buzzy cast (Arjun and Shraddha Kapoor), a light romantic plot. But Balaji can’t do with just a kind of successful film at this point, they need a solid 300% profit hit, to make up for all those films that were supposed to be 150% hits and just didn’t quite make the cut.
In a way, that was the advantage of the old tiny studio system. When Yash Raj films was releasing 4 films a decade, not 4 films a year, there was no long term planning, based on expected long term trends. It was all one film at a time, and if it hit, great. And if it didn’t, at least you weren’t already committed to spending money you didn’t have for another film already in production.
(3 years between Faasle and Vijay. Can you imagine Yash Raj films going 3 years without a release now?)
Speaking of one film at a time, Eros International and Viacom Motion Pictures are going all out on their one very very big film plan, supposedly sinking 140 crore into Rani Padmavati. What a terrible idea! Does no one remember what happens when Bhansali gets too much money? Saawariya happens! Guzaarish happens! He’s being hailed as this kingmaker hitmaker, but it’s only on the strength of his last two pictures!
The money, according to Bollywoodhungama, is being spent on the usual grand Bhansali sets and costumes, the huge price tag on the all star cast, and the massive number of prints and promotional materials being made up in the hopes of recouping their costs. Now, I have my own issues with the Bhansali sets (why not just re-use some of them? Wall hangings! Throw pillows! New angles! There’s no need to build 50 different sets for 50 different scenes!), and of course the stupidity of sinking more money into prints and promotion in order to make money is obvious.
But it is the price tag on the cast that I find most interesting. What is wrong with this movie that they need to give soooooooooooo much money to them? I was going to say “it’s not like in Hollywood!” where it’s all about the money, but it’s not even all about the money in Hollywood. If it takes that much money to get an actor into a film, there is something wrong with that film. That’s true in Hollywood (Johnny Depp makes SO MUCH MONEY from the Pirates sequels!), and it’s even more true in India, where the whole industry relies so much more on relationships and trust than on contracts and payments.
So, what is it about this film that is making Deepika and Ranveer, who have worked with Bhansali twice before, who owe him part of the credit for their current careers and a lot of the credit for their current relationship, so unwilling to do this movie? Not to mention Shahid, who desperately (as always) needs a good big budget hit at his back. And, more importantly, why are the studios willing to pay and pay and pay to get the 3 of them into this movie instead of backing up, re-assessing, and figuring out why no one wants to work in it?
More importantly, why is no one taking a back end deal? This is the exact situation these deals were designed for. Keeps the initial cost down, and if it is as big a hit as expected, everyone ends up making more money than they would have on an lump sum before filming.
Of course, this could all be false rumors to build buzz, get us talking about the HUGE SETS, FAMOUS CAST, MASSIVE RELEASE, and so on. In which case, it worked on me!!! I admit, I fell for it! But if it isn’t buzz, this budget that requires two studios to join to fund it, stars who are desperate to escape and have to be paid off to stay, and this bonkers large number of prints to redeem the profits, this is all making me feel very dubious about the quality of the end result.