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Filmmakers need to focus on storytelling and not just stars

CultureFilmmakers need to focus on storytelling and not just stars

Out of 20 notable films that were released in B-Town this year, 15 performed badly.

Many big budget highly anticipated films with the top Indian stars – male – have tanked at the box office this year. Out of 20 notable films that were released in B-Town this year, 15 performed badly. While some people blame the pandemic and the after-effects, the truth is that the storytelling in nearly all these films was just not up to the mark. Given that producers are shelling out huge salaries to stars and making these films, this does not augur well for the film industry as losses are faced by everyone and investor confidence is declining. A big star is no longer a draw to the cinemas and this is telling of the change in the audience perception of entertainment and what they expect.

Should stars take a pay cut?
One of the most debated aspects in the Indian film industry over the last few years is about male stars and their remuneration. The salaries being reported in the media for Indian heroes is mind-boggling with many charging as much as Rs 100 crore plus per film. During the pandemic, some stars did take a salary cut to ensure that the films they had committed to could be successfully completed and released. But now that things have eased back to normal, actors’ salaries are going through the roof.
It’s not just Bollywood stars like Salmaan Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan who are reportedly seeing Rs 100 crores per film but also south stars like Prabhas, Ram Charan, Vijay, Rajinikanth and Ajith. The big question is this – can producers afford such salaries since it means that the budget per film will increase substantially. What actors need to understand is the expected box office revenues per film when they command such high figures. Though every star has his own market in India and abroad, his fee is the biggest expense for the producer who needs to see how much his revenue may be compromised as a result. This puts the pressure on producers, who borrow money heavily, and go all-out in marketing their film to ensure that they are able to bring in the audience. But if the content is not strong enough then no matter how much marketing they do, the film will sink. And this is a big risk. One model that has worked in Bollywood is some stars, like Akshay Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan, taking a part of the salary as a cut from the profits. But not many actors are open to this. Taking a salary cut would not only mean higher profits for filmmakers – and the stars – but also less financial pressure due to lower budgets and the ability to give the audience better films.

Bang for the Buck
Today, content is key and with big budgets, filmmakers are under pressure to deliver larger-than-life entertainment with great visuals and music and this has gone drastically wrong as the story element has gone missing. We have seen this in recent Bollywood films which have sunk at the box office. Not all directors can be an SS Rajamouli or a Prashanth Neel and their success is not easy to replicate. A-listers are being signed on for massive projects but producers and filmmakers seem to forget that storytelling is the most important aspect and the paraphernalia that comes with it is icing on the cake. In this scenario, they believe that the star will bring in the audience and writing seems to have taken a backseat in this attempt to churn out big budget films and the race to hit the Rs 300/400/500 crore business at the box office. However, times have changed – the audience now wants to see their favourite star in a good movie with a well-written story and rejects shoddy films immediately.

Embrace Change
As times change, so do people and therefore, the film industry should as well. Thanks to the pandemic we have seen the rise of OTT and while there was an OTT versus theatre debate last year, we know that the two will co-exist happily but the content will differ for the two. Producers, directors, writers and actors need to understand the differences and also understand the change in audience tastes to make better content for them. One size no longer fits all and a better understanding of this will help the Indian film industry thrive successfully – both in theatres and on OTT.

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