Should Bollywood actors and directors share the burden if a film fails at ticket windows?

Should Bollywood actors and directors share the burden if a film fails at ticket windows?

While you might think that a film’s failure affects a lead actor the most, it’s really the distributors and exhibitors who face massive financial losses every time a big-ticket movie tanks at the box office. Some actors like Rajinikanth, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan have paid money back to the distributors and the exhibitors to compensate, but that was just a large-hearted gesture from the actors. Now, the Telugu industry has taken the first step to correct this discrepancy. A committee headed by Suresh Babu, Dil Raju and Sunil Narang (of Asian Cinemas) are trying to find a solution to the problem. They have come up with a proposal to recover part of the losses from the lead actor and director’s remunerations (as they are the highest paid on most projects). The proposal was put forth by the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce (TFCC) on Tuesday. With Baahubali making a big bang in Bollywood, the Telugu industry has now set another precedent that B-Towners can take note of.

According to the committee’s proposal, the producer has to keep aside 25 per cent of the lead actor and director’s pay, which can be used if the buyers incur huge losses. The committee has also recommended in their proposal that this remuneration be released two weeks after the film’s release.


Trade experts opine the move will help the industry in the long run. Says Girish Johar, film business and trade analyst, “It is a good initiative because it shows that the actor and director together are taking the onus of the credibility of the film. The audience, as well as the producer, will be happy that the actor and the director are taking on this kind of responsibility. It’s a win-win situation. If an actor has put his neck on the line and said that, ‘I am doing this film and if we face losses, I am willing to partake in that’, the audience will also know that the actor is absolutely confident of his product.” It will definitely mean that the actor and director cannot pocket big bucks even if they dole out a bad product.


A flop film just hurts an actor’s stardom and market value, it doesn’t cause a dent in his bank balance. Unless, of course, the actor is also distributing the film. It also leads to a one-sided growth. Akshaye Rathi, film exhibitor, columnist, and entrepreneur, says, “A lopsided equation where one entity is just making money and other keeps losing it, is absolutely unfair and that’s a sureshot way of curtailing the growth of the industry. So, while on moral grounds, it’s right on the part of actors and producers to reimburse distributor and exhibitors who face a loss, legally it is not a compulsion for them as per the current scenario. Having said that, if there can be a way derived where every section can earn decently, it will also ensure constant and steady growth, which will be fantastic.”


The star system is what makes Bollywood run. Star Power is what actors are paid for. Basically their ability to fill theatre seats. Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan films take big openings because loyal fans throng to the theatres. The same holds true for directors like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rajkumar Hirani, Karan Johar, Rohit Shetty, who are star directors. Distributors bank on this very fact when they pay big bucks for a film. And there have been instances when distributors have gone bankrupt. When actors get a share if profit, why not accept a share in losses as well? Akshaye reasons, “A true-blue star is someone who if he makes money from the movie, should also be willing to earn a little less when a film sells lesser tickers. If you are charging Rs 30, 40, 50 crores, you are not charging that just for your acting skills. You are charging it for your ability to sell tickets. So, when that doesn’t happen, it becomes his moral responsibility to help others when they face losses. I am not saying he should reimburse everything, but the profits they make should be somewhere divided to make sure that just one person doesn’t take a lot. If there’s an actor who is making great money consistently while distributor and exhibitors are losing money on his film. The options of that actor will be very limited, because after a point, the distributors will stop buying films that aren’t allowing them to earn, and exhibitors will stop giving priority to his shows. So, like in any industry, it’s important for everyone to grow together for individual benefit. I hope that that happens soon.”


Fact is, a lot of business in Bollywood is based on the relationships and personal equation between people. A certain filmmaker will prefer a certain distributor, just like a certain director will work with one particular actor many times. When Salman Khan had compensated distributors for the losses they incurred on Tubelight’s release, his father Salim Khan explained the reason with, “Producer aur distributor ke beech mein ek rishta hota hai. If a producer wants to remain in movie business, distributors have to remain alive.” Girish adds, “Be it the producer or the distributor, they will be gung-ho to know that their actor and director is taking such a strong stand. That’s how relationships are built. Why will a producer or distributor want to keep working with an actor, who will take his money and walk away? They would rather work with someone who will be sharing their responsibility. Traditionally, the talent cost combined contributes to 50 to 60 per cent of the budget. If the film fails, it’s only right to expect them to share the losses too.” Akshaye adds, “While it’s possible for associations to take a stand, our industry has always worked on relationships. Only good relationships and credibility of producers has to come into play to make it a fair game for everyone. Shah Rukh Khan has been known to do this in the past. When he had a company called Dreams Unlimited with Aziz Mirza and Juhi Chawla, every time distributors lost money, Shah Rukh made up for it. He did that with Dilwale, too. Rajinikanth is the superstar that he is because he made sure that distributors never lost money on his films. This only shows these stars have the belief in their stardom and that they can make up for the losses.”


While sharing loses might be an ideal scenario, these things need to be made clear right at the beginning of a project. Producer Ramesh Taurani says, “If such negotiations happen at the beginning itself then it’s right, but if no such talk has happened then it’s not fair. It has to be done before the film starts. The profit or partnership and other things should be followed as per the contract. Filmmaking is a serious business, you can’t make a random ruling. It has to happen by mutual consent between those concerned. Whatever the contract says, that is the word of God and that should be followed. You cannot force anyone to give the money back.”

In an earlier interview, Ajay Devgn, too, had emphasised on the point saying that it’s not right to hold a superstar responsible for the failure of a film. He had pointed to the times when films starring someone like Salman Khan went on to break records at the box office, and the profits weren’t shared. Though the film associations look at the problems that the industry faces, loss-sharing isn’t an issue that has been addressed as yet. Taurani adds, “Associations are there to sort contractual issues if any. They are not there to do the business for us or lay the rules of the business for producers or actors. Their work is to solve the disputes and they do that according to what’s in the contract.”


Akshaye feels that an initiative like the one taken by the Telugu industry is the need of the hour. He adds, “I hope that Telugu producers, actors, exhibitors, and distributors are negotiating a scenario like this, which will ensure an even growth for all the sectors. It is something that we should look at. It cannot be done by force, it can be only done by mediation, negotiation, and by using the good relationships that producers, actors, distributor, and exhibitors have among themselves. And the day that thing happens, I am sure the entire industry will start moving forward in the right direction.”


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