Nov 26, 2008

Entertainment - India;Bollywood & Recession

Sandeep Bamzai

The dreaded ‘R’ word has landed on B Town’s shores. As the downturn impacts the Hindi film industry adversely, deals are being renegotiated at the speed of knots. Money is sparse and the days of big budget films seem to be over for the time being. Financiers and distributors seem to be conspicuous by their absence. Though, Salman Khan starrer, Anil Sharma helmed ‘Veer’ seems to be the exception. A huge set has been put up in Film City (Mumbai) for the period drama, reportedly inspired by ‘Gladiator’.

And it is the satellite rights market which is facing the brunt of this quickly enveloping liquidity crisis. Almost Rs 500 crore worth of film inventory is lying unsold as the demand-supply equation has turned for the worse. Most general entertainment and movie channels have used big ticket recent releases to drive ratings. Even the syndication deal model that was used to sell ‘Jab We Met’ has no takers. With a proliferation of GECs, this phenomenon had gone into overdrive. NDTV Imagine, Colours, 9X, UTV Movies, Star Gold and all the other usual suspects bid aggressively for films and ramped up ratings and advertising revenue. ‘Taare Zameen Par’ reportedly went for Rs 12 crore to Zee, ‘Jodha Akbar’ for Rs 15 crore and Rakesh Roshan’s ‘Krrish’ had been sold for Rs 16 crore. This is all in the past now. As it is time to start counting pennies.

Of the five legs to the movie entertainment revenue stool, satellite rights brought in as much as 20 per cent. Though there is no real perceptible change in the domestic box office earnings or the overseas territory earnings yet, satellite and music are floundering due to the paucity of cash. The fifth leg – home video – is still nascent and has two real players only – T Series and Big. I must add that on the box office front, the renegotiations have reportedly begun for the distribution rights – both domestic and overseas.

With Eros International taking a massive Rs 75-80 crore hit on ‘Drona’ and ‘Yuvraaj’, it sure is beginning to get ugly. Shree Ashtavinayak, meanwhile, is laughing all the way to the bank. Comedy caper ‘Gomaal Returns’ first year earnings should be Rs 60 crore. And in the battle of major league stars it is strike one for Salman Khan because Subhash Ghai’s caught-in-a-time-warp ‘Yuvraaj’ has turned turkey at the BO. Now everyone is waiting for strike two – Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’s release on December 12, followed by Aamir Khan’s ‘Ghajini’ on December 25 and Akshay Kumar’s ‘Chandni Chowk to China’ on January 16.

Barring Yash Raj Films ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’, the other two are extremely expensive films. Studio 18 forked out an astronomical Rs 90 crore for ‘Ghajini’s rights, while Big Pictures has the overseas distribution rights for another Rs 10 crore. Throw in the release cost and you have a round figure of Rs 110 crore or thereabouts. So, start thinking break even and then overflow? Ramesh Sippy’s ‘Chandni Chowk to China’ in conjunction with Warner Bros is also a Rs 70 crore film, which means it has to do very well to make handsome profits. Take the recent case of Himesh’s ‘Karzz’, Big Pictures has reportedly lost Rs 30 crore on the remake despite a blockbuster opening. Of course, Big Pictures may have compensated these losses with ‘Rock On’, which has already done Rs 40 crore of business.

Like ‘Rock On’, there have been other big hits on the BO this year, namely ‘Singh is Kinng’ and ‘Jodha Akbar’, both of which did business of around Rs 100 crore, and ‘Race’, which has done Rs 55-60 crore. ‘Dostana’ has done business worth Rs 40 crore and ‘Fashion’, Rs 25 crore. Other than the aforementioned ruling star troika’s films, it is the movies scheduled for release next year that are dominating the mindspace of financiers and distributors in B Town. These are expensive films, which are on the floors currently or in various stages of post production. And the list is long.

Reliance Big Pictures Mani Ratnam helmed Rs 100 crore ‘Ravana’; Rakesh Roshan’s Rs 100 crore ‘Kites’ starring son Hrithik, which contrary to popular belief has some amazing action sequences; Karan Johar’s Shah Rukh Khan starrer Rs 100 crore ‘My Name Is Khan’; Shankar’s Rajanikanth and Aishwarya starrer Rs 120 crore ‘Iyanthiran’ (earlier titled Robot); Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Raju Hirani directed Aamir Khan and Kareena starrer ‘Three Idiots’; UTV’s Rakesh Mehra-directed and Abhishek starrer ‘Dilli 6’; Eros/Sajid Nadiadwala, Akshay and Kareena starrer ‘Kambakht Ishq’; Reliance Big Pictures’ David Dhawan-directed and Govinda starrer ‘Do Knot Disturb’; Saif Ali Khan’s first home production, still untitled, directed by Imtiaz Ali and starring Saif and Deepika Padukone; Shree Ashtavinayak’s Rs 80 crore ‘Blue’, starring Akshay, Sunjay Dutt and Lara Dutta; Red Chillies Entertainment’s ‘Biloo Barber’ starring Shah Rukh Khan; Karan Johar’s ‘Wake Up Sid’ starring Saif, Kareena and Vivek Oberoi; Reliance Big’s ‘Luck By Chance’ starring Farhan Akhtar and Hrithik in a very long special appearance; and many more.

With all these big releases lined up, there is a fear factor doing the rounds in B Town. Release dates are crucial as is the monetising of distribution, music, satellite and home video rights. Everyone is suddenly talking recovery for no one in his wildest dreams had thought of such an eventful reversal of fortunes in such a short span of time. Everyone thought that the party would continue as producers and financiers stepped up to the plate offering stupendous amounts of money not just to the actors, but for the distribution rights. And then there is the scourge of Hindi films – cricket – the Indian Premier League’s second avatar in April-May 2009, when nobody would want to release any big movie for sure.

I doubt very much whether a contrarian like Vashu Bhagnani will have the courage to do what he did during the 1999 World Cup. I remember Bhagnani telling me that he is going to release ‘Biwi No 1’ during the World Cup, saying he was sure that the movie would fire – “ghar mein baitke aadmi kitna cricket dekhe ga?” To his credit, he was proved right as ‘Biwi No 1’ went on to become a very big hit that year. But IPL, I guess, nobody wants to mess with free entertainment. And just think of one of the big movies turning turtle next year. Think of what it will do to the producers and distributors? For now, B Town waits with bated breath for hit masters SRK, Aamir and Akhsay to deliver them from this bondage.


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