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Star Bucks and Net Appeal - Part I

Published: Monday, July 17, 2006, 16:09 [IST]

By: Komal Nahta, IndiaFM

Monday, July 17, 2006

In Bollywood, the crore is the new lakh. So how does the cookie crumble? Komal Nahta gives you an insight into what the stars earn.

Starbucks: The paycheck stars take home

Admit it. A few weeks ago, when newspapers announced that Amitabh Bachchan has spent Rs. 2.7 lakhs on a pair of sunglasses, it can't have been easy to stop yourself from joining the communist Party on the spot. Rs. 2,70,000 for sunglasses? Whaaa????

Bachchan denied the story of course, and people didn't stop discussions on the subject. Sure, we apparently have more millionaires than we ever thought the country could have, but when you think of lifestyles of the rich a famous, you tend to think of film stars.

How can you not, when you keep hearing producers whine and complain about how much they have to shell out to sign an actor for a film? When you see this film star, or that film star zoom about in a mind blowingly expensive foreign car? When pictures of their homes are splashed in all the fanzines - homes of a kind we can't even imagine. Just how much must they be taking home, you wonder.

Well, read on and you'll find out.

Black is Back

At No. 1 is - you guessed it - Shah Rukh Khan, who could look a producer straight in the eye, say, "Rs. 7 crore" without a blink, and get it. At No. 2 is Aamir Khan, who because he only does one or two films a year, can easily charge Rs. 5 - 6 crore per film as his professional fee. And at No. 3 is Salman Khan whose asking price Rs.5 - 5.5 Crore.

How can we be so specific with these figures, you ask? Well, it's not difficult these days. As a top filmmaker laughed when Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black took almost all the awards at the recently held IIFA awards in Dubai. "This industry makes Black, the awards functions honour Black, but the dealings are all in white."

Where once upon a time Bollywood was notorious for paying its people in black money (remember the stories of Income Tax raids on stars, and the large hauls of illegal cash found in the false, though fancy, ceilings of their homes?), corporatisation of the industry has changed all that. Ever since Zee Telefilms first paid everyone involved in the making of Gadar- Ek Prem Katha, from the hero Sunny Deol to the spot boy, by cheque, actors have preferred to account for their earnings.

Cheque payment are insisted upon today, and stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan are among the highest individual tax payers in the country.

Now that the openness of their earnings is clear, let's see why actors take home the kind of paychecks they do, and what they do to earn them.

Isaac Newton, you're wrong!

Unlike the law of gravity which states that anything that goes up must come down, star prices, once they're up, only go higher. There's a peculiar logic at work here. Lead actors hike their fees after every hit, but never bring them down after a flop. Their argument, apparently, is that a hit film is a hit only because of the star and his performance, but a flop...? That's due to many other factors.

However odd this line of reasoning may seem, Akshay Kumar's standard fee today is about Rs. 4.5 crore - way up from the Rs. 1 crore he charged 10 years ago - courtesy a few super hits, and with absolutely no reference to his many flops in the '90s. And Salman Khan can also ask for Rs. 5 to 5.5 crore today with a perfectly straight face, because of a few super hits, Whatever the critics said about Krrish, it's done well enough for Hrithik Roshan to hike his fee. Any producer would gladly pay the green-eyed actor Rs. 4 to 5 crore now.

In fact, for a forthcoming film, its hero has reportedly charged his price, with a clause that he'll get paid an additional sum of money (and that's also huge) if the film brings in more than a pre-determined amount in the Overseas territory. Clauses like this pop up in a lot of actors' contracts, though there is some amount of risk-taking involved. Aamir Khan, for instance, signed Mangal Pandey for a fixed fee of Rs 5 crore, with a share in the profit thereafter. At the time he signed the film, he must have calculated that his share of the profits would work out to a cool Rs. 1.5 to 2 crore over his fixed fee. But the film ran into trouble. Shooting took longer than expected, so Mangal Pandey went way over budget and since the producer made a loss, there were no profits for Aamir to share.

Less of a risk perhaps, is the demand some actors make not only for their fee, but also the distribution rights of their films. If the distribution territories are cleverly chosen, the rights can sometimes earn the actors more than their fees.

Kaun Banega Crorepati?

If you've noticed the predominance of the word 'crore' in this story so far, it's because stars and producers today only think in terms of crores. But the first star to ever charge a crore was Amitabh Bachchan, who took home an eight-figure pay packet as far back as the '80s.

Maybe inflation has something to do with it, but today Amitabh's son, Abhishek, takes home Rs 2 crore per film as his standard fee - double of what his father earned when he was the industry's only superstar, and with much less of a hit - making background than his dad.

But then, in the '80s, a crore was a massive amount of money and deserved respect. Amitabh was given his entire fee of Rs. 1 crore on the spot, the moment he signed the contract for Inquilaab, just to ensure that he gave the producer preferential dates for the shooting of the film. Inquilaab was competing with Aaj Ka MLA, a film that was not only set against a political backdrop, just like Inquilaab, but which also starred Bachchan's arch-rival, Rajesh Khanna.

The first superstar, Rajesh Khanna, earned only in lakhs, and not very many of those either. One of the film industry's favorite stories is about Rajesh Khanna who, in the '70s, had signed a film for Rs. 7 lakhs and spent the entire amount on a bungalow in Juhu for his lady love, Anju Mahendroo. That bungalow, which Anju continues to occupy, must be worth more than Rs 10 crore today. Clearly inflation is at work.

Gratitude is a powerful emotion is the film industry. A star who's a friend can make a producer very happy. Akshay Kumar, for instance (Rs. 4.5 crore price tag), will cheerfully accept half that amount from producer Firoz Nadiadwala simply because his association with the producer has been a long one (Hera Pheri, Awara Paagal Deewana, Aan - Men At Work, Deewane Huye Paagal, Phir Hera Pheri).

But Akshay makes few concessions for other people, as the original Jumping Jack, Jeetendra, recently found to his horror. When Ekta Kapoor, Jeetendra's daughter, decided she'd rather like to make a film with Akshay, the actor apparently asked for Rs. 5.5 crore - with a concession of Rs. 10 lakhs, because the film would be produced by Jeetendra. A two percent discount... how kind!

While Amitabh Bachchan's standard fee for film is Rs. 2.5 crore, he charges the Yash Raj banner much less out of gratitude. It was Yash Chopra, after all, who was responsible for Bachchan's come back at a time when nothing was going right for the actor. Desperate and almost broke after his failed venture, ABCL, Bachchan asked Yash Chopra for work - and was signed on the spot for Mohabbatein, the film that got his life back on track.

And Bachchan doesn't make concessions only for Yash Chopra. Sometimes he gives up his entire fee, as he did for his guest appearance in Shah Rukh Khan's home production, Paheli. True, Shah Rukh did send Bachchan a cheque without a signature (though the lapse was unintentional because he'd written the cheque in a hurry), but Bachchan graciously returned it, together with a mock-chiding letter about the cheque that wasn't worth anything anyway. In return, Shah Rukh apparently presented Bachchan with a fancy wristwatch. Perhaps so that the next time he needs Bachchan for a film, he can say, 'my time is yours'!

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