Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint
Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint

Bollywood bets big on new faces

The inability of Bollywood's top stars to guarantee box office success lately has led filmmakers to rely on fresh faces

New Delhi: The inability of Bollywood’s biggest stars to guarantee box office returns lately has led filmmakers to rely on fresh faces for their projects.

Earlier this year, Salman Khan’s Eid release Race 3 ended up with underwhelming theatrical box office collections of 166 crore, while Kamal Haasan’s spy thriller Vishwaroopam II collected less than 2 crore on its first day. Even superstar Rajinikanth’s Kaala made only 97.8 crore, while last year, Shah Rukh Khan’s Jab Harry Met Sejal collected 62 crore.

Little surprise then, last week, Jab Harry Met Sejal director Imtiaz Ali released a romantic tragedy called Laila Majnu featuring new faces. After the massive failure of his period drama Rangoon, starring Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut, last year, Vishal Bhardwaj has a comedy drama titled Pataakha with relatively unknown faces scheduled to release at the end of September. Even as he readies his magnum opus Zero with Shah Rukh Khan, film-maker Aanand L. Rai’s Colour Yellow Productions is backing a horror flick called Tumbad that is already touring the festival circuit.

Without attributing the trend to fading star power, film-makers say there is science to backing newcomers.

“The thing is there are seven top acting stars today, 20 directors and 200 producers," Ali explained. “So all the producers have to rally with the directors to approach the stars, if you have to make the usual star vehicle film. Even if each of those seven stars works in three films a year, that’s only 21 films. And we have at least 200 A-grade films released per year. So obviously most of those are going to get made with people who are considered non-star actors."

That said, Ali added that filmmakers like him or Bhardwaj are working for the joy of making movies and telling stories in a way that is economically viable. The idea is to write a film and then see if a star should be approached and not the other way round. To be sure, a film’s lacklustre performance cannot be attributed entirely to stars, who often get good enough openings.

“The basic job of the star is to attract audiences to cinemas, but then it’s a matter of what content they have chosen," said Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema, referring to the fact that fading star power at the box office may have to do with the actors not choosing scripts that satisfy or please fans.

The choice of actors also depends on the kind of film you’re making. Rai’s Colour Yellow that has found success in smaller films such as Newton and Happy Bhag Jayegi, believes it’s most important for actors to fit their parts.

“The way audiences have appreciated content-driven cinema is also encouraging filmmakers to take that risk (to make small films with new faces)," said Kanupriya, chief executive officer, Colour Yellow Productions. “The avenues of film consumption have diversified and increased in the last few years which has been encouraging enough for makers to take certain risks. For smaller films, viewers today can see through set-ups and whether a certain actor has been cast for star value or because he fits a particular character."

Bhushan Kumar, chairman and managing director at T-Series said there are certain subjects which demand fresh faces just as there are subjects to which an established actor can do greater justice.

“When we decide to back a project with newcomers, before they go on the floors we’ve definitely gauged their ability through workshops. Plus, there are creative minds overseeing the project, like in the case of Tuesdays and Fridays, co-produced by T-Series and Bhansali Productions, it is Sanjay Leela Bhansali who is backing it," Kumar said. Tuesdays and Fridays, that features newcomers like Anmol Thakeria Dhillon and Jhatalekha Malhotra is scheduled for release next year.

To be sure, the newly emerging avenue of digital video streaming has added to the inherent charm of small, non-big star cast films that can find an audience beyond the movie theatre. For example, though Rajkummar Rao-starrer Stree has set the cash registers ringing, the Rs. 20 crore budget film had already recovered its investment through digital and other rights.

“I think the advent of digital streaming has become a big thing for smaller and smartly budgeted films because it gives a new avenue to them so they don’t have to jostle with other bigger star cast films at the theatrical box office," Ali said.

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