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Big-budget Hindi movie projects stall on cash, cast concerns

After Disney India decided not to take up the next installment of the Brahmastra franchise, Jio Studios expressed interest; yet, the project has stalled in the absence of a confirmed lead cast (Mint)
After Disney India decided not to take up the next installment of the Brahmastra franchise, Jio Studios expressed interest; yet, the project has stalled in the absence of a confirmed lead cast (Mint)

Summary

  • Producers said they are waiting for the box office to stabilize and see positive returns from upcoming releases before committing large-scale investments.

NEW DELHI : Several highly anticipated Bollywood films under development for long are facing trouble moving ahead, as producers struggle to spot stars who can guarantee box office returns, and face difficulties in securing funding from studios.

After Disney India decided not to take up the next installment of the Brahmastra franchise, Jio Studios expressed interest; yet, the project has stalled in the absence of a confirmed lead cast. Similarly, another mythological film titled The Immortal Ashwatthama, which was to be backed by Ronnie Screwvala initially and has now has been picked up by Jio, has no final cast either.

Producers said they are waiting for the box office to stabilize and see positive returns from upcoming releases before committing large-scale investments. Discussions also continue with lead actors in terms of remuneration.

“There is so much uncertainty in the film business at the moment that the risk-taking ability of producers has hit an all-time low. There are discussions happening on multiple tentpole films, but this is all at a time that the market is in a flux," said a producer waiting to announce several projects on behalf of the company. The person said big films in India can only be mounted with big stars, unlike Hollywood that has benefited from the draw of franchises such as those from the Marvel stable, that do not necessarily require top names. However, not only have big stars themselves turned cautious after several box office bombs, studios too have to be convinced about whether the actor can guarantee returns commensurate with the investment planned. “Everyone is just being cautious and waiting for the right window to put in that kind of money," the producer said.

In the case of both Brahmastra and The Immortal Ashwatthama, producers are trying to find the right mix of pricing and cast. Disney India and Jio Studios did not respond to Mint’s queries on the status of the two projects. Among big-budget films that are yet to make progress, there is also the next instalment of the Krrish franchise, starring Hrithik Roshan. The previous instalment had released in 2013.

A studio executive said there are evolving opinions on the viability of top talent. While Salman Khan’s Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan only made a little over 110 crore, Ranbir Kapoor’s Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar had stopped short of the 150 crore mark. Even Brahmastra, with its 257 crore domestic earnings, had gone overboard in terms of budget, unable to make profits. “Plus, with movie theatres turning into luxury experiences and alienating the common man, most people wait for word-of-mouth to kick in. In case of films that aren’t great, there is immediate impact," the person added.

Film producer Vinod Bhanushali said that going forward, money has to be spent on writing and production instead of faces. “There are very few big films enjoying a good run at the box office. We have to understand people’s tastes and correct ourselves," Bhanushali said.

Further, with OTT platforms controlling budgets, Hindi films are finding it difficult to secure initial funding to go on floors. “Alarm bells have definitely sounded within the fraternity and everyone is rethinking the math and it has become critical to pass the box office test first," film producer, trade and exhibition expert Girish Johar said.

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