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NEW DELHI : Film-makers are beginning to worry that aggressive political stands taken by their lead actors may drive away those who hold different views, eroding box office collections just as big films begin to hit the big screen.

Trade experts said those defending the government on the controversial farm laws and criticizing the farmers’ protest may have alienated some audiences. They said the makers of Kangana Ranaut’s upcoming sports film Dhaakad are concerned about a possible boycott in Maharashtra and some north Indian states, given the actor’s comments about the farmers’ protests, Mumbai city and its police. Films featuring Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgan, who are perceived as taking sides, could also see a dent in their business, they add.

Delhi, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh fetch almost 60% of the Hindi box office and are key to the recovery of big-budget Hindi films.

“Of course, producers are anxious at this point. While having an opinion or subscribing to an ideology is an individual actor’s prerogative, general audiences who look up to them will be aggrieved when sentiments are running so strong," a media and entertainment industry analyst said on condition of anonymity.

For example, Rajinikanth’s action drama Kaala had registered lacklustre opening collections in 2018 after the actor caused a stir by describing anti-Sterlite protesters in Thoothukudi as “anti-social elements". That hurt Tamil sentiments, trade experts had pointed out, affecting the film’s prospects not just domestically but even in overseas territories with a significant Tamil population. The 2017 release of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, had also run into trouble in Karnataka over veteran actor Sathyaraj’s remarks in 2008 (that had surfaced close to the film’s release) on the sharing of the Cauvery river waters.

Uma Vangal, film-maker and professor at the L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy said depending upon the issue and its relevance to a particular region, there can be a backlash.

Producers of Dhaakad, which releases on 1 October, did not respond to Mint’s queries.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India that owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films pointed out that stars are essentially brands that have currency for producers in terms of box office, revenue from OTT (over-the-top) platforms or just plain attention to their projects .

“Producers who invest in stars do bear the brunt (of them voicing opinions and courting controversies). Stars who are engaged in larger business deals such as films should stay away from voicing their opinion because it’s unfair to other people involved in the project," Kumar said.

Instead of forcing contracts on cast and crew which forbid them from speaking on controversial issues, he added that as a producer, he would prefer to work with people who already come with this understanding. Apart from box office revenue, such controversies can also result in OTT platforms turning wary of films featuring stars who could alienate audiences.

Meanwhile, being seen as opposing the government, too, could hit film releases, as happened with Tamil star Vijay.

A film trade analyst said on condition of anonymity that in 2013, the tagline of Vijay’s film Thalaivaa, “Time to Lead" had offended the AIADMK government that had then banned its exhibition in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

Narayan Devanathan, CEO, Dentsu Solutions, India, said the clash between freedom of expression and the line of offence is a dangerous one. "It is likely that actors will look to lie low, kow-tow to the official line and hope things blow over and change for the better in a few years’ time. And in the meantime, keep their political views and their commercial interests as distant from each other as possible, at least publicly."

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