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An A-list male star could command upwards of Rs. 80 crore for a film before covid but industry experts say they could be looking at cuts of around 25%
An A-list male star could command upwards of Rs. 80 crore for a film before covid but industry experts say they could be looking at cuts of around 25%

Covid-19 impact: Top stars may see pay cuts as film industry fights cash crisis

  • Trade experts point out that all top male actors today, including Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and others might work on profit-sharing arrangements but they still charge a flat fee upfront and then take a share of the profits

NEW DELHI: As film producers across India grapple with low revenues and challenges of restarting production post the covid-19 lockdown, top actors who take away almost 50-60% of the overall budget of movies may have to cut down on their big remuneration numbers.

An A-list male star could command upwards of Rs. 80 crore for a film before covid but industry experts say they could be looking at cuts of around 25%.

Earlier this month, popular Tamil film actor Vijay Antony known for films such as Kolaigaran, Kaali and Thimiru Pudichavan released a press statement saying he has offered a 25% salary reduction for three upcoming films—Tamizharasan for FEFSI Shiva, Agni Siragugal for AMMA Creations’ T Siva and Khaki for director Senthil Kumar of Open Theatre and Infiniti Film Ventures. Antony’s Bollywood counterparts may not have made any formal announcements yet but filmmakers say economic logic at this time only dictates that they take a pay cut.

“I think everyone is aware and conscious of current realities and of the fact that every single item (in the production budget) will have to be questioned," said Ajit Andhare, chief operating officer at Viacom18 Studios. “We cannot have different rules for different people and everyone including stars and technicians will have to contribute."

Anand Pandit, producer of upcoming films like Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Chehre and Abhishek Bachchan-starrer The Big Bull said interestingly, the option of salary cuts has come from stars themselves in some cases.

“Everyone realizes that times are tough and more than anything else we need for the industry to restart. The option of stars taking salary cuts is very much on the table," Pandit added.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India said that super inflated star costs, be it for film or digital projects, necessitate reduction at this point.

Trade experts point out that all top male actors today, including Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and others might work on profit-sharing arrangements but they still charge a flat fee upfront and then take a share of the profits. For a money-spinner like Sultan, lead star Salman Khan would have normally charged about Rs. 70 crore as upfront remuneration and ultimately taken home around Rs. 110-150 crore from the blockbuster, which made around Rs. 600 crore in worldwide box-office collections. Only Aamir Khan takes a basic amount per month during the film’s production but makes the rest of the money from the backend. Reportedly, the actor made some Rs. 300 crore from Dangal that earned slightly less than Rs. 400 crore in India alone and close to Rs. 2,000 crore worldwide.

Compared with the payment structure in Hollywood, where actors are never known to get more than 20% of the budget, leading male stars in the Hindi movie industry take away almost 50-60% of the production budget today for the poster value they bring to a film and the crowds they draw, especially in the opening weekend.

The crisis is even graver in the Tamil industry where the hero’s entire salary, sometimes to the tune of 80 crore in case of superstars like Vijay, is paid upfront.

But as cash flows dwindle, producers work on crunching timelines to deliver as many projects as they can with limited showcasing and lower occupancies expected in theatres, putting off big-budget spectacles and anticipating 10-12% escalation in costs to account for additional safety and hygiene measures.

“Hopefully, the digital platforms will absorb some content because of the rise in demand there. But economic logic only demands that stars lower salaries, and not in a humanitarian way," Kumar said.

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