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Top actors increase their fees by at least 20% amid covid disruption


NEW DELHI :

The covid-19 pandemic may have thrown the Indian film industry off gear, with both producers and exhibitors staring at steep losses, but trade experts said actors will emerge unscathed.

Top- and mid-level stars have increased their fees by at least 20% over the past two years, with digital streaming rights emerging as a new source of income. Ironically, at the beginning of the pandemic, some actors had agreed to take pay cuts. But lower remuneration is not how the story has played out.

A quick review of some recent deals shows that films have managed to get decent money for rights sold to digital streaming platforms. Varun Dhawan-starrer Coolie No. 1 is estimated to have been sold to Amazon Prime Video for close to 90 crore for a direct-to-digital release as theatres were shut. Sooryavanshi, which streamed on Netflix after its release in theatres, fetched upwards of 30 crore, said a film trade analyst, declining to be named.

Theatres, having remained shut for most of the past two years, are pinning their hopes on star power to bring audiences back. Most hits since the pandemic have been films with stars, such as Master (Vijay) and Sooryavanshi (Akshay Kumar).

Consequently, trade experts said, actors such as Kartik Aaryan, Ranveer Singh and Akshay Kumar have possibly hiked their fee by 20-30% for upcoming projects such as Captain India, Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani and Selfiee.

Streaming platforms, chasing eyeballs to widen and deepen their subscriber base in India, too, are in search of more popular content, preferably headlined by stars.

“Stars have been the selling point for films on all platforms and media and even though the OTT game is very new, those services have also turned very star-centric. A lot of films featuring popular names are pre-sold and OTTs scramble to offer best prices even before they are slotted for release,” said a senior executive at a production house, declining to be named.

Streaming services that are working to enlist more subscribers know films led by stars are crucial, and in that sense, they are looking at a very limited pool, at least in Hindi. “So there is a big demand and supply issue, too,” the person added.

As OTT platforms are comfortable paying big premiums for films with certain cast attached, their actors are in a position to command a higher price, agreed a second studio executive. “Producers feel like their recovery is easier with those particular actors and hence have no option. If a big star has said yes to your film, I don’t see any producer saying no because of his or her fees,” the executive said.

Earlier, producers were massive risk takers, mortgaging homes and taking loans to finance projects, said the first studio executive. “But now they want to ascertain satellite TV and digital streaming rights prices to make sure the projects they green-light are viable. That’s where stars become important. Box office, often unpredictable, is then just a way to break even. That is why you don’t see a lot of new faces in big films anymore. Producers are being extremely cautious,” the person said.

Independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai said India is the only country where the male lead actor makes more money than the producer.

“It makes even more sense for some of the southern stars to command huge rates since they have started featuring in pan-India films, that are dubbed in multiple languages and penetrate into the Hindi heartland,” Pillai added.

In south India, films without familiar faces often do not even make it to theatres or are given obscure shows and timings, he added.



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