It’s safe to say that 2017 has been an underwhelming year for Bollywood. It will possibly be remembered as the year of bans, threats and grave financial ruin. With the exception of the tornado that was Baahubali: The Conclusion and a few others, there was hardly any cheer on Fridays. According to trade website boxofficeindia.com, the footfalls for Hindi cinema has dropped from 34 crore in 2013 to 27.25 crore this year. This includes a 2.5 crore estimate for Tiger Zinda Hai and 5 crore for Baahubali – take the latter away and it stands at a worrying Rs 22.25 crore. While those in power are mulling ways to rein in losses, there’s one giant expense that people shy away from addressing – the celebrity entourage.
For the uninitiated, the posse of helpers you see fussing over a star at all times is what makes a celebrity entourage. They’re like the background dancers to the main star. Or as one movie producer describes them – ‘the guys who keep them delusional’. The bigger the star, the more bloated the entourage. Priyanka Chopra said there are 25 people ‘who run her’. And as the star gets richer, so does the entourage. In fact, there’s a running joke that soon they’ll be worth more than the actor. Rumour has it that Jacqueline Fernandez’s hairstylist may have earned more than her on the 2014 film Kick.
Stars and their teams share a confusing relationship. Actors love them, trust them, and won’t work without them, but they just won’t pay for them.
“They’re running a full scam,” rues a senior film producer who didn’t want to be named. “I often wonder if I should quit my job and become a hairdresser or driver to an actor. They take home more than what corporate executives in companies get. And that too for doing little or no work,” he adds. If you examine a movie budget, the overhead on entourage costs is becoming obscenely heavy. For a couple of hours in a day, an actor’s team slaps a bill of anything upwards of Rs 1 lakh. Remember, this is just for a day. A film shoot typically goes on for 2 months, sometimes more. And then there are 3 weeks of promotions before the release. So you do the math.
A Growing Family
Back in the day, a movie star travelled light. Every actress had a long-time hair and make-up assistant and their moms for company. Today there’s a make-up and hair person, manager, stylist, spot boy, bodyguard and driver. More recently, gym trainers and nutritionists have also joined the gang. They are all critical to serving an actor’s brand and therefore, none of them come cheap. “A stylist today bills me Rs 45,000 per look during promotions. So if an actor has changed his T-shirt thrice in a day, I have to pay over a lakh. Can you imagine how much we’re paying for someone who isn’t even directly contributing to the film,” says a perplexed marketing head of a production house, on condition of anonymity.
“The cost of the personal staff varies depending on how critical or important an actor is to the industry. In my opinion, the personal staff behaves more important than the actor,” says Kulmeet Makkar, the CEO of the Film & Television Producers Guild of India. “We have told the actors in the past that we can’t negotiate with them directly because they will ask for unreasonable prices. So now the execution needs to be done by the actors. They need to lead by example,” he adds.
If you examine a movie budget, the overhead on entourage costs is becoming obscenely heavy. For a couple of hours in a day, an actor’s team slaps a bill of anything upwards of Rs 1 lakh.
“Box office collections are down 4% right now. If suppose 200 films released this year, 90 % of them haven’t even earned money. And then you have actors who make us pay for the guy who serves him chai, holds an umbrella over their heads and drives them to the set. This really burdens the cost of the project,” explains the marketing head. An obvious question here is, how hard is it to just say no? Industry folks claim that’s not really an option. The conversation is too sensitive in nature and no one wants to risk upsetting the star of the movie. There’s way too much riding on them. That’s also why no one wanted to be officially quoted on this story.
Not Without My Entourage
Stars and their teams share a confusing relationship. Actors love them, trust them, and won’t work without them, but they just won’t pay for them. Back in 2012, producer Mukesh Bhatt, who was then the President of Film & Television Producers Guild of India, made personal visits to Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Ranbir Kapoor, Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, requesting them to pay for their own teams. “I told them, you’re already taking a fee of Rs 20 crore. Make that 21 if you like, but save us the humiliation of paying a person who we know is not worth that money just because he’s your driver,” says Bhatt. The meetings went well. “They were very gracious. They got embarrassed and immediately agreed,” he recalls.
Papers were signed and hands were shaken, but nothing came of the diktat. “I heard that Karan Johar and Sajid Nadiadwala flouted it and that’s why it went out of the window. They are too petrified to anger a star. That’s why the Bombay industry is the worst. They have no spine,” says Bhatt. In email response to Bhatt’s claims, Apoorva Mehta, CEO of Dharma Productions said, “At Dharma we have always worked with pre-negotiated rates with the actor’s entourage given that we have multiple films with various actors, giving us the leverage in our negotiations. At times, some films do require prosthetic make-up/ specialized make-up and hair in such cases we hire experts who can deliver the look and feel as visualized by the director.” There are exceptions to this rule. Aamir Khan does not bill his producers for his support staff.
The manager of a successful actor says she’s well aware of the absolute contempt with which producers view her tribe. She even empathises with them, but only partly. “I do feel bad when I see actors making producers pay for their fitness trainers and drivers. But the point is that somebody has got paid that kind of money by the producer and that’s why everybody is asking. And if you pay one star, then you’ll have to pay everyone. So often I get told by the entourage that if Aishwarya Rai’s team is paid X amount, then why not us?”. It’s a grave that producers have dug for themselves and now they must lie in it.
And what are the chances of actors resolving this situation? “They are the last people to care. They only care about what they are paying for, not us,” says the senior producer with a laugh. “But I have to say that all of this is sort of amusing. Actors are quick to make unwarranted demands, but can any of them guarantee an opening at the box office? I think not.”