A Pay Cut for Bollywood?

With big-ticket films failing to make their money back, it’s time for Hindi cinema’s heroes to lower their fees — and cut back on their entourages.
A Pay Cut for Bollywood?
A Pay Cut for Bollywood?

We’re halfway into 2024 and there’s more than global warming making the Hindi film industry sweat. While there have been surprise hits like Shaitaan (2024) and Crew (2024), Hindi cinema’s disappointments have been many. The losses suffered because of films like Bade Miyan Chote Miyan (2024) underperforming comes on the heels of the slowdown brought on by the lockdown of 2020-2021. It seems the Hindi film industry is heading towards a much-needed reckoning. “Some big names have reduced their rates and their costs,” said an industry insider on condition of anonymity, adding that while a few A-listers are holding steady, most actors have slashed their fees. “Ninety percent of these guys are slashing their fees by 30% as we speak. These cuts are necessary because audiences are just not willing to come into theatres anymore,” said the insider.  

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh made a similar comment when he announced on X (formerly Twitter) that “at least three projects” were being “restructured” in terms of the fees paid to their stars.   

The question of whether the hefty fees charged by actors are justified is one that the Hindi film industry has grappled with repeatedly over the years. Speaking to Mint in 2016, Ajit Andhare, then the chief operating officer of Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, had said, “The first-day box-office collection is a response to what the fan following of the star is. So your flat fee should be akin to what your opening-day collections are, not more than that. The problem is that at the current level, the flat fee is far higher than the first-day collection and some people demand almost twice their Day 1 earnings. So the producer has to spend a lot of time recovering the flat fee itself.” 

Faced with competition from the content on streaming platforms and reduced footfalls in theatres, the film industries have seen producers relying upon star power in the hope of bringing audiences to theatres. Rather than a correction in recent years, there were demands for a fee hike after the pandemic, when the film industry reopened for business. Director and producer Karan Johar had told Film Companion in 2021 that some younger heroes were demanding a 100% hike in their remunerations. 

With few films making a profit and even fewer new projects being greenlit, industry insiders say that actors have to be the first to cut their costs, followed by directors. “We are going back to the 2015 era of Bollywood when movies were being made in Rs. 30-35 crores or Rs. 50 crores tops. That slashing is across the board because audiences are just not willing to sort of come into theatres anymore,” said one insider on condition of anonymity. Producers are now pushing back and asking actors across the board to reduce their costs because there is no return on that investment. The source confirmed, “As of now, they've (actors) all done a 30% cut on their fees, including their entourage,” said someone involved in talent management. Those actors who have not delivered recent hits are under greater pressure to lower their fees. One A-lister has settled for not being paid any amount upfront and getting only a backend fee, which refers to the practice of the star getting a percentage of ticket sales. Usually, leading actors would get both an upfront amount and a backend fee. 

It seems the biggest grouse for producers is the entourage cost that comes in addition to an actor’s fees.” In a recent interview, director Farah Khan described actors’ entourages as a "waste of resources." She said that these additional expenses need to be "controlled". In a YouTube video, Khan said, “An actress comes with nine people, an actor comes with eight people. That is a waste of resources. That cost is nowhere to be seen in the film! That needs to be controlled a bit.”

An actors’ entourage can include a spot boy, personal security, a stylist, multiple cooks and a chef, a gym trainer and assistant, and more. “With the vanity vans, trainers, chefs, staff, hair and makeup, etc., the per day cost of the entourage for some big stars is between Rs.18 to Rs.25 lakh,” said an industry insider, adding that while the first reductions have to be made by male actors, there will inevitably be a ripple effect. “Actresses are going to face these problems even more, because the minute your male star is slashing his fees, you don’t have a choice. The others (crew and technicians) have no choice either,” they said. 

Related Stories

No stories found.