Why are box office collections rapidly dropping? How do we stem the decline of footfalls at theatres? Are we empowering our writers enough? And are Bollywood actors overpaid? We get Hindi cinema’s top producers – Karan Johar, Ekta Kapoor, Ronnie Screwvala and Ritesh Sidhwani – to weigh in on what’s ailing the film business and why this year was a particularly bad year. Excerpts from the conversation:

Karan Johar On Why 2017 Was A Disaster Year

This year was like a major realization. The thing is, one has to accept and acknowledge that we are in crisis mode. There are many verticals like digital that is slowly empowering us. Audiences are becoming far more selective because of the various options available. Just the general enthusiasm to rush to a cinema theatre has reduced considerably. We haven’t gone to the cinema hall and watched movies. And I, not as a filmmaker, but just an avid cine-goer used to go watch almost every movie. We didn’t wait for word of mouth to kick in. Now we have realized two phenomenas within the mainstream cinema – the event film. The one you know is poised for the large number – big cast, big filmmaker, big making etc etc.. or like Baahubali, which was beyond all expectation as a cinema experience. Or then the word-of-mouth film like Fukrey or Tumhari Sulu or Newton and Bareilly ki Barfi. And then there are the middle order films that don’t have heavy content or such a big cast and that this just going to finish so many careers. So many major film stars today find themselves lost because they haven’t reached the point where they feel like they should not succumb to digital, and they are definitely not being accepted in films. This is not just film stars – its A-list technicians and support cast that was doing some great work in mainstream cinema. They are just lost. You feel like an industry is running around like headless chicken not knowing where to go.

Ekta Kapoor on empowering new writers

I have a budget aside even now for writers. I have a really interesting format that I work with. I have three different departments – TV, Digital, films. So all three now have a development budget, which is beside from the films that are then made. So that development budget, you don’t always have to fructify into a film. It can be something that goes into freeze zone for some years because it can’t be made now, its not working out or it can be shifted to digital or then it becomes a great TV show.

Karan on actors’ salaries

You have eight viable names (actors), and then there are four in non-viable-viable range. I have done the calculations. I won’t tell the names but there are twelve such actors. Eight are the ones that will give you (box office success). So when you take a completely new actor, it is a question mark. Someone like Ronnie can take that chance because he is funding that movie. But when some of us are depending on outside funding, you kind of don’t know which way to go, because you can stretch your goodwill, or your equity to a certain point. I don’t think most of the actors have the sensibility or the ability to look at an amazing script (and bring down their fee). I think the only actor in this industry who has been able to look at a script and put his mind and money into it is Aamir Khan. I don’t think there is a single other actor who has the ability. I have meetings with them and I find it very difficult to make them find reason. They are being advised by management, they are being told by families, or there are other producers. When you are trying to get a new director you try to tell them – Look! Just because he or she is making his or her first film doesn’t mean they are any less talented than the ones who has made four. Its just that you need to give them the opportunity, it is a great script. But no, they will want to chase the big names, which is all of three in directors. They will want to make any kind of allowance for them but then they will overload the budget of a film because of this.

Producers On Padmavati Controversy

Ronnie Screwvala: We have all faced this during the Jodha Akbar time. I had multiple FIRs, four states which had banned it, but I had a censor certificate in my hand and we had an approach to that. So I think each one will have to figure out what their approach is. This is not the first time this has happened.

Ritesh Sidhwani: What a person has done is actually put out a contract killing and given the entire country the incentive to go out and kill somebody. That is obviously not done. None of us, or I don’t think anyone will stand for that. You have to condemn that.

Ekta Kapoor: Because it’s Deepika (Padukone), they got they kind of coverage. When I made a mythological show, they threw bottles at me and we couldn’t do shit about it. So self-censorship for me at least. I am not making any movie on a mythical Hindu character.

Karan Johar:  On a positive note, I really hope the film releases as soon as possible. One can only be positive and optimistic because it is such a huge film. A mammoth film made with that kind of love and passion. Irrespective of what any of our opinions are, today I can only appease to everyone who can make this possible to make sure that the film releases. It’s a film made with intense amount of work and a prolific filmmaker and a lead cast that has given it their all and we have to put it out that positivity to the CBFC or the governance. I think we just have to hope and pray that the film releases.

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