Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, the four Khans, Preity Zinta… the list of actors who have turned producers recently is a long one. Yet there was a time in the not so distant past when heroes swore off film production. In the 1970s, when Jeetendra was one of the top heroes, he produced Deedar-e-Yaar.
The film flopped and Jeetendra decided to never produce again. Speaking about this years ago Jeetendra said, “I set up a production house in the 1970s only for the sake of my father and brother. I lost R1.5 crore in one week with the release of Deedar-e-Yaar. To make up for the losses I had to act in several South Indian remakes one after another. In Hyderabad, they worked quickly and paid well. Can you imagine, from 1976 onwards I did 60 films in the South in 11 years, just to compensate for my losses as a producer.”
One of Jeetendra’s favourite co-stars, Hema Malini, has also sworn off film production after the bitter experience of producing Tell Me O Kkhuda with her daughter Esha in the lead. Midway through the film, she had a falling out with her director Mayur Puri and had to complete the film on her own. “Never again,” shudders Hema. “I am not cut out to be a producer. Unless something really unique comes up, no thanks.”
The younger generation of market-savvy stars seems far better equipped to handle film production. Today a John Abraham is a much more clued-in producer than Jeetendra was. John’s home productions are out-of-the-box economical projects done with an eye for inventiveness. Last year, he produced the surprise hit Vicky Donor. The film was directed by Shoojit Sircar and marked the acting debut of Ayushmann Khurrana. This year, John is producing and acting in Madras Cafe, a thriller based on the LTTE strife, again directed by Sircar.
A filmmaker-friend of John says, “John has an entrepreneurial mind, like Suniel Shetty and Arjun Rampal before him. Shah Rukh Khan too loves to produce films and thinks he knows the winning formula. But he lacks an entrepreneurial mind. Who would sign Anubhav Sinha to direct India’s most expensive sci-fi film Ra.One? It was madness. And it showed in the quality of work.”
John now works towards co-producing all the films that he would act in. That’s the formula which Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar have adopted successfully. Six years ago Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s Excel Films had refused Aamir when he asked to become a co-producer with them on a project that they offered Aamir as an actor.
Five years down the line, Aamir Khan Productions is going great guns. Says producer Sheetal Talwar, “Who but an actor of his vision would have produced Lagaan? It was turned down by everyone. And look at the quality of films Aamir has produced since then! I’ve the greatest respect for Aamir the producer. Not only does he make the films he believes in, he also has the power to influence audiences to see his films.”
The unique aspect of star-producers is their sense of adventurism evident in the choice of subjects. Aamir and John in Bollywood and Kamal Haasan in the South are constantly producing films that push the envelope. In Bollywood, even a newer leading man like Neil Nitin Mukesh is all set to produce a film about a man who goes into prison deliberately to take revenge on the sociopaths who kill his wife on their honeymoon.
Says Neil excitedly, “It’s a subject I have helped put together and one that I wouldn’t want to entrust to any other producer. My grandfather (the legendary singer Mukesh) had produced films at the peak of his career as a singer. So in a way I am reviving the family tradition.”
Talwar feels leading men turning film producers is a healthy sign. “It is the only way they can get to do the kind of films they really want to. I think people like Aamir, John and Akshay have got the formula right. The unique thing about their production designs is these big stars are not producing films only to showcase their own talents. They’re giving us not just new talented directors but new acting talent as well.
John introduced Ayushmann Khurrana and Yami Gautam in Vicky Donor. Aamir gave us his nephew Imran Khan in Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na. Shah Rukh Khan too is constantly introducing new talent. So it’s a good thing to have our stars turn producers. Even actresses are producing films now. Preity Zinta is ready with Ishkq in Paris where she has cast a relative newcomer (Rhehan Malliek) opposite herself when she could’ve got any male star of her choice.”
Producer Pritish Nandy doesn’t agree with Talwar on the issue and thinks it is foolhardy for actors to turn producers. “The greatest actors in the world focused only on their acting, and not on making some extra money as producers. In fact I think stars turning to production is an indication that they aren’t getting the remuneration as actors that they claim.”
Talwar, however, challenges Nandy’s claims. “Actors in Bollywood are not in it for the money. How much money did Aamir make on Peepli Live or Salman Khan for that matter when he agreed to co-produce Chillar Party? I think actors turn producers because they believe in the projects.” Agrees Chillar Party director and producer Vikas Bahl, “I think it’s the love of being attached with more movies that the actor believes in and which he cannot afford to be attached with only in the capacity of an actor, that propels stars to become producers.”
Producer Shailendra Singh of Percept Ltd also feels actors turning producers is a good trend. “It will balance out creativity with economics. Stars bringing their talent and skills into film production makes it all the more challenging for all.” Producer Kumar Taurani feels it is the Hollywood pattern that Bollywood stars are now adopting. “Hollywood stars have been producing films for some time now. I guess our stars are following the same trend. Actors also enjoy the process of making projects of their choice come alive. I’d say it's a welcome trend.”
However, his brother Ramesh Taurani feels actors are in it “probably to make more money and to exercise more creative control.” Producer Madhu Mantena echoes Ramesh Taurani’s thought. “Once stars are on board as co-producers they want to have their way in every department. Producers per se would gradually lose their raison d'etre in the industry if stars continue to muscle into production. Unless it's someone like Aamir Khan whose integrity and vision are unquestionable, I am not in favour of co-producing films with stars.”
Producer Siddharth Jain feels traditionally, producers earlier were only interested in getting their investments back. “Given that scenario actors were bound to produce their own films. Actors bring their inherent sense of professionalism into film production.” However Jain warns that a rush of stars into production could lead to a bottleneck situation. “Production is a specialised skill and a full-time job. Actors need to collaborate with like-minded producers like say, Akshay Kumar does while co-producing films with Vipul Shah. If actors turn producers arbitrarily they would not achieve the kind of success Aamir Khan or John Abraham have achieved.”
On the other hand director and produer Vipul Shah feels it’s a healthy trend, “It will create a better understanding of production and business and the economic risk gets apportioned between the star-producer and the producer. So I think more stars need to get into production.” It’s a question of demand and supply, believes producer-distributor Anil Thadani. “There are some actors who have huge box office pull. Why shouldn’t they capitalise on their success ratio by creating a share as a producer in the films that they act in? At the same time stars are also encouraging new talent and new concept-friendly subjects in the films that they produce. So it’s a win-win situation.”
Trade analyst and box office expert Taran Adarsh points out that this ‘new’ trend of superstars as producers dates back to the the 1970s. “It’s quite an old trend, actually. Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Feroz Khan produced films back in the ‘70s. Today the stakes are bigger. Actors feel they have no reason to share profits with outside producers when there are so many avenues to recover investments in film production.”
No matter how we look at it, actor-producers are here to stay. And the sooner the producers and corporate houses into film production accept this, the better it is for all concerned. Look at it this way: Sanjay Dutt may not be around as an actor for the next three coming years, but his production will go on in his absence. Stars realise their durability is dependent on their ability to create opportunities for themselves.