On the dotted line, please! How contracts are being redesigned in Bollywood for a post-COVID world

Updated: 19 July, 2020 10:34 IST | Mohar Basu | Mumbai

Bollywood's top talent managers discuss revising celebrity contracts for a post-COVID world

Kartik Aaryan, Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan.
Kartik Aaryan, Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan.

A star borrows a line from Japanese author Haruki Murakami to express his state of mind: "And once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in." The actor has been kept on standby by the producers of his next two films, as his talent managers negotiate better deals. This was our cue to reach out to the industry's star makers to understand how contracts are being redesigned, especially as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the industry.

Where is my entourage?

A pair of confident hands applies the bronzer on the sculpted cheekbones as another team member devotedly holds the mirror in front of her. Jostling for space are also the stylist and his assistant, giving finishing touches to her outfit, while the manager discusses her next public appearance. A large entourage surrounding the star has hardly been an uncommon sight in Bollywood. But, on the post-COVID set, that will be a thing of the past.

With safety guidelines dramatically restricting the number of people that can be present on a set, it has had a domino effect on celebrities' entourage. Going forward, some stars may modify their contract to specify how many team members will join them on a film shoot, so as to not exceed the head count on the set.

Atul Kasbekar
Atul Kasbekar

Atul Kasbekar, owner of Bliing, which represents Vidya Balan, Mrunal Thakur, Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha, among others, says, "A set cannot have more than 55 people. So, the producers will naturally reduce staff [across the board]. Actors cannot bring more than five people for their hair and make-up." The producer also indicates that with fewer unit hands on the set, stars will have to do a fair amount of work on their own. "I am not sure actors can go and fetch their own chai," he laughs. In a landmark step, Kasbekar and co-producer Tanuj Garg of Ellipsis Entertainment have initiated a conversation with legal firms to get COVID insurance for their upcoming project, Taapsee Pannu and Tahir Raj Bhasin-starrer Looop Lapeta.

Kasbekar says, "Every star at this point is justifiably paranoid about where they are shooting, will the set be sanitised before and after they shoot, and so forth. So putting all of it on paper could help them feel more assured."

The elephant in the room

With the shutdown of theatres hitting the entertainment industry hard, pay cuts on projects are a reality. Only a month ago, it was heard that many A-list stars have been approached by producers of their pending movies to "help them ease the burden". The makers of a high-budget action comedy, that was to be shot across three states in the country, had requested the lead actors to take a 40 per cent cut.

Arjun Banerjee
Arjun Banerjee

Arjun Banerjee, talent and new ventures head, Exceed Entertainment, that handles the work for Saif Ali Khan and Sonakshi Sinha, acknowledges that contracts will witness an overhaul of sorts. "It's difficult to say whether there will be uniform pay revision. The entertainment industry has always adapted, and I am certain everyone in the value chain will be cognisant of the environment. Contracts will be re-structured depending on the economics of each project." He adds that in the coming months, more celebrities may opt for the profit-sharing model, which has so far been the domain of the Khans and Akshay Kumar. "Also, back-end deals [like extra promotions, additional dates over and above the shoot and more], which were practiced, may become more common here on."

In an interview to mid-day in April, Pannu—who has four films waiting to go on floors—had maintained a realistic stance about pay revision in these difficult times. "If the studios are hit, it will end up [affecting] the stars too. It's a temporary hit that will benefit us in the long run. If we act greedy right now, there will be no money in the market to make films."

Reduced income is a market reality. Nikhil Dwivedi of EYP Creation that handles the work of Jasie Gill, BPraak and other top musicians says, "If a concert pays an artist 15 lacs, a virtual gig pays 4 lacs. But what's even more worrisome is there is no work for the band mates of the artist. The entourage is feeling the pinch."

The said star, we've quoted, at the start of the copy had his own fears. As the face of the project, he is also the most exposed on set, he said, citing the instance of Parth Samathan of Kasauti Zindagi Ki who contracted COVID on shoot. Is it fair of producers to expect him to take reduced remuneration when he is putting himself at great risk to get a project completed. In his two bits, Kasbekar retorts with "An actor has multiple avenues to make back the money lost on a film project. He has the option of doing 5 extra ribbon cuttings to make the deficit amount but he/she won't be a star if his film doesn't release."

Signed and sealed

Uday Singh Gauri
Uday Singh Gauri

As many as 40 projects were in the pipeline when the lockdown brought the entertainment industry to a standstill. Naturally then, some actors were given signing amounts upon finalising the deal. With the projects delayed, where do the deals stand? Uday Singh Gauri of Siqs Entertainment, which oversees Nushrrat Bharuccha and Mouni Roy's work, explains, "We have returned the signing amount in two instances, including that of an artiste who was in London shooting for the series for a leading OTT platform. In cases where we have retained the fee, makers are given the assurance that their project will be given precedence as soon as the lockdown is lifted.

Contracts will come into force from the date of shoot commencement."

Maintaining brand equity

Brand endorsements form a sizable chunk of a star's remuneration. Banerjee observes that amid the shooting restrictions, actors are reimagining the 30-second commercials by filming them at home. "Major brands are realising the economic benefits of home-shot ads and are considering changing their approach towards marketing expenditures post the lockdown. While the production costs will be lower, the artiste's fee won't change much." Gauri notes that most of his clients have also re-worked existing deals to a brand's advantage. "Stars have eagerly given three- to six-month extensions to help them make up for the lost time."

Sonakshi Sinha and Taapsee Pannu
Sonakshi Sinha and Taapsee Pannu

With a rise in demand for YouTube sensations like Prajakta Koli and Bhuvan Bam as brand ambassadors, big-screen actors are changing tactics to adapt to the evolving needs of the advertising world. "One of our actors is creating six social media posts instead of doing an eight-hour ad shoot, which is derived from a pro-rata understanding. Actors are also hosting webinars and attending Zoom parties to promote brands they endorse."

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First Published: 19 July, 2020 07:00 IST

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