Producers Making Money, But Content Not Theirs
By VINOD MIRANI
It was since foreign companies entered the Indian film market that filmmakers in the country, especially in the Hindi film industry, took huge strides.
Films with budgets of lakhs suddenly started costing crores. With projects being underwritten by big-time backers, the films with stars started costing over Rs 100 crore.
This was just the beginning of the whole filmmaking industry going haywire! Creativity went for a toss and greed took over. The budgets went high, but content suffered. Films depended solely on the kind of draw a star commanded!
The actors wanted to be paid in crores and so did the director. Soon, the stars started asking for Rs 100 crore or more and the ones with just a single success wanted Rs 10-15 crore. Female artists started demanding in crores, even though their films, at best, collected Rs 5 crore or less in lifetime business.
Somewhere along the line, filmmaking happened with no sense of economics. The prices the stars demanded were artificial, much against their draw or potential to recoup. This continued for a long time because the companies which backed these films opened their purse strings generously. The producer had nothing to lose and stood only to gain.
Nobody cared for what a star charged, or a director did. Ridiculous budgets were presented and sanctioned by the new corporate entrants who were under the impression that they were producing films when, in fact, they were outsourcing the film production activities. They had neither the knowledge of filmmaking the way it happened in India nor any control.
Amitabh Bachchan, at his peak, commanded the price of Rs 15 lakh, it is said. That price was meant to be the equivalent of one major circuit (the Mumbai circuit was one), there being about six. Yet, the maker stood to earn an amount worth one circuit. It was all worked out to everybody’s satisfaction and interest. Bachchan’s films drew massive footfalls, and his price was recovered within a day if you added up all-India box-office collections. In those days, only net collections were made public after deducting the entertainment tax as well as the cinema rentals.
That was unlike the practice now, which is aimed at deceiving the people with gross figures, or the recovery from ticket sales, being put out, which is unfair.
If Bachchan recovered his price within a day, the films of stars today don’t recover their own price, let alone the cost of the film in the lifetime business.
A star is someone who assures an initial draw to every new release. But when the star’s prices became unviable, filmmakers resorted to giving out inflated collection figures. There was no way a film costing Rs 100 crore could recover the investment; the film was now limited to multiplexes with an average ticket price of Rs 270.
The masses who accounted for a film’s success and flocked to the single screens were driven out. Even at today’s prices with inflation and all things considered, one can buy a few things of necessity for that kind of money! Just about everybody was making money, except for those who backed these films.
As the things worked in the film industry in India, the negative belonged to the producer of the film, albeit considering there was no lien on the film. That all the financers’ claims had been settled as often there were multiple people from whom the producer borrowed in the process of making his film.
The various financers’ claims were guaranteed by the film processing laboratory with whom vested the film’s entire negative footage shot for the film. Unless there was another kind of arrangement in place.
It was called World Rights Controller, which involved a single financer. He would let the film be released even if his monies were not recovered, but the rights to the negatives vested with him till the time the money was recouped.
In those days, the normal practice was to release a film in various circuits through local distributors with an understanding that they paid a price described as MG, and after recovery, shared what was called the overflow equally with the producer. In the World Rights arrangement, that overflow went to the world rights controller.
Now, of course, the recoveries are not only from the overflow of a film, but there exist various other avenues, such as OTT, satellite, and other rights. These rights are given out for a stipulated period and recur.
Some of the studios backing Hindi films withdrew from the trade and some were left to wonder what came to them in this whole exercise.
It was their money so, rightfully, the rights in the content should belong to them. After all, the producer on record was being paid what is called the Runner Fees to produce a film for the studio, as the director was paid his, so was the star as well as the other crew.
As things work now, projects are sanctioned and financed by the principal, say a television channel or an OTT streaming platform, and they own the content. Even during the good old days of Doordarshan, if your serial was sanctioned and televised, the rights and the content finally belonged to DD.
The studios that financed film production recently took up this issue with the filmmakers whose films they had bankrolled. The studios staked their claim to the films they had financed because it was their product by all logic. After all, even the producer was paid for his work.
In other words, some of our top-rung filmmakers, who were hogging the glory and the limelight when a film was a success, were no more than mere production controllers or, at best, executive producers, and they were making the film on behalf of a studio.
So, some of the big-time filmmakers, for that is the kind these studios preferred to deal with, were asked to cede the film rights, rock stock, and barrel, to the principal studio, it must have come as a bolt from the blue! The fact that the studios were correct in their demand must have played on their mind.
It resulted in the few top names who stood to lose it all, getting into talks. The settlement reached, according to reports, is that the one who produced the film will share the gains from the film on a 50:50 basis. The arrangement will last for ten years from the date of the film’s release. Thereafter, all rights in the film in the subject will revert to the studio in toto.
Can you imagine that the films that will feed many of our generations to come won’t be yours eventually? Many filmmakers of yesteryear, such as Raj Kapoor, Shakti Samanta, G.P. Sippy, N.N. Sippy, N.C. Sippy, Pramod Chakravorty, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Devendra Goel, and many others who made several films (though some of them may have sold their film negatives for various reasons), have left them behind and their value in the era of satellite, OTT and other rights are worth crores.
Unlike them, the present-day producers may have made a lot of money while they made their films, but nothing will remain with them in the future.
Among all these, the one production house that has emerged with no claims on its films is Yash Raj Studios. It has never been reported to seek finance from corporate studio houses.