By T S Sudhir
Nothing is going according to script in the Telugu film industry. Nothing new, given the ways of the star-struck industry, which runs more according to the whims and fancies of a few big stars and bound scripts and completion of films on schedule are more the exception than the norm. Little surprise then that just six of 150-odd Telugu films that were made in 2009 were hits. That translates into an abysmal 4 per cent success rate.
Which explains why Tollywood has now pressed the panic button. The need is for a Pranab Mukherji garu from among the ranks who has to enforce the austerity mantra. The lead has been taken by the Telugu Films Producers Council and understandably so, given that they are the ones footing the bill. The angry lot says it is time to confront the `creative people’ with uncomfortable questions on why the audience is not interested in the fare they are dishing out. And mind you, Andhrites really dish out a lot of films, the second highest in the country every year.
Over the last few days, producers, directors, actors have been in a huddle in their respective associations, brainstorming on how to deal with the crisis. The easiest solution is to ask the superstars to bring down their remuneration from the hefty crores they charge. Actress-turned-politician Jayasudha has already belled the cat by asking the reel heroes to be heroes in real life. “Let the heroes start, everyone will follow suit,” she says.
A senior producer said even if the heroes fee is not brought down, the perks should go. “Even a two-film hero wants to travel only executive class. The heroes and heroines will not use the make up room in the studios that cost 500 rupees a day. Instead they get their caravan to the studio, which costs 5000 rupees.”
If the producers have their way, the days of free lunches will be soon over. “Everyone believes in splurging at the cost of the producer. Every unit member, including the hero, orders food for instance from a restaurant of his or her choice. The food bill for a 75-day shoot which used to come to 15 lakh rupees a few years back, now comes to 35 to 40 lakh rupees. Heroes and heroines even include their energy drinks in the lunch bill,” says a production controller.
Others have suggested cutting down on operational expenditure on a day-to-day basis and moving back from an Innova industry to an Ambassador industry. “Why should technicians and junior artistes travel in Innovas which cost 2000 rupees a day, while an Ambassador comes for 500. Art directors need to be given sharp deadlines and tighter budgets. More lights should not be ordered than what is necessary. The atmosphere of a party on the sets has to go,” says a member of the Producers’ Council.
But producers know this will achieve only this much. Fed up with the antics of star comediens who charge lakhs by the hour, producer Suresh Babu has mooted the idea of starting a talent management bank, essentially for character actors. “We have just 10 to 15 artistes who play the roles of an uncle, an aunt, mother, father. Since the supply is less and the demand is more, films tend to depend heavily on these few people. There will be several working professionals with an urge to act, who would be keen to do work for a week or so. The bank will encourage such talent,” says Suresh.
And if none of the above works, the stars will have to do with a salary cut. It is only fair. In a market-driven economy, if their expensive product does not sell like hot cakes, it is time to move to a different bakery.
But even while putting the house back in order, the industry needs to hunt aggressively for quality and original story tellers. Telugu cinema for long has been caught in a time warp. Where nothing else matters before the image of a particular hero. Balakrishna, Junior NTR, Venkatesh, Nagarjuna have all become victims of the star image they have created for themselves. It is high time they are challenged with different and difficult roles. For a bigger challenge is upon Tollywood.