A wholesome film like Notebook, which has uniformly got good reviews as well as positive feedback from whoever has watched it, opens to a shocking Rs. 70 lakh, which is even lower than an atrocity like Raman Raghav 2.0. And this despite the hype generated, and the film’s association with Salman Khan. Last year, Salman’s LoveYatri opened to Rs. 2 crore, which was again not a very good figure. But in 2015, his production Hero opened to a Rs. 6.8 crore figure, which was even better than Heropanti that introduced Tiger Shroff the previous year.
With Salman Khan, it would seem as if his small films are doing business in inverse proportion to their merits as well as that of the newcomers introduced!
But then, making small films or/and mentoring newcomers on and behind the screen by big stars has been one of those rarer and therefore less-discussed traditions in filmmaking. The reasons for producing such movies have varied widely though, and so have the fates of these films.
Shashi Kapoor produced art or middle-of-the-road cinema as it was his passion. Sadly, most of his films plummeted, despite the fact that most were cinematic delights—Kalyug, the English 36 Chowringhee Lane and the Hindi-English bilingual classic Utsav / The Festival. The only film that did fair business was Shyam Benegal’s Junoon. Disgruntled, Shashi launched the big-budget Ajooba / The Black Prince¸ again a bi-lingual and an Indo-Russian co-production, which he wanted Raj Kapoor to helm as a mammoth commercial drama. It turned out to be the biggest flop from his company, Filmvalas.
Amitabh Bachchan, in a fact not realized by many, chose to launch India’s first-ever corporate company in Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited (ABCL) in 1995. However, a lack of efficient team members and the adjustments needed with the chaotic way the film industry worked then led to disastrous results.
Though Bachchan made the big-budget fiasco Mrityudaata starring himself, he largely produced small films then, like Tere Mere Sapne that introduced Chandrachud Singh and Arshad Warsi (which did well). The rest, however, failed to make a mark (Saat Rang Ke Sapne and the unreleased Naam Kya Hai, Loveria and Gaayak).
Under AB Corp, after the veteran had paid off all his debts, he produced big films with himself in Hindi, but also ventured into modest Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi cinema, though without spectacular success. But Vihir, in Marathi, was an exception and won appreciation at even the National awards level.
Amitabh’s main concept was to usher in the open-book, corporate way of making films. Ironically, until the industry decided to change and mend its ways, he could not succeed.
Anil Kapoor also went on to encourage slightly offbeat cinema by producing Gandhi—My Father and ShortKut—The Con Is On. A man who always has preferred a realistic kind of movie even as he went, out of career interests, the entire commercial hog, he decided to back these small films, though the latter was a commercial movie featuring Akshaye Khanna and Arshad Warsi but was made on a small scale.
Both films bombed, as did another offbeat commercial movie, My Wife’s Murder, a songless thriller in which he also starred, and which was directed by Ram Gopal Varma.
Aamir Khan decided to put his ingenious marketing acumen into totally offbeat projects like Peepli [Live] and Dhobi Ghat, the former exploring social issues. So slender was the budget that the former one was actually a success of sorts.
However, these films were made because he struck gold with four out-and- out content-driven commercial films, the superbly executed Taare Zameen Par (2007), the frothy Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na (2008), the deliberately ribald Delhi Belly (2011) and the intense Secret Superstar (2017), which was a whopper hit in China.
As of now, he has the best track-record in small films made by any star as producer.
Akshay Kumar made a moderate-budget OMG—Oh My God! as part of his drive to encourage entertainers with a purpose. In terms of cost-to-profit ratio, it emerged as the biggest hit of 2012. Similarly, he also produced Bhaji In Problem (a hit in Punjabi) and two Marathi film, 72 Miles—Ek Pravas and Chumbak that won a lot of appreciation.
Ajay Devgn, another mega-star, also went into making small films. Again going into Marathi films with two acclaimed movies, Vitti Dandu and Aapla Manus, he also produced the offbeat Parched, which was appreciated globally. Last year, he produced another small film for wife Kajol, Helicopter Eela, which was a washout, however.
Shah Rukh Khan, on the other hand, has just had a super-hit in the Amitabh Bachchan-Taapsee Pannu film Badla¸ a high-concept thriller. Before this, in 2016, he produced Dear Zindagi with Karan Johar, a slice-of-life film featuring Alia Bhatt and him. The film, however, did not really make the grade, though a small section of the audience loved it.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas along with mother Madhu, is a seasoned producer now. She had a smash-hit beginning with the Marathi Ventilator¸ and has gone on to make several regional films. However, this mega-actress is not planning a Hindi production as yet.
Deepika Padukone, however, has chosen to opt for an offbeat subject in her first production on an acid attack survivor. The biopic, Chhapaak, is a modest-budget film that stars Vikrant Massey opposite her and is directed by Meghna Gulzar.
In their time, Raveena Tandon and Manisha Koirala had also produced the small-budget Stumped! (2003) and Paisa Vasool (2004) respectively, and both failed miserably. But here, it was Hema Malini who took the first known initiative in contemporary times when she backed the small-budget offbeat Basu Chaterjee film Swami (1977) alongside her other home production Dream Girl. Guess which film did better?
Making small films is largely a matter of inclination for these big stars, and at no times has it been about epic roles the stars never got in outside movies before they turned producers. John Abraham’s Vicky Donor was a classic case where he did not even feature in the story but made a passing cameo in the end titles. The old tradition of making films to show losses for tax purposes also seems a far-fetched premise, given the fact that many of these movies did emerge as money-spinners, and could not have been designed to flop!
It was all about passion and the need to tell a story they liked. To come back to where we started, Salman Khan said recently that Notebook was a story he was approached for some years back as an actor. “But my image had changed by then!” he said.
So when you have the means and clout to make and market a film that does not have the scale your star-status has, should you forgo a great story and project only because you are too big a star for that? No way—and if you can mentor others with your popularity, why not?
No one can accurately predict box-office anyway.