(From L to R) Jeethu Joseph, Hrithik Roshan and Aditya Roy Kapur
The end of the small, intimate, dramatic direct-to-digital Hindi film is near. With theatres hoping for big movies making big money, streaming platforms are placing their bets on long-form storytelling to maximise investment. That will have implications not only for male actors starring in mid-budget dramas but also women-oriented shows. Streaming platforms would rather invest in series which give them a lot more viewership and the possibility of a franchise than a two-hour movie. This has caused many producers who were earlier propelling the indie film boom to pivot to regional movies made for theatrical release and shows. Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice president of Films & Events, Saregama India Limited, is one such producer who has quickly focused on regional films and Hindi series. They are betting big on Malayalam movies with their individualistic creators, more cinema-literate audiences, and cost-efficient stars who cost a fraction of the promotion budget needed for Bollywood promotions. Yoodlee Films has already produced Padavettu, starring Nivin Pauly; Kaapa, with the great Prithviraj; and will release Kasargold in March with Asif Ali, directed by Mridul Nair. Ali just did Kooman with Jeethu Joseph. “Jeethu Joseph is a great example of why Malayalam films are so nimble-footed. He has just come off two enormous hits, Drishyam (2013) and Drishyam 2 (2021), he still chose to do a small film like Kooman rather than go bigger,” says Kumar, noting that Mumbai cinema has become too big to get a sense of the zeitgeist now. There are changes coming in the way streaming platforms will deal with series as well, he says. Platforms will not allow producers to keep the copyright, they will want more episodes and they will rationalise budgets. Will they also start making interventions in the shows, as corporates do with TV shows? Till things become clearer, Kumar is quite happy to discover our own backyard as audiences move towards originality and rootedness. In Hindi series, Saregama is producing an action series with Suniel Shetty called Hunter as well as a sitcom with Sunil Grover. These are two genres he believes are underserved in the web series space.
Stars and Starry Costs
Filmmaking is an odd business, with possibly the longest lead time for any consumable product. Yet it’s most affected by human emotions and its leaders are the male actors, not the men in suits. The actors decide on the story, their costs, their backend deals, even their female co-stars. The bigger the male star the more difficult it is to be objective about their stardom. Hrithik Roshan admitted to this most recently in an interview where he said the job of a star is “unhealthy”. Indeed, it comes with a responsibility which increasingly social media is making actors aware of as well, often in unpleasant ways, forcing them to be more careful of what they say and do, on and off screen. Are there lessons male stars from Mumbai cinema can learn from their contemporaries or seniors in other industries? One could be the way Mohanlal allowed himself to be directed by Prithviraj in the Lucifer series. Or the way Kamal Haasan presided over Lokesh Kanagaraj’s creation of a cinematic universe with Fahadh Faasil and Suriya in Vikram. The coming together of Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan in the first of what Yash Raj Films has called the YRF Spy Universe, where Pathaan will see a cameo by Tiger and Tiger 3 will see a cameo by Pathaan, may well be the beginning of such collaborations. But the stars also have to rationalise costs in an industry where it costs upwards of `40 crore just to market a big Bollywood movie across India. Add to it the costs of the entourages and you have unsustainable budgets which sink even the best movies. Even Karan Johar, no doubt wearing his producer’s hat, said recently that delusion is one disease that has no vaccine. “I might be murdered for saying this, but if you are opening to `5 crore and you’re asking me for `20 crore, how is that fair?” he asked. The solution — either create more stars, which means investment of a lot of time and money, or write better stories, where stars don’t matter so much.
Scene and Heard
Disney+Hotstar is getting ready to release the Hindi adaptation of BBC One’s hit 2016 series The Night Manager, with Aditya Roy Kapur and Anil Kapoor playing the roles of Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie respectively. It makes one wonder what it would have been like if Hrithik Roshan, who was considering it for the longest time, had joined the cast.