Producers call the shots as Telugu Film Chamber asserts itself

That filmmakers are exploited by just about all associated with a film is a fact one cannot deny. A producer knows it all but has no courage to do anything about it

That filmmakers are exploited by just about all associated with a film is a fact one cannot deny. A producer knows it all but has no courage to do anything about it, more so once his film is under production.

Once the film starts rolling, the producer is at his most vulnerable. He just can’t say no to any demand. The one who exploits the filmmaker the most is his star. And when demands of a star are entertained once, it becomes the norm.

In August, the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce (TFCC) halted all shoots till it settled the issue of prices that worked at the whims and fancies of the stars. The producer had no say in the matter and they often had to go with unviable demands just to stay in business and hope for the best.

The Telugu producers realised that at the end of the day, after making a film worth crores, they usually incurred losses, while everyone around them who worked on the films, made money. The shoots were stalled till three basic problems facing the production sector were settled.

The most important problem among them were the exorbitant star prices. The other two were high admission rates in cinemas and the challenge of the OTT platforms.

The production activities stayed suspended from August 1 for over four weeks till all the issues were addressed. The stars agreed to be more reasonable. In the South, producers are united and when the stars are approached at the association level, they have to toe the line.

As for the admission rates at cinemas, the initiative to control the exploitation had already been taken by the Andhra Pradesh government, which had stipulated ticket rates for different films according to their budgets and the centres were graded as A or B. The rates were also fixed for the multiplexes.

Now, the Telugu industry has gone one step further. All the daily charges paid by the filmmaker to the star’s retinue, like the driver, makeup man, costume man, attendant, and so on, will no longer be borne by the producer.

The state government, trade bodies and producers are working in tandem, taking definite steps against all kinds of exploitation, so what stops the Hindi film industry from doing something about these problems? Isn’t it strange that the filmmaker, who takes all the risks, ropes in stars and makes a film costing many crores, has no say with the stars he engages!

Mukesh Bhatt, a regular filmmaker, and once the president of the most affluent and influential film producers’ body, the Guild, had put his laments on record during an interview some years back. Someone in social media pulled it out and reposted it recently. Mukesh had worked out that a star’s support staff added as much as Rs 2 crore to a film’s budget.(Bhatt’s lament has been mentioned earlier, too, in this column.)

Bhatt elaborated on the break-up: Make-up man and hairstylist: Rs 1 lakh per day; star’s driver: Rs 5,000 per day just to bring him to the shoot and thus oblige the producer! Another Rs 5,000 each day to the lad whose only job is to be at an arm’s length from the star carrying his phone, cigarettes or whatever, and also for the other lad who acts as a hanger, carrying the star’s costume change.

The star, moreover, comes in his own luxury vanity van loaded with all the five-star amenities, and charges Rs 20,000 per day for it, though rented ones come for Rs 10,000! According to Bhatt, as a result of all this, additional expenses per day work out to Rs 1.20 lakh for the producer!

In the film industry, the filmmaker ends up working for the star, rather than giving creative inputs to the film. His job is reduced to keeping the star and his entourage in good humour. Yes, you have to call the lot as the entourage, for they find being called ‘the staff’ insulting! The producer ends up just being a provider and a hanger-on on the sets of his own film.

I wonder if a star, when he demands all these luxuries, ever recalls the time when he went from office to office pleading with a filmmaker’s staff to let him meet the producer, left his portfolio pictures at these offices, survived on vada pav and travelled on local trains across Mumbai.

Why isn’t he just grateful to the filmmaker and the film industry for giving him his status and his riches? Despite these riches, the stars have always been greedy. Some take away costumes meant for a film, some even take away the wigs, and their entourage does not get to keep the money collected in their name.

The stars have their costume designers and the producer has to pay for the dresses. One top star of the 1960s and 70s was seen wearing the same shirt in five films and charging all five producers!

Why is no producers’ body doing something about this shameless exploitation by the stars, cinemas and others concerned with filmmaking? Yes, they have as many as four associations representing film producers. Some have become defunct, but what about the one with the biggest producers on its rolls, the Guild?

Bhatt, who highlighted all kinds of exploitation a producer is subjected to, was the President of the Guild from 2012 to 2016. While enjoying an important office in a strong trade body, many concessions are available, a fringe benefit of sorts. So why muddy the waters?

The Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce (TFCC) has come down hard on some issues troubling filmmakers. The decisions have been made with the agreement of all the parties concerned, so they are bound to stick.

Accordingly, no per-day payments to drivers, makeup men and rest of the star’s retinues. These are to be included in the star’s remuneration decided upon mutually per project and will be paid to the star or the technician directly.

And, not to leave any loose ends, the TFCC makes it compulsory for all producers to enter into agreements with the stars and technicians concerned, mentioning the fees before the film production starts. These agreements, in turn, will have to be submitted to the TFCC for approval.

The TFCC has also decreed that an eight-week window will be maintained between a film’s theatrical and OTT releases. No film will carry the name of its OTT or satellite channel partner on either the publicity material or in the film titles. It thus makes it clear that the film producer is the master and he won’t sell himself cheap. No obligations to OTT platforms or satellite channels.

And, finally, the TFCC has also resolved the issues of the cine workers who were slated to strike work unless their demands were met. It has been decided to grant a raise of 15 per cent and 30 per cent for those daily workers employed in small- and big-budget films, respectively.

Hindi filmmakers, meanwhile, will continue to be exploited, grumble about it over a drink, but the show will go on, for they are not the kind to go for a showdown.

–By Vinod Mirani

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