Karan Johar: Actors are asking for Rs 35 crore, their films are opening at Rs 3.5 crore

The director-producer spoke about the creative crisis in Bollywood
Karan Johar
Karan Johar

There are about ten viable actors in Hindi cinema and they are asking for "sun, moon and earth" and they are being paid that amount, says filmmaker Karan Johar, who believes the industry is going through a creative crisis.

In an interview to journalist Faye D'Souza for her YouTube channel, the producer spoke at length about what's ailing the Hindi film industry which had a dismal six months at the box office.

"Right now, the industry is in a creative crisis. We are going through a situation where we have to... We are managing footfalls, versus reality versus star remuneration versus studios collapsing at our end and there's a lot of drama happening in our business, which, I think, we have to take stock of," Karan said, dismissing stories of being an all-powerful producer who makes or breaks careers.

The Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani director said he is not the don or the "flag bearer" of nepotism as he is made out to be in a certain segment of media. Like many, he is just trying to keep his company, which is doing well, stay sustainable in these trying times.

Asked what could have led to this crisis in the film industry, the filmmaker said it has to do with many factors, primarily being the shift in the audience's taste, which have become "definitive".

"...They want a certain kind of cinema and if you want to do a certain kind of number, then your film has to, I will say this technically, perform at A centres, B centres and C centres. Just multiplexes won't suffice," he said.

There has been a lot of debate around the money charged by some of the big stars post the box office debacle of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, Maidaan and other big releases.

Karan, who has spoken about the money demanded by stars in the past, once again highlighted the issues, which is currently at the centre of the debate in the movie business.

"...The cost of filmmaking has increased. There has been inflation there and then the star remunerations... There are about 10 viable actors in Hindi cinema and they all are all asking for sun, moon and earth and you are paying them and then you are paying the film, the marketing expenditure and then your films don't do the number. Those movie stars are asking for Rs 35 crore and are opening to Rs 3.5 crore. How's that math working? How do you manage all that and yet you have to keep making movies and creating content because you also have to feed your organisation?” The filmmaker, known for box office hits such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Student of the Year, said everyone is running around like "headless chickens" as it is difficult to gaze what's working at the box office and what's not.

"There is a lot of drama and the syntax of our cinema has not found its feet. In the case of Hindi cinema, there has been a certain kind of syntax in each decade. Right now, we are like, 'If Jawan and Pathaan worked, should we do only action?' Then everybody's running that way. Then suddenly a love story would work," he said.

"...Conviction has taken a complete beating, and it's all about herd mentality. We haven't realised that there is a certain audience now that wants rooted Indian cinema and, without the pressure of what the critics have to say, pure joy,” he said.

According to Karan, the audiences don't want cinema that's "alienating" where it is about urban syntax and the tier two cities feel alienated or small towns. The urban cinema can be made but at a certain price otherwise it will not do the numbers.

The filmmaker believes the directors of his time, who have grown on the fodder of a certain kind of cinema, don't understand the "need of heartland India".

"They don't know it because they have never watched those movies in the cinema halls. They have grown up on internet content where everything is aspirational or Hollywood cinema. But some of those movies just don't work in India," he said, adding that films don't fail, budgets do.

Asked whether a certain self-censorship had set in among filmmakers, Karan said everyone now has a legal department and scripts at his company go to the legal censorship internally first before they decide to produce it.

"It's not just that we are afraid. You don't want the stress and pressure of fighting cases in courts. You are putting your time and energy into something that you can very well do without. Are we telling... Yes, we are still telling brave stories. Are we still doing what we want to do, yes. But there are some things you have to be wary about..."

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