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Reaching For The Stars

Big names spell big numbers at the box office. But can a producer bank on a casting coup?

As a producer, I have always believed in casting a star in each film. Of course, I am open to casting newcomers too. Didn’t we launch Ishq Vishq with Shahid Kapoor and Amrita Rao in the lead? Didn’t it have a debutant, Ken Ghosh, as director?

But it’s not easy to rope in a star. It takes a lot of convincing and cajoling. So if a star says yes to your film, you can be sure your script is first-rate! It’s tough to rope in big names even in the international market. Actors in Hollywood turn down films by the dozen. It is not easy to get them on board. It was difficult ages ago and it is difficult now.

Once the actor has agreed to do your film, things automatically fall in place. And if you score well with music, rest assured your film will do sure-fire business at the box office. That is why I believe it is always a safe bet to make big films with big stars.

But I must clarify that I am not one of those producers who first sign a star and then decide on a script. I have never once done that in my career. I have never told an actor I am okay with whatever he or she wants to do. I decide everything. 

For instance, before Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani happened, I had bounced two other ideas to Ranbir Kapoor with other directors. But he thumbed them down. The plot of Ajab Prem Ki… was the third idea I approached him with and he liked it instantly. So did I sign Ranbir first and then decide on the script? No!

People ask me how feasible is it for a producer to wait for a star? I have no qualms. For instance, it has been three years since I signed Salman Khan for my film, to be directed by Rajkumar Santoshi. Salman is a huge star and having him in the film itself is a big thing. A three-year wait is worth it then.

But, often enough, an actor has turned down my script and I had no option but to approach another star. For instance, Kya Kehna was originally planned with newcomers. I had zeroed in on Samir Soni, Priety Zinta and Vishal Singh (Dekh Bhai Dekh). That did not work out. I opted for Mukul Dev and Chandrachur Singh. Mukul Dev did not turn up for our shooting schedules and was unprofessional, so we replaced him with Saif Ali Khan. It was not a big deal then.

Over time, I have realised that apart from the stars, the producer’s capability has become very relevant today. Stars want to see whether the producer is capable of releasing the film effectively. Unlike earlier, where actors used to do films based on their relationship with the producer, today it is all about the product. If the producer can make a good product and market and publicise it well, only then will a star say yes to the film.

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