Let us not beat about the bush: it’s our leading men that lead not only popular interest in our film – and therefore determine the scale and viability of our projects – they are also the most dominant and powerful power centres in the filmmaking ecosystem.
In more cases than not, it is a film’s hero that has studios, distributors and other rights buyers loosening their purse strings and it is the film’s hero that drives the initial buzz around a film and determines its opening.
Which is why, even producers who grumble most about ‘bloated’ and ‘unjustified’ star fees are the most ardent wooers of the very same stars to just say ‘yes’ to their projects. The same producers who hold forth on the ‘unreasonableness’ and ‘arbitrariness’ of stars are the ones who are willing to give the leading men total freedom to decide on co-stars, directors and even subjects – whatever it takes for the star to say ‘yes’.
The fact that leading men control the levers of power is no breaking news and, indeed, that has been par for the course for pretty much our entire existence as a film industry. However, in the last few years, that trend has only got accentuated and deeper. Today, it’s hard to imagine making a film with the A-League – heroes unless they are involved as co-producers or have a substantial back-end contractually committed to them.
The most recent manifestation of the growing clout of our leading men is the move by a few stars to retain important rights such as satellite rights of their films as a pre-condition to the films they sign up in future. It would be fair to assume that the near future will see not only more leading men looking at similar deals, but also that other rights too would similarly be reserved by our heroes.
Let me clarify and emphasise here that this note is by no means a rant on the star system. Whatever our leading men get, whether remuneration, back-ends, rights or other privileges, it is only because it still makes commercial sense to those studios/producers/parties agreeing to those terms.
And to be fair to our heroes, we must also appreciate that our leading men too have upped the ante when it comes to their contribution to their films – not just in performing their onscreen roles but also in their involvement in the marketing, promotion and other allied activities that have become crucial in today’s day and age.
As I said before, the point of this note is not to criticise or begrudge our leading men the economic fruits of their clout. However, one does feel that it is time for our leading men to also lead from the front when it comes to fighting for the causes that are of critical importance to our industry – taxation, censorship or other regulatory matters.
Let’s face it, whether a secretary in the Ministry of Finance or the chairperson of a parliamentary committee, who would they rather click a picture with or take a phone call from – a producer, a member of a film association or a film star?
As our industry’s most recognised and influential roving ambassadors, as also increasingly the most substantial stakeholders in its trade and commerce, we need our heroes to battle the baddies off-screen too.