Star packaging – India Today

Star packaging – India Today

Sanjay Kapoor: a star before the launch

“It’s not easy being a hero,” says filmstar Akshay Kumar. It’s even more difficult to become one. Stardom finds one in a thousand but the odds have never deterred hopefuls, armed with endurance and a dream, from streaming into Bollywood.

Around five male debuts take place every year. Lately, however, as the competition and money stakes rise, the fashioning and launching of heroes is becoming a more sophisticated process. Grooming and packaging are fast becoming popular.

While there are still no professional image consultants, advertising agencies are being roped in to help make an impact in a crowded entertainment market. Some believe that the straggler fantasy of small-town-boy-making-good would be difficult if not impossible today. And that making a star is an art in itself.

“A hero today must be Raj Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan rolled into one,” says producer Boney Kapoor. “These are the six hero slots in Hindi cinema and an actor must be able to play all if he wants a long innings.” Boney should know. He successfully launched younger brother Anil in ’83 and is set to introduce second brother Sanjay in January.

In fact, Boney has moulded Sanjay into a saleable commodity even before his first release. Currently, Sanjay has six A-class films on the floors and has signed nine more. He is charging over Rs 30 lakh a film and is rumoured to have recently signed a movie for Rs 51 lakh. Says distributor Ramesh Sippy: “Sanjay is a star before his first release.”

Akshaye Khanna: when pedigree is a passport to success

However, Sanjay is not the only newcomer demanding and receiving established star fees. Bobby Deol, carrying forward the star legacy of father Dharmendra and elder brother Sunny, is reportedly charging over Rs 30 lakh. He was recently voted the hottest newcomer in an industry spot poll conducted byTrade Guidemagazine.

Bobby currently has four films in hand and will make his debut in mid-’95. Nineteen-year-old Akshaye Khanna, Vinod Khanna’s son, is the youngest and latest claimant to the hero stakes. Akshaye, barely a six-month-old in the business, has signed four films, reportedly receiving Rs 30 lakh for one. Says star secretary and promoter Aasif Merchant: “There is a lot of hope in these guys. They are expected to be superstars.”

Much work has gone into creating these potential stars. And though the impeccable pedigrees guarantee a market, little has been left to chance. For example, all the three-Sanjay, Bobby and Akshaye – will be launched in multi-crore home productions.

Sanjay will debut in a Rs 4-crore-plus reincarnation love story, Prem. The film, starring Tabu, was shot on 10 outdoor locations. Akshaye begins with the adventure love story, Himalaya Putra, which has a minimum budget of Rs 5 crore.

A 50-feet statue of Shiv, built at a cost of Rs 20 lakh, was recently carted to Dalhousie for shooting. Bobby’s first release will be the Rs 6-crore-plus Barsaat. The film, which also marks the debut of Dimple’s daughter Twinkle, is being sold for Rs 1 crore per major territory.

Before facing the camera, each one has gone through extensive training – acting, dancing and action classes. Sanjay learned Urdu for a year. Akshaye, who plays a mountaineer in Himalaya Putra, is undergoing gymnastic and trampoline training. He will resume acting classes soon.

Rajkumar Santoshi, who is directing Barsaat, says: “Becoming a superstar is like body-building. You have to exercise every day.” The planning goes far ahead of the carefully orchestrated debuts. Think-tanks (comprising usually immediate family and close professional friends) monitor the near future too.

Boney, a deal-maker of Donald Trump’s dimensions, has engineered an impressive post-debut line-up for Sanjay. Not only is Sanjay working with stylistically distinctive film makers on a variety of subjects, even his heroines and music directors are different in each project.

From Madhuri Dixit to Shilpa Shetty and from Anu Malik to A.R. Rahman, he is working with them all. Says Boney: “This is by design. In the initial stages, you must have a mixture because the audience doesn’t lap up a hero in one film. Only after four or five does he get into the system.”

Bobby Deol: when pedigree is a passport to success

The think-tanks are also masterminding publicity. Bobby has been off-limits to the press since theBarsaatlaunch in ’91. The film is Bollywood’s best kept secret – no photographs and little information have leaked out so far. Even Sanjay, who is open to interviews, will not allow television coverage. And Vinod personally scrutinises every photograph of Akshaye released to the press.

Besides, the son rarely attends public functions. Says Vinod: “The idea is to make sure that no unflattering pictures appear in print and also to keep curiosity at a peak.” Adds Himalaya Putra director Pankuj Parashar: “We will make sure that the right things gain prominence in the media. After all, we are launching a Mercedes, not a Fiat.”

Most significantly, professional marketeers have been hired to help. Deepak Gattani of Rapport Advertising, who worked on the launches of Raveena Tandon and Ajay Devgan, will be working on selling Akshaye. The Barsaat team has also hired advertising professionals.

While it’s too early for any strategic planning, Vinod has budgeted Rs 75 lakh for publicity. Says Gattani: “Newcomers cannot create an impact unless hype is created about the star and the product. Today, marketing is required.”

The question, of course, is why? Competition from within and outside the industry is a primary impetus. Trade experts believe that it is attracting more entrants than ever before. Says Merchant: “Every train that comes to Bombay brings 10 stragglers.” Estimates are impossible but discover-a-star competitions provide some clue.

The Movie magazine’s ‘Discover a Star Scheme’, which ran from April ’92 to April ’93, attracted over a thousand entries each month. The more recent Stardust Academy, a free training course run by the magazine, attracted 28,000 entries from India and 6,000 entries from abroad.

Says Vinod: “Things have really changed in the last 10 years. Films are no longer taboo, so more people are coming in. It’s much more competitive.” The television boom is also providing sustenance to stragglers, with Shah Rukh Khan’s example showing that a small screen to 70 mm switch is possible.

Also, as distributor Sippy points out, the audience has changed: “There is a larger teenage market than there was a decade ago. They are accepting unconventional faces and films. There is a market and naturally more people are encouraged to join.”

According to Vinod, industry politics is playing its part too: “The industry has become divided into camps and every one wants to outdo each other from the size of their muscles to the pelvic pushes.”

Money, grooming and a splashy launch pale into insignificance before the crucial factor-luck.

The sheer glut of entertainment is also forcing wannabes to work harder. Gattani believes that movies today must provide a hook for the audiences to come in: “It must be made exciting.”

And Merchant points out that with the profusion of new faces on television, only a splashy launch will compel a viewer to spend Rs 50 to see a film starring a newcomer: “A new hero is taken seriously only if it’s an A-grade launch. Today, anyone coming to Bombay should bring Rs 50,000 just to groom himself. And there is no guarantee of getting work.”

Money being the primary hurdle, two newcomers are believed to be financing their own projects. Today, shooting costs can range between Rs 80,000 to one lakh per day. An A-grade film budget averages Rs 2 crore. Few then are willing to risk new faces. Parashar believes that the unwillingness to launch newcomers is also related to the dismal box office performance of the 20-odd love stories that were inspired by the success of Maine Pyar Kiya.

He says: “Two new people in love became a formula but all the films flopped. So right now the trend is not toward launching newcomers. Stars insure you to a great extent.” Even the bigwigs are going for established faces – Yash Chopra’s next film will star Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and perhaps, Juhi Chawla.

Subhash Ghai, responsible for launching the careers of Jackie Shroff, Madhuri and Manisha Koirala is looking for a new heroine for his next film Shikhar, but its heroes – the only actors who affect the sale price of a film – are Khan and Shroff.

Of course, the crores spent on planning, grooming and selling stand dwarfed beside the crucial X factor-luck. The ratio of hits to flops stands at 20:80 and until somebody stumbles upon the formula for box office success, stardom in Bollywood will be as much a matter of chance as anything else.

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