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January 2, 2002

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Boys Zone

Rajitha

Tamil cinema is increasingly witness to a rather curious phenomenon relating to star power, and its impact on film budgets.

And when we say 'star power', we refer of course to the males the female stars, up to and including the Simrans and Jyotikas, continue for all their fan following to be adjuncts to their male counterparts.

Rajnikanth Heading into 2002, the going rate is as follows: Rajnikanth tops the table, with an asking fee in excess of Rupees 50 million. Kamal Hassan follows, with a flat Rupees 50 million fee. Below the senior superstars, are the two leading members of the youth brigade: Ajit Kumar and Vijay, asking Rupees 30 to 35 million apiece.

Vikram, who shot to star status following the massive success of Sethu (the film that put him within one point of a national award) and Madhavan come in the third slab, at 10 million apiece, with Prashanth and newcomer Shyam bringing up the rear at an asking rate of around Rupees Five million.

The catch with such salaries, though, is what it does to the producer. A guy with say Rupees 50 million to make a movie ends up signing an Ajit or a Vijay, then finds himself left with just 15 million to pay his director, music director, choreographer, cinematographer, female lead, all other artists and support crew, and make his film.

Typically, thus, the male star these days costs 75 per cent of the total budget, with the rest of the expenses being covered by the remaining 25 per cent.

Madhavan The result is obvious barring Rajnikanth (who in any case has not had a release in over two years now) and to a great extent Kamal, none of the other stars guarantee a hit. The producer and director, meanwhile, are hampered by the fact that they are making the film on a shoestring and quality suffers. Badly.

The situation has reached such ludicrous proportions that directors have increasingly decided to act in their own movies, thus taking away the need to hire a male star. Manivannan is not a typical example, given that the director has, over the last two-three years, been busier in front of the camera than behind it. But consider the case, say, of Surya.

The young director hit the marquee headlines when he teamed up with Ajit and Simran in the thriller Vaalee. Surya now busy putting the finishing touches to the Hindi remake of Kushee was supposed to direct and produce Ajith in the film New but has now decided to do the lead role himself. Another instance is director Cheran, who is the latest of the directors to announce that he will star in his own forthcoming film.

The only ones exempt from the above syndrome appear to be the two superstar directors, Mani Rathnam and Shankar, both of whom sell films on the strength of their own names. Mani is busy putting the final brushstrokes on his latest film which, we are told, is a love story set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan conflict.

Kamal Meanwhile, Shankar who after completing Nayak in Hindi was slated to work on his next film, Robot, with Kamal Hassan in the lead has shelved that project for now, and started pre-production work on sixth film, Boys.

Typical of Shankar, the director is not prepared to say much about the film at this point. However, it is known that the film will be very youthful, almost teeny-bop, in content, with the majority of the cast being in the 16-23 age group.

Shankar, apparently, has decided to cast all new faces in his film and the younger the better.

In fact, a mention in various Tamil periodicals, and an accompanying advertisement to the effect that Shankar was looking for new faces, has created a headache of sorts for the producers. Curriculums vitae have been pouring in to the Surya Movies post box ever since the ad and the story ran in the vernacular press and last heard from, the flood shows no signs of abating.

Curiously enough, the ad appears thanks to emails and discussion groups to have reached an audience abroad as well, with the result that newer batches of applications have US, British and suchlike stamps on them, which suits the producer and director fine since the film does incorporate a lot of NRI faces.

Shankar For Shankar, Boys will be a return to romance after Kadhalan, and to comedy after the Aishwarya Rai-Prashanth starrer Jeans. Though the film will feature fresh and ergo, inexpensive faces, Shankar maintains that the film will be typical of his style, which means lavish budgets, and expensive production values.

Should be interesting partly to see if Shankar can maintain a winning streak that began with his debut, Gentleman, and has spanned his next four films. More interesting from an industry point of view will be to see if a film can work on the strength of its story, its director, and its production values, without a big-name star propping it up. Because if that does happen, then it could be a shrewd blow to the star-power syndrome now rocking the industry.

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