'Their income will reduce, but not the fees.'
As the film industry stares into the abyss of an unprecedented economic slump, experts say the only way out of the mess is for the leading men lower their fees per film drastically.
"The A-list heroes -- Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn, Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh -- all charge between Rs 90 crore to Rs 130 crore (Rs 900 million to Rs 1.3 billion)," reveals a major producer to Subhash K Jha, speaking on condition that he will not be named in this report.
"This will have to end now. The heroes's fees will have to go down by 70 to 80 percent for the film business to survive," the producer adds.
Among the A-listers Shah Rukh, Aamir and Hrithik do not have any films on the floor. This means they will have to re-negotiate their on-the-table fee whenever they sign a new film.
Trade pundit Taran Adarsh feels the drop in star remuneration is inevitable now.
"At a time when the industry has come to a grinding halt due to the lockdown, the economics have gone haywire. No one knows when cinemas would re-open or when would films hit the screens. Everyone is clueless," says Adarsh.
"Also, since our films are released globally, the makers will have to wait till normalcy returns across the globe. Again, you cannot expect moviegoers to throng the cinema halls when theatres reopen," Adarsh adds.
"Earning your livelihood and getting life back on track will take priority. Entertainment is last on anyone's list. Resultantly, the costs will escalate and the producer, obviously, will have to bear the brunt as far as the final costs are concerned at the time of release," Adarsh explains.
This, he points out, is where the actors will have to step in.
"They -- financiers, producers and actors specifically -- will need to be on the same page as far as the economic viability of the project is concerned," Adarsh says. "It's a scary scenario right now, frankly."
"The entire entertainment eco-system needs to change its ways to enable its own revival," says trade analyst Akshaye Rathi.
"When an organisation faces an economic crisis, it cuts out the frills and sharpens its focus on the necessities. Similarly, the entertainment sector needs to cut out the high degree of vanity that it fuels and focus on making content with high intrinsic value and appeal that cuts across the length and breadth of the country at justifiable costs," argues Rathi.
"The cost cutting measures have to start with the talent and trickle down across the value chain right up to the audience for cinema to again be a low hanging fruit for its consumers," he adds.
"Almost all the A-list actors have started taking share in profits in each film they do," says Atul Mohan, another movie trade observer. "Those who weren't have also started asking for the same. This helps in bringing down not only the budget costs, but also makes them lifelong partners in the intellectual property rights of the film."
"The share in profits can be 20% to 75% to 80% and upfront fees can be from Rs 10 crore to Rs 25 crore (Rs 100 million to Rs 250 million). Looking at the current situation and for a better future," says Mohan.
"The upfront fees will have to go down by 60% to 70% or even more and would just be token money," Mohan adds. "The rest of the remuneration will be an increase in the share of profits. This will have to be done for survival of all."
Girish Johar, another trade pundit, points out that stars producing their own films will help minimise their remunerative losses.
"Most of them work for their own production houses so they can easily offset the lower fixed fee by claiming more percentage on the profit share," he says.
"This will surely help in reducing the costs overall," says Johar. "Once everything becomes normal, I am pretty confident that the A-league stars's terms and conditions will be lapped up on a premium due to the pent up demand.
Final word from movie trade guru Amod Mehra. "Most A-list heroes are also producers," says Mehra. "So their income will reduce, but not the fees."