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Pursuits: Why you never hear of bankrupt stars any longer

Many of us probably know that movie stars don’t make much money from the movies any longer.

Oh yes, there is money in movies. Aamir Khan can get any price he demands. Akshay Kumar has raised star prices to new levels.     

But that’s not the point. Aamir makes about one film a year. He doesn’t need to make any more because he supplements his income by appearing in ad campaigns. It is the same with Shah Rukh Khan who once told me in an interview that he could make so much money from live appearances and ads that he never needed to accept a movie that he wasn’t sure about again.


   It is no accident that the likes of Aamir and Shah Rukh have far fewer flops on average than the big stars of the generation that preceded them. Anil Kapoor made many duds. Amitabh Bachchan had mega flops. But in those days, stars had to accept film roles they didn’t really like just to keep body and soul together. There was no other way of making money.


   These days, movie earnings are just one fraction of star incomes. The big stars get paid fortunes for ads. Many make bigger fortunes from hosting TV shows – one version has it that Akshay was paid Rs 1 crore for every episode of Khatron Ke Khiladi. The likes of Shah Rukh and Salman continue to rake it in from TV shows.


   The middle-rung stars get some ads but they are also paid huge sums for guesting on TV shows. Each time you read about some actors making a guest appearance on a reality show or a game show, don’t fool yourself into thinking that it was about fun or friendship. It was about money.


   And the smaller stars have found innovative ways of earning a living. They sign up as judges on TV reality shows for absurdly high amounts. They charge money to appear at events. They open boutiques or shops and get paid for it. They host events and charge lakhs.


   That’s why you never hear of bankrupt stars any longer. Even the most unsuccessful chota-mota actress can make over a crore a year if she plays her cards right.


   It’s good practice because I suspect the day is not far off when movies will stop yielding huge paydays. Just look at the example of the music business.


   In the Seventies, the record business became bigger than the movie business. There was a day in 1974 when singer James Taylor and his then-wife, the singer Carly Simon, were declared the best-paid couple in the entertainment business, dethroning long-term champions, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.


"But as technology moves forward and broadband connections increase, it is inevitable that people will prefer to download movies rather than pay huge sums to go and see than in cinemas."

   The profits continued through the Eighties (when the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna made fortunes) and a new cycle began in the Nineties when fans rushed out to replace their vinyl records with overpriced CDs thus helping musicians make money all over again from the same material.


   These days, however, the music business is in terminal decline. Fewer and fewer people bother to buy CDs. They download their music from the net. Or they burn CDs themselves, having borrowed the originals from friends.


   Even if the music business manages to find a way to monetize the internet, the era of big paydays is over. Musicians will make as much from their records as say, authors make from books that is to say, they’ll make good livings but they won’t be able to afford Dom Perignon and cocaine every day.


   Some musicians have coped with the change in the pattern of business by touring. Such bands as the Rolling Stones, for instance, now make far more money from going on the road and singing their hits than they do from selling albums.


   Consequently, you have the bizarre situation where bands who were impossible to catch live during their heyday are now constantly touring: the Stones, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, and even Bob Dylan whose concert appearance in the Seventies were so rare that each show became an event. Michael Jackson had even agreed to play 50 shows in London in July because he knew that live performing represented his best hope of making the money he needed to pay his debts.


   The difference between the movie business and the music business is that the internet has still not become a viable source of film entertainment. But as technology moves forward and broadband connections increase, it is inevitable that people will prefer to download movies rather than pay huge sums to go and see than in cinemas.


   When that happens, the movie business will face the same crisis of revenues as the record business.


   And that is when the decision by our stars to make their money not from the movies but from other activities will begin to seem prescient.


(Image attributed to Wikimedia Commons)



  • Mayank 06 Aug 2009

    I don't think so, at least not in the foreseeable future - movies, unlike music, is more of a group activity, and much more than just 2 hours of sitting in front of a canvas.

Posted On: 31 Jul 2009 12:12 PM
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