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Tying Star Salaries to Box Office Success: A New Trend?

As the scroll through social media feeds continues, an echo of the familiar refrain that “Bollywood is at a crossroads” resurfaces, gaining traction among netizens and experts alike. Observers note that the film industry experienced a remarkable year in 2023, an outlier marked by triumphant returns and successful ventures that are hard to replicate annually. Shahrukh Khan made a monumental comeback after a four-year hiatus, dazzling audiences with consecutive hits, while Ranbir Kapoor’s performance in the blockbuster “Animal,” alongside Bobby Deol’s re-emergence, highlighted the year’s cinematic landscape. Yet the notion that such success can be expected every year is quickly dismissed as unrealistic.

The conversation has taken a new turn with the underperformance of two major films, “Bade Miyaan Chotte Miyaan” and “Maidaan,” both featuring A-list stars. The question arises: Should actors’ earnings be tied to box office receipts? The industry is now closely examining the correlation between a project’s feasibility and the star power driving it. Astonishingly, the budget for “Bade Miya Chotte Miyan” soared to a massive 350 crore, with the stars’ fees alone accounting for a staggering 160 crores—a sum that would finance the entire yearly budget of some regional cinema sectors.

This financial imbalance prompts trade analysts to call for thorough regulation of inflating expenses and investments. Sumit Kadel, a trade analyst, highlights a troubling trend: actors with marginal box office pull demanding exorbitant fees, a behavior previously exclusive to proven heavyweights like Shahrukh and Salman Khan. In recent years, even secondary tier actors have seen their earnings skyrocket from under a crore to the tens of crores bracket, propelled by the belief that their names alone can draw audiences, both in theaters and on OTT platforms. This illusion is now being challenged as the direct-to-digital model adapts, and streaming services are no longer purchasing films outright, causing a reassessment of actor remuneration as the disparity between production costs and box office returns becomes impossible to ignore.

Faced with financial pressures, the industry recognizes the urgency to recalibrate and evolve. Additionally, industry insiders point to the risk of viewer fatigue as certain stars saturate the market with frequent releases, suggesting that a strategic retreat can sometimes be more beneficial to a career than constant exposure. A pervasive understanding is emerging that while name recognition is vital, the audience remains the ultimate arbiter, judging quickly and decisively based on content quality.

Indeed, recent hits like “Laapta Ladies,” “Do Aur Do Pyaar,” “Crew,” and “Madgaon Express” reinforce the notion that content reigns supreme. These successes underscore the idea that a film’s true star is its content, not necessarily the actor headlining it. This realization may serve as a pivotal moment for Bollywood, provoking a shift toward creative narratives over star-centric formulas.

The debate regarding the adoption of performance-based pay in Bollywood reflects broader questions about meritocracy and the incentives that drive the film industry. As it grapples with new realities—changing viewer habits, the ever-growing influence of digital platforms, and financial sustainability—the practice of aligning stars’ fees with the commercial success of their projects may just be the transformative step needed to ensure the industry’s robust future. Only time will tell if this new compensation strategy will become the norm, or if it will fade away as yet another fleeting experiment in the dynamic world of cinema.