Cricket is starry business

SHASHI BALIGA | Updated on: May 26, 2011


So it's almost finally over and the stars can get back to concentrating on their real business: making movies. The IPL's star owners — Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Shilpa Shetty, Juhi Chawla — can sit down to work out their balance sheets or get back to the sets (whichever is more pressing). The star girlfriends — Deepika Padukone, Isha Sharvani, Liz Hurley — can return to acting, dancing or selling swimwear as the case may be. And the various star attendees — paid and unpaid — can get back to the sets too.

Star power has been much with us this IPL season. The cameras love it, of course; whether it is Siddharth Mallya kissing Deepika Padukone or Shah Rukh Khan playing to the crowd, it makes for great TRPs. Bollywood and cricket have always had a strong connection: both are driven by teamwork; both are pursuits in which you can gain individual success but it isn't worth much if it is not part of the team's success, both have an incredible fan base in India and a huge audience abroad, both provide young India instant, ready-to-worship heroes who may or may not be around the next season, and of course, the stars in both fields make jaw-dropping amounts. No one grudges them the big bucks when they come from their core skills: cricket or acting, as the case may be. But there is a Lakshman rekha beyond which fans and observers start to get uncomfortable. A common grouse is that for some years cricket has been driven by greed on the part of the BCCI, the IPL franchise and, to some degree, cricketers themselves.

Ever since the IPL started, this grouse has extended to film stars too. About how they are behaving more like businessmen, how some of them “interfere” in their team's working, how they are showing more interest in the money than in cricket itself.

Last year, columnist and film producer Pritish Nandy had this to say (in an admittedly non-cricketing context):

“Funnily, barring Salman, the others are looking less and less like stars today. They are beginning to look like businessmen. Shah Rukh has even hit the cover of a business magazine and is sounding, behaving more like a producer than a star. So is Aamir. What they don't realise is that popular fan bases are not built on the imagery of businessmen or producers. The common man does not admire a bania .” It is a remark that has found some resonance among readers, viewers and observers, but leaves me frankly, flummoxed. Especially coming as it does from Nandy, who is in the business (the operative word here) of film production himself.

As I see it, there are two reasons for this disapproval. One is plain envy; top-level stars can earn Rs 10 to Rs 20 crore for a movie, get almost as much for a big ad campaign, take home a crore and more for a stage performance. Hell, why are they greedy for more? Nothing that can be done here; envy is an intrinsic part of the celebrity syndrome.

The second is a rather idealised notion that creative people should somehow be above crass commercialism, and should do what they do for the pure love of their art and not chase the lolly this obviously.

This is the view that romanticises the starving artist or, in this case, the film-maker who stakes his all on his magnum opus, and profit be damned. This is patently unfair and illogical. For the simple reason that film-making — the most potent, imaginative and creative art form of our times — has also to be fundamentally a commercial enterprise. How can it not be when sums like Rs 50-Rs 100 crore are sunk into a single project? Money invested has to be recovered; if it isn't, you might find yourself out on your creative butt.

The film-maker who loses money on Movie No 1 will find it difficult to raise more for Movie No 2. And if that fails as well, he may well have to pack his bags. But a hit ensures that you not only have money in your hands but also, greater creative control the next time around. And who wouldn't want that?

The great movie that is a commercial failure is a romantic but not very pleasant situation to be in. Good reviews help of course, but not much if you're a first-timer and have to struggle to find finance.

Even a big production house can crumble under the weight of a couple of big losses and Bollywood is littered with ghosts of producers gone bust. When a film flops, the actors can survive the crash (and make up the money with one more ad campaign), the crew will get paid, at least in part. It is the producer or distributor who takes the hit. Understandably, these gents are a little wary of plonking down their money.

Would you expect a businessman to invest Rs 100 crore in a project without giving much thought as to how he is going to recover it? Would you expect him to come up with a commercially viable product or a whimsically designed, impractical experiment?

The latter is the kind of project many producers still bankroll and many directors still attempt, even when they are not entirely sure they will recover their money. That's where the movie business differs from others. That's where the passion, the madness and valuing creativity over commerce come in. But, if you are lucky enough, what's wrong in having the passion, the blockbuster and the moolah all together? Or buying an IPL team for that matter? Nobody questions why Mukesh Ambani or the Deccan Chronicle group would want to buy an IPL franchise. So why should we raise a disapproving eyebrow when film stars do?

Hey, they live in an uncertain world, they have few true friends and live on the edge. If they've managed to make some money along the way, let's not grudge them that. And if they want to make more money, and make it outside the movies, let's not grudge them that either. Better a businessman than a broke star, really.

Published on May 26, 2011
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