Producers call the shots as Telugu Film Chamber asserts itself (IANS Column: B-Town)

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By Vinod Mirani

That filmmakers are exploited by just about everyone associated with a film is a fact that cannot be denied. A producer knows everything but doesn’t have the courage to do anything, especially once his film is in production.

Once the film starts shooting, the producer is most vulnerable. He just can’t say no to any request. The one who exploits the filmmaker the most is his star. And when a star’s demands are met once, it becomes the norm.

In August, the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce (TFCC) halted all filming until it sorted out the issue of prizes that operated according to the whims and fancies of the stars. The producer had no say in the matter and they often had to deal with unsustainable demands just to stay in business and hope for the best.

Telugu producers realized that in the end after making a film which was worth millions of dollars, they usually incur losses, while everyone who worked around them on the films made money . Filming was stalled until three fundamental issues facing the production sector were resolved.

The biggest problem among them was the sky-high star prices. The other two were the high admission rates in cinemas and the challenge of OTT platforms.

Production activities remained suspended from August 1 for more than four weeks until all issues were resolved. The stars agreed to be more reasonable. In the South, the producers are united and when the stars are approached at the associative level, they have to come to terms.

As for the entrance fees to the cinemas, the initiative to control the exploitation had already been taken by the government of Andhra Pradesh, which had stipulated ticket prices for different films according to their budgets and the centers were classified in A or B. The tariffs were also fixed for the multiplexes.

Now the Telugu industry has gone further. All the daily expenses paid by the filmmaker following the star, such as the driver, the make-up artist, the costumer, the guide, etc., will no longer be the responsibility of the producer.

The state government, trade bodies and producers are working in tandem taking definite action against all kinds of exploitation so what is stopping the Hindi film industry from doing something about these issues ? Isn’t it strange that the filmmaker, who takes all the risks, chains the stars and makes a film that costs several crores, has no say in the stars he hires!

Mukesh Bhatt, a regular filmmaker and once chairman of the wealthiest and most influential film producers’ body, the Guild, recorded his laments during an interview a few years ago. Someone on social media took it out and reposted it recently. Mukesh had discovered that a star’s supporting staff added up to Rs 2 crore to a film’s budget. (Bhatt’s complaint was also mentioned earlier in this column.)

Bhatt explained the breakup: Makeup artist and hairstylist: Rs 1 lakh per day; star’s driver: Rs 5,000 per day just to bring him to the set and thus oblige the producer! Another Rs 5,000 every day to the boy whose only job is to be within arm’s length of the star carrying his phone, cigarettes or whatever, and also for the other boy who acts as a hanger, carrying the change of star costume.

Moreover, the star comes in his own luxury van loaded with all five star amenities and charges Rs 20,000 per day for it, although rentals cost Rs 10,000! According to Bhatt, as a result of all this, the extra expense per day amounts to Rs 1.20 lakh for the producer!

In the film industry, the filmmaker ends up working for the star, rather than giving creative input to the film. His job is reduced to keeping the star and his entourage in a good mood. Yes, you have to call the lot like the entourage, because they find it insulting to be called ‘the staff’! The producer ends up being just a purveyor and eye-catcher on the sets of his own movie.

I wonder if any star, when she demands all that luxury, remembers the time she went from office to office begging a filmmaker’s team to let him meet the producer, left his photo portfolio in these offices, survived on vada pav and traveled on local trains through Mumbai.

Why isn’t he just grateful to the filmmaker and the film industry for giving him status and wealth? Despite these riches, the stars have always been greedy. Some remove the costumes intended for a film, some even remove the wigs, and those around them do not keep the money raised in their name.

The stars have their costumers and the producer has to pay for the dresses. A star of the 1960s and 1970s was seen wearing the same shirt in five films and blaming all five producers!

Why does no producers’ organization do anything against this shameless exploitation by stars, cinemas and others concerned with cinema? Yes, they have up to four associations representing film producers. Some have disappeared, but what about the one with the biggest producers, the Guild?

Bhatt, who has shed light on all forms of exploitation a producer is subjected to, served as Guild President from 2012-2016. a benefit in kind in some way. So why cover the tracks?

The Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce (TFCC) has spoken out harshly on some issues troubling filmmakers. The decisions were taken with the agreement of all the parties concerned, so they are bound to stand.

As a result, no daily payments to drivers, makeup artists and the rest of the star’s suite. These are to be included in the remuneration of the star decided by mutual agreement per project and will be paid directly to the star or the technician.

And, to leave nothing hanging, the TFCC obliges all producers to reach agreements with the stars and technicians concerned, mentioning the fees before the beginning of the production of the film. These agreements must in turn be submitted to the TFCC for approval.

The TFCC has also decreed that an eight-week window will be maintained between theatrical and OTT releases of a film. No film will bear the name of its OTT or satellite partner either on the publicity material or in the titles of the films. He thus specifies that the film producer is the master and that it will not sell cheaply. No obligation to OTT platforms or satellite channels.

And, finally, the TFCC also solved the problems of cinema workers who had to go on strike if their demands were not met. It was decided to grant an increase of 15% and 30% to day laborers employed respectively in low and high budget films.

The Hindi filmmakers, meanwhile, will continue to be exploited, bitching over a drink, but the show will go on, because they’re not one to arm wrestle.

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