India, Oct. 6 -- In 2008, when actress Anushka Sharma made a dream debut in Aditya Chopra's Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, the media, critics and the general public alike couldn't believe her luck. In fact, even Anushka was surprised. A very routine audition in which she enacted the famous Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge scene that she'd seen a "million times" got her the debut most movie aspirants can only fantasise about. "It was the scene where Kajol asks her dad if she could go to Europe and realise a long-cherished dream. I didn't think that while doing the scene, I would realise my dream too," says Sharma.
Her dream run didn't end there. Producer-director Aditya Chopra signed her for a three-film contract and took it upon himself to turn her into a brand by managing, minding and taking charge of everything she did - from finishing the first two of the three contracted Yash Raj films, to signing new endorsements; from making appearances, to the clothes she wore, even the photos she got clicked - steadily pushing her up the path to be the Next Big Star. This set the trend of finding new actors and creating stars out of them.
"Identify, groom/nurture, launch and monetise was a complete 360-degree approach that we introduced with the launch of actress Anushka Sharma," says Ashish Patil, vice president, Y Films, Brand Partnerships and Talent Management, YRF. "The vision was not just to introduce someone but make sure he/she becomes a force to reckon with. The agenda is clear. You don't take the foot off the gas till they are ready to pop! The earlier norm of launching a new face and then leaving them to their own fate had to be modified," adds Patil.
The Hollywood model
This module of Bollywood's big production houses mentoring new talent, also helped launch actors Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra, among others.
Other production houses such as Dharma, Excel, Illuminati and John Abraham Entertainment, too, seem to be seeing merit in the "launch and manage" module of showbiz. "It is a very Hollywood way of functioning. The studio concept and its management have been popular in the West for long. We are going the same way. The difference is, in India, we have production houses and not studios," says Ritesh Sidhwani, producer and co-owner Excel Entertainment, which is working out a career path for actor Pulkit Samrat, being launched in their production Fukre.
Director-producer Karan Johar, who decided to launch, direct and manage rank newcomers Sidharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt in the soon-to-release Student of the Year, sees it as a natural progression. "Hindi cinema has taken a quantum leap in every aspect of its functioning," says Johar. "Considering that stars form the most essential component of the film industry, it is only a good idea to chart out their careers more professionally," he adds.
The hunt for new talent
In many ways, the identify-groom-launch-monetise model turns production houses into major power centres, feels Patil. But the mentors are aspiring for more than just increasing their own power. For filmmakers, launching newcomers and hand-holding them to the top also works brilliantly in doing away with the domination of a few big stars.
Besides, it helps unearth some real talent that would otherwise get overlooked in the conventional celebration of star kids, or the few Khans, Kumars and Kapoors.
"After all, there are just as many people who are big and up there. So unless we take the onus, and leverage our position to create new stars, we'll be running dry soon. I have never worked with newcomers before. But I realised it was time and took up the challenge," says Johar.
A cut above
Nurturing newcomers might add to Bollywood's talent pool, but the production houses are not doing it out of altruism. It also spells good business. After all, once the new star is launched, with every endorsement deal signed and every appearance made by the star, the production house makes a very decent cut. The bigger the star appeal, the more is the money. "Of course it is a fantastic opportunity and big money. But the production-cum-management agency ensures that the actor signs only those brands or makes appearances at events that suit their image and character," points out Patil. "Now, actress Parineeti Chopra does not have a 'sexy' image. She can be playful, sensuous and vivacious, but definitely NOT sexy. So all her promotions, advertisements, PR and media image have to suit that," he says.
Not that the youngsters are complaining! Actor Varun Dhawan, making his debut with Student Of The Year, remembers how director Karan Johar asked him to cut his hair before giving him work as his assistant while directing My Name Is Khan. "Yes, I used to sport this Jim Morrison look with long hair and stuff. When I went to meet Karan to get a job as an assistant director, he told me to cut my hair and then come to work," he says. "Now, it is all the more enhanced. Karan is very particular about the final presentation. From the clothes to the haircut, to the way we present ourselves, to the next assignments that we take up, he'll have a piece of advice on all aspects. And why shouldn't he? After all, it is as much his image as ours that we are selling," says Dhawan. "It is this careful branding and image managing that gets the stars to make their money and the management agency takes its cut. Fair and square," explains Patil.
The contract killers
So, does it always turn out to be a fair deal for the newbies? What of the two-or-three film contracts that production houses tend to lock in before launching them? Isn't that stifling and restrictive?
"I think it is a very bizarre concept," says Atul Kasbekar, CMD, Bling, a talent management agency that has groomed and launched stars such as Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone and Angela Jonsson. "These three-film contracts put undue pressure. The onus of making films is the filmmaker's. In case a
talent's debut film doesn't fare well, the actor shouldn't be made to suffer," says Kasbekar.
Quoting instances where contracts have been dishonoured, Kasbekar says, "A leading producer signed up a new actress for a three-film contract but after the debacle of the first film, never did another film with her."
Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who has launched big stars such as Anupam Kher in the past and Bipasha Basu, John Abraham and Emraan Hashmi more recently, doesn't believe in signing contracts. "I have discovered new faces who have gone on to become big faces for the longest time, but I've never made anyone sign a contract. Why should I? Actors are not paid slaves. I leave the choice to them to decide if they want to work with me in one film or two or six. If they have the talent, they will make it even without being managed by anyone," says Bhatt.
Banking on the X-factor
The deal clincher then, industry watchers agree, is inherent talent. "You can gloss up whatever, if you don't have the talent, you won't last," says actor Ranveer Singh, who had bowled over the entire YRF clan in his first audition itself. "I had never imagined that my learning the Delhi-style Hindi from my friends in the US where I was studying and then my 15-day interaction with the autowallah on a trip to Delhi would get me my first film," laughs Singh, who played a Delhi boy in his debut film Band Baaja Baraat, which won him most of the best debut awards in 2010. "But now, I am doing three other films, two of which are outside YRF. These big filmmakers definitely haven't picked me just because I have been managed well," he says.
Actress Parineeti Chopra recalls the rigorous screen-tests and auditions that she underwent not just before her first but also second film with YRF. "They launched me al right. But in spite of all the best debut awards for Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, Aditya (Chopra) auditioned me for nearly two months before casting me in Ishaqzaade. They made me lose weight, enact various scenes, cry, laugh, make faces, what not! So yeah, it isn't easy at all. And no talent, no success," she says with a smile.
Gotta have faith...
Surprisingly, it is this very "talent" that production houses involved in management of stars cite when confronted with binding the actors in contracts. "We have complete confidence in the talent of the person we are launching and we are ready to sign and invest in them in more than one film and not just drop them off. It only speaks volumes of the intention of not just making money but finding real talent," says Sidhwani.
Most actors agree that although a three-film contract sounds tedious, it is mutually beneficial. And as long as it doesn't stop them from working on other projects, they stand to only benefit.
Actor Ayushmann Khurrana, who made an impressive debut with Vicky Donor, agrees. "As long as the contract doesn't stop you from working with other production houses, why should it be bad?" he asks. Actor Arjun Kapoor buys both the talent and confidence arguments. "The fact that someone is actually putting their money on you reflects the faith they have in you. Forget three films! At least they've dared to give us our first film! And if they are sorting your life out, why not?" he says.
Soon-to-be-launched actor Sidharth Malhotra laughs out aloud at the suggestion that debutant actors are bonded labourers, "Please see for yourself how we do in Student Of The Year and post that, spread the word. Yes, we are free to sign up with whoever signs us up."
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.