Why does the industry need the star-system, the three Khans in particular, and also Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn? And if he plays his cards right, even Ranbir Kapoor?

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The star-system has been Indian cinema’s leading bogey, especially within the pan-Indian Hindi film industry. Touted to be a major hurdle to creativity, because of the kind of films the big stars do and their budgets, it is also considered the prime reason why we do not dare to make more economically budgeted films of substance.

It is also pointed out that while their some of the starry films, like RA.One, earn huge money in the theatres, their distributors run into losses, unlike safer smaller movies like, say, Gunday or The Dirty Picture on the mainstream side or high-content films like Kahaani or Queen.

In terms of return-of-investment (which actually determines a film’s b-o. status), this argument is completely right. But…yes, there is a major ‘But’!

Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan
Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan

The size of any film industry is determined by the money that the films make at the box-office windows, while budgets and profit/loss balance-sheets are something that the makers must choose! So, ignoring production costs, profit margins and similar, let us examine the business the Khans and the four other superstars (including Hrithik and Ranbir) generate at movie-halls.

Very approximately (it is almost impossible to get accurate figures for multiple reasons!), the (about 50) A-list films of 2011 netted (which means after entertainment tax was paid) about Rs. 2500 crore. But with just four films (Ready, Bodyguard, RA.One and Don2) Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan together netted almost 500 crore!

Add Hrithik Roshan (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara), Akshay Kumar (Patiala House, Thank You and the average Desi Boyz) and Ajay Devgn (Rascals, Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji and the super-hit Singham), and we find that just 11 films (including four flops!) accounted for more than a third of the revenue!

In 2012, we find these names (now including Ranbir Kapoor) working in 14 films of over 50, yet bringing in more than 55 percent of the industry earnings! This time, the Khans annexed a higher percentage than in 2011, with Salman’s Ek Tha Tiger and Dabangg 2, Aamir’s Talaash and Shah Rukh’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan.

2012 was the year in which both Akshay (Housefull 2, Rowdy Rathore) and Ajay (Bol Bachchan, Son Of Sardaar) had two 100 crore-plus films and Hrithik and Ranbir made entries into the ‘club’ respectively with Agneepath and Barfi!. Akshay also had OMG – Oh My God!, the year’s biggest hit in cost/profit ratio.

The figures remained in around the same league in 2013, but 2014 (s a disappointing year overall) was a Khan special, as Aamir’s PK went almost to Rs 340 crore, Salman’s Kick made Rs 230 crore, and Shah Rukh’s Happy New Year is reported to be around Rs 200 crore. Salman’s Jai Ho! has also crossed 100 crore.

This time the Khans alone are responsible for over 35 percent of the total revenue with just four films! Add the contributions of Hrithik, Akshay and Ajay and these six actors contributed more than half the total moneys!

In short, the Hindi film industry is dependent hugely on the three Khans and the remaining super-stars. Akshay has already stated that his annual three or four films a year generate work for so many, and the Khans remain in a league of their own. No one comes close to guaranteeing such big money or humongous footfalls!

And no high-content, modest film can thus reach anywhere near this level—check how even Akshay’s OMG-Oh My God! stopped at Rs 81 crore. We respect hugely those non-superstar films that made over 100 crore in footfalls— Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Grand Masti, 2 States and Ek Villain—but these were exceptions.

Exceptions that proved the rule that our industry needs stars to flourish, and so do related businesses, including us, the media! Therefore, despite its few admitted cons, it is high time we appreciated and accepted the pros of the star-system and the kind of movies it necessitates.

Remember, that even globally, it takes a Fast And Furious 7 to really bring in mammoth money.

– Rajiv Vijayakar, a Senior Journalist, Film & Music Critic and Historian for Hindi cinema and Film Music is also an Author and Twice Jury Member at 58th and 62nd National Film Awards.

Rajiv Vijayakar tweets @rajivvijayakar

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