Bollywood in the last couple of years has been obsessed with figures (of the numerical kind). Trumpets have been blared and headlines sought over escalating film acquisition prices and exorbitant star remunerations. But even though the Indian motion picture business has seen some really outrageous acquisitions like Raavan (Rs. 125 crore reportedly) and Kites (rumored to be Rs. 120 crore), the production budgets have so far remained modest.
Now, however, a new figure has emerged: a mind-boggling Rs. 150 crore, which is said to be the budget for the Rajinikanth-Aishwarya Rai Bachchan bilingual Endhiran (Tamil) and The Robot (Hindi). Produced by Kalanidhi Maran, the film is touted as India’s most expensive movie to date.
In the making for over two years, The Robot has been shot on hitherto-unseen locations that include the world heritage site Machu Picchu (Peru) besides Brazil and the US, with a foreign crew that includes costume designer E. Vogt and stunt coordinator Yuen Woo Ping.
Trade insiders say the production budget is more than double the previously most expensive Bollywood action adventure Blue (pegged at Rs. 75 crore) because 40 percent of the cost has gone into special effects.
This science fiction entertainer with a sweeping canvas has animatronics, used before in Hollywood magnum opuses like Jurassic Park, Terminator and Avatar, carried out at the Stan Winston Studios. The grapevine says that Tamil Nadu demigod Rajinikanth’s price could reportedly be Rs. 45 crore (or a share in the profits coming to the same amount) and his heroine has reportedly been paid Rs. 6 crore.
A trade insider said: ‘’Robot is the first film with such a huge production cost. This is not an acquisition figure like in the case of Kites or Raavan but the actual landing cost, including the remuneration of the two lead actors.’’ Director S. Shankar justified the budget, saying: ‘’It’s a complete entertainer with the best special effects seen so far on the Indian screen. We realize that we have made the costliest Indian film, but when it’s Rajinikanth and Aishwarya, it is justified.’’
Though Robot might well have, few Indian films can justify their humongous cost of production. ‘’Bollywood has rarely made films on a huge canvas,’’ says trade analyst Taran Adarsh. ‘’In most cases film budgets have gone through the roof because actors in India take away nearly 70 percent of the budget as their remuneration.’’ A case in point is Blue, the previously most expensive film before The Robot, where Akshay Kumar reportedly got Rs. 27 crore as his price, Sanjay Dutt got Rs. 9 crore and even actors like Lara Dutta and Zayed Khan took home eight figure salaries.
But there have been films where the cost has shot up because of other factors. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas (2002) budget came to Rs. 50 crore because, as an industry insider said, ‘’Devdas was shot for nearly 250 shifts; it cost the producer so much because they had erected six sets, each costing anywhere between Rs. 3 crore and Rs. 12 crore. And the sets stood at Film City for a period of two and a half years. Paro’s glass room — made from more than 1 lakh pieces of stained glass — became a talking point in Bollywood.’’
Some other producers, who genuinely spent money on production as opposed to paying their actors ridiculous fees were K. Asif (his evergreen historical love story, Mughal-e-Azam, took nine years and cost Rs. 12 crore in 1960), Kamal Amrohi, whose Razia Sultan cost around Rs. 23 crore in 1983 and Yash Chopra, whose action thriller Dhoom-2 was made for Rs. 55 crore.
To make sure Endhiran clicks with the audience even before the film hits theatres, the filmmakers have ensured that the film comprises all the winning combinations possible. They have Oscar winning A.R. Rahman and Resul Pookutty on board and the music of the film has been a hit in India as well as the South-East. Though the global recession affected the earlier producers of the film, Sun Pictures headed by Kalanithi Maran immediately took over the reigns. It now appears like it was a wisely calculated move. In fact, everything seems to have been working great for this movie, with Shah Rukh Khan even parting with the film’s titles Robot that he had first registered with the Red Chillies.
The filmmakers have also gone all ahead in trying to make Endhiran a theatrical experience. The promos and film trailers have also been made to focus on the work by art director Sabu Cyril and action director Peter Hein adding to the razzle-dazzle. The stars also seem to be lucky for Endhiran with most of the publicity and news generated around it being quite positive, except on one occasion when a Delhi-based filmmaker accused the Endhiran camp of having stolen the film’s title Robot from him. While the matter has since hushed down, actor Aamir Khan has expressed his desire to watch this flick. The film has not only created hype in the heart of the film fraternity, but has roused the curiosity of the non-enthusiasts as well.
Reportedly, most of the Tamil producers and distributors have turned reluctant to open their films in the two weeks leading up to Endhiran’s release. Working once again on Rajinikanth’s Shivaji formula — of going “big,” the film will be screened in 30 movie theatres in Chennai alone, and in almost 1,400 theatres all across Tamil Nadu.