B-Town: Female stars venture into funding
Investment is the watchword in the film industry, especially when it comes to stars. And, more so when it comes to the female actors. Film industry is one place where, your luck more than the talent helps you make it big. If you are a reasonably good actor with a style of your own, better for you. Say, like Rajesh Khanna or Amitabh Bachchan, you have the ingredients for the super stardom. Now, none of the present lot looks like making it to the super stardom. But, ironically, the monies they make per film surpasses by far what Khanna and Bachchan made in their heyday. So much so that they have little idea about what to do with the money even after leading luxurious lives.
To this new lot, the Covid 19 pandemic may have given enough time to ponder about what to do with the wealth. After all, how much can you invest in property and gold. The stock market now seems to attract more short-term investors, for which the actors don't have time or the study. This is unlike earlier when one invested and remained invested just happy when the dividends cheques came.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call for Make In India and his bend towards digital technology has led to a raft of startups. In fact, India has become a hub for startups and now boasts of as many as 60 Unicorns (ones valued at $ one billion or more).
While the corporate houses were around and bankrolled filmmaking in India, money was falling like confetti. The stars and some filmmakers who could put together a presentable star cast, made the most of this opportunity. The corporates backed projects, not necessarily creativity.
This business model defied logic considering these very business houses raised the ante and ended up jacking film budgets from a few millions to a couple of hundreds of millions! Whether film made it or flopped, there were a lot of actors as well as producers who ended up making crores.
The old-timers too made enough money in their time. They bought bungalows and lived a lavish life. They never thought about a day when this dream run would or could end! They were convinced the popularity and the money flow was forever. That is why, from time to time, you hear stories about old artistes and technicians living and dying in penury.
Most of the film folk, be it a producer or an actor, came from unknown backgrounds like teacher's son, a farmer's son or, a simply, glamour struck film fan. And, may be one, at best, out of thousands, made it big, went on to live up his first dream, that of a palatial bungalow. The rest went towards posh living, surrounded by sycophants which included close and distant families who descended on the star household. I have seen many such stars whose families landed up and scrounged on him or her.
The result was of cases of such stars whose time ended suddenly and the first casualty was the bungalow, the most loved of possessions. A decent flat replaces the bungalow followed by a small flat in a distant suburb in Mumbai taking the place of that decent flat.
Such stories of not providing for tomorrow abound and makes one sad as to how could one be so shortsighted! There are many but, one from not-so-distant past is Rajesh Khanna. Thanks to the star's advisors, he had so much property that even he did not know the details! He gifted a lot of it while some were usurped. Finally, it all came to a head. His bungalow, which he had bought for a handsome down payment that South producer, Chinnapa Devar, paid him for the film, Haathi Mere Saathi, came on the block. The bungalow stories are many. Stars ended up at unknown addresses and nobody cared.
The smartest ones with their monies were a few and Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and Jeetendra were known to invest well.
The film people lived in this small world of films, where no one belonged forever. After a bungalow and a couple of cars, most tended to invest in dubbing, recording studios, preview theatres or editing suites. While the producers who gave hits and earned profits preferred to finance other producers. Till things worked well, that was the most lucrative money multiplier what with 3 to 3.5 per cent interest pm deducted in advance for three months! Money doubled in two-and-a-half to three years.
So, back to the present generation which believed in investing for the future.
Of course, the top investment destination is still real estate. But, that has to be in an exclusive property which can be rented out at high rentals to corporate houses or media (especially electronic) which wants an image of a businesslike workplace without investing crores at once. Some stars have also invested in sports, mainly IPL teams, followed by Kabaddi and Hockey league teams.
As a political person, for Narendra Modi to attract film stars seemed uncanny. But he did. Many actors in the top league were known to meet Modi personally when he was the Gujarat CM, and willing to invest in his ideas of green energy along with other projects of promise.
The latest trend for the film stars is to invest in digital space. While crypto currency is one for those who get the hang of it, investing in startups is very popular, especially, among female stars. Their choice is Indian startups. Some believe in the startup whose business model they identify with, like fashion and cosmetics, while some others just invest in one or more startups. These are mostly startups who are in the process of creating valuation to attract foreign or angel finance. For them, any Rs 50 lakh (sounds more impressive when called 5 million) that comes their way is welcome. If the valuation grows, the investor gains. A risk worth taking.
So, we have this lot of top heroines like Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Dia Mirza and, of course, Priyanka Chopra and Aishwarya Rai, who took the lead. The amount of investment is not disclosed by any of them and one assumes it to be very modest. But then, they are just testing the waters!
The good thing that has happened to the film world is the transparent economy. Now the stars can put to productive use what they earn. Earlier, thanks to high income tax slabs, and a parallel economy of cash money, popularly known as black money, the stars would be rather wary of investing or invest through benami deals or just end up hoarding the money. Raiding film stars and producers for hidden cash was a popular sport with the income tax department!
BY VINOD MIRANI
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)