BW Businessworld

The Living Gods

They are worshipped, feted, ogled at, swooned over. They earn in crores and spend like kings. What they wear becomes fashion; what they drive becomes hot; their latest hairdos become the coolest cuts.

Yes, Bollywood's superstars, particularly heroes, are like gods for the idol-starved public. But unlike the pantheon of 33 crore Gods in Hindu mythology, Bollywood's gods number in the single digits. Let's see… Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Akshay Kumar, Saif Ali Khan, Ajay Devgn, Sanjay Dutt… the list hits a dead end. So few gods, so many worshippers. No wonder 35-50 per cent of the budgets of big-ticket Bollywood productions are captured by the films' heroes.

How Much Do They Earn?
What the top stars earn is not linked with the state of the industry. A recent Ficci-KPMG report estimates the film industry regressed over two years from a high of Rs 10,400 crore in 2008 to Rs 8,330 crore in 2010. But while three years ago, Hrithik Roshan negotiated a three-movie deal at around Rs 24 crore with Adlabs, today the going rate for the Top 5 is anything between Rs 20 crore and Rs 30 crore for a single project.

The downturn, though, has hit the stars if their income tax payouts are any indication. In FY 2010, Akshay Kumar paid income tax of Rs 18 crore, 40 per cent lower than the previous year, while SRK's payout, Rs 9.5 crore, was 70 per cent lower. Working backwards, for FY2010 this approximately translates into gross income of: Akshay Kumar (Rs 72 crore), Aamir Khan (Rs 52 crore), Shahrukh Khan (Rs 38 crore), Hrithik Roshan (Rs 26 crore) and Salman Khan (Rs 22 crore). Says Hiren Gada, CEO of Shemaroo Entertainment: "The duo to watch are Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan. They are currently priced at anything between Rs 8 crore and Rs 12 crore a movie."

Lavish Spends, New Means Of Earning
When this writer was interviewing Ajay Devgn recently at the Mehboob Studios in Mumbai, Sanjay Dutt happened to drop by. What they discussed was their latest buys of four-wheel beauties. Devgn, a car fanatic, owns a Maserati, Ferrari and a Merc Z-Class, and has recently picked up a redesigned Toyota Celica. Dutt's fleet comprises a Lexus SUV, a Porsche SUV, a Merc M-Class and a Toyota Land Cruiser.

Cars and bikes are also a favourite wow gift. Abhishek Bachchan recently became the proud owner of a Red Bentley, a gift from his dad Big B. Price tag: Rs 2.25 crore. Wife Twinkle presented Akshay Kumar a customised $7,500 Harley Davidson on their 10th wedding anniversary in January this year. "Upgrading and buying expensive property, vacationing abroad, and cars and hi-tech gadgetry are the favourites for the stars," says Shemaroo's Gada.

But actors are also becoming more business-like. Devgn, for instance, recently entered the property market as a developer partnering Vijay Jain of JP Infrastructure. Top stars have also in recent years floated their own companies to co-produce movies in which they act. A pioneer is SRK who almost a decade ago in 2002 launched his own production house, Red Chillies Entertainment. My Name is Khan was a co-production between SRK's Red Chillies and Karan Johar's Dharma Productions. The two companies then sold the film's worldwide distribution rights to Fox-Star Studios for a hefty Rs 98 crore. As a promoter of Red Chillies, SRK walked away with quite a fortune, more than he would have ever made on fees as an actor.

This, of course, is apart from what they earn from endorsements, which now threatens to overtake what they earn as actors. An analysis of advertising on television by TAM Media shows that of the Top 10 celebrity endorsements in terms of ad volume, nine were by film stars. Katrina Kaif led the pack with 6 per cent share, followed by Abhishek Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan. But endorsements as a line of revenue will only flow if the star's films continue to reaffirm his status on the silver screen. Akshay Kumar, for instance, has a string of flops in recent months to cope with. Says Rajesh Jain, head of KPMG's media and entertainment practice: "Ultimately, a star owes his brand power to his performance in movies. If that falters, the strength of his endorsement also suffers."

Anchoring television shows, a trend started by Amitabh Bachchan with Kaun Banega Crorepati?, has become another strong earning source. Colors channel hired Akshay Kumar for four seasons of the reality show Fear Factor -Khatron Ke Khiladi, at Rs 1.5 crore an episode. Salman Khan was paid about Rs 1 crore for each episode of Dus Ka Dum.

The gods are deinitely getting richer.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 25-07-2011)


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