Shalindra on Akshay Kumar

Producer of National Award winning flick Kanchivaram, Shailendra singh,in a recent interview talks about Akshay Kumar not being a star and not having any fan following.He also talks about Sallu, SRK, Aamir and Saif.

akshay-kumarWhat brought you to Delhi?
My peace initiative in Kargil, of course, and my new venture in stand-up gigs. I’m expecting a return of Rs 10 crore on that, and I’m going to invest Rs 2-3 crore in the next three years. Stand-up comedy is serious business for me. It was four years ago too, when I recommended it to Star Plus, and they took it and made it into Laughter Challenge. I lost an opportunity with them, but it’s okay. I waited for that to mature and came back to the idea. This time, it’s in six languages – English, Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali. It’s simple, low on investment and a great product. People want uncomplicated entertainment, they don’t want to get confused. I think cinema is cheating them, they don’t want to spend 250 bucks and get a shit looking film.

Why is North India so interesting to producers now?
Bombay’s packed. There are nine press conferences in Bombay every day, with a Salman and a Shahid and an Asha Bhonsle standing there. The media there doesn’t even care now. Delhi doesn’t have celebs – you have politicians and fashion designers. So put ’em (actors) on a flight and take them to the city, and boom.
Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Lucknow – that is the future. UP is the largest player for Manmohan Singh, not just for you and me. It’s population-based – the consumer exists, it’s all about technology reaching them. The one thing I understand is the consumer. That’s why, in motion pictures, I’ve stuck to what I know best – content. It just reinforces my belief that in cinema, content is king. Packaging cannot rule. Bollywood had 300 releases this year, and 292 flops. Promos show songs – why? Where’s the story, where’s the dialogue promo?

So the consumer’s evolved to the point where they don’t want just ‘the song’?
Of course. It’s 250 bucks for a ticket, some cola, popcorn. What do you spend 10 dollars for? Timepass? Some average looking product? Value for money is going to get even sharper now. The North is huge – it has six states. And now, due to telephony and the media, the level of understanding has grown. The spending power was always there. People just didn’t know how to spend their money. Now, they’ve understood that it’s not about saving. Abhi ke liye jiyo, f*** tomorrow, man.

The food and beverages offtake in the North is huge, and its 65 per cent of the money. The interval has gone up from five minutes to 24 minutes, and they don’t play trailers in intervals now – so that people can go and eat.

The common belief is that since all you get is the first weekend, in ‘multiplex cinema’, you have to make a movie with stars to get the audiences.

I don’t think so. I think the star who has the most false packaging is Akshay Kumar. He’s my best friend, but I’m saying it on record. It was my biggest mistake – Jaaneman, with Akshay and Salman, got a 22 per cent opening. There was no reason for that. It was well-shot, great music, the works. The star doesn’t get the opening. The consumer has matured to the point where he knows what content he has an appetite for. Akshay doesn’t get an opening. Tasveer 8×10 was fine. I got a 12 per cent opening. Akshay doesn’t have a fan following. It’s all media-created. They can get written about, but they can’t get people to watch their films. After Kanchivaram’s success, I believe in content. Akshay without content is nothing, just hot air.

Has Kambakkht Ishq proved it?
Everything is proving it. He just surrounds himself with talent. When he succeeds, he says it’s him, when he doesn’t, he blames it on his support cast. His first movie with the ‘lucky’ Katrina didn’t run for a day. He doesn’t have the aura. Aamir has it, Shah Rukh has it, he doesn’t.

And Salman?
No. He’s lost his equity over the years. But he’s fun, he’s my best friend, I love him, and he’s in – he has a blast, he doesn’t care. I think his fans also believe in that, and they live his lifestyle more than his cinema.

Was Nagesh (Kukunoor) a factor in the failure of 8×10?
No. He’s making brilliant films for me… Aashayein, Yeh Honsla – and he was super in Dor, in Iqbal. He also has his space. But he also trusted Akshay. It’s happened before with another director – Madhur (Bhandarkar) made a film called Aan – Men At Work with Akshay. That flopped too. The media gives Akshay the license to remain A-list when the ROI (return on investment) doesn’t permit that. ‘

What do you think of Aamir and Shah Rukh’s films?
They make their mistakes too, but their success is greater than their mistakes. They don’t cheat the customer. Akshay is a buddy, he’ll kill me for this, but there it is.

There’s something called the right price. You have a cup of tea at a five-star for 400 bucks because of the ambient music and the surroundings, but the cup of tea is worth 40 bucks. Akshay is a good talent, but he has to know his price. You can’t charge 50 crores and not get an opening.

Priyadarshan (the director of Kanchivaram) has said on record that Shailendra Singh forced him to make the movie. He had this film for nine years and no producer backed it. But the corporatisation of Bollywood won’t last long if the prices are not right. On the past few weekends, Bollywood’s collectively lost Rs 350 crores. Aagey Se Right, ShortKut, Luck – even Kaminey, after being successful, is a loss for UTV. Ghajini is the most hyped movie of recent times – on the stock market, UTV showed a loss of Rs 9 crores on it.

On what do you blame this?
Hype. Aamir Khan! Ghajini! By the time Blue releases, it’ll be purple. The price is not right. Even George Clooney, when he charges a lot for a film, takes a stake in it. The whole unit of Kanchivaram did the film for free. They said, if you make money, you give it to us. And everybody’s benefitted. What does Akshay have? 1000 crores? He always says I don’t care for awards, but he’ll never get one. You can pull a bluff once, not 10 times. SRK is so candid about it – he’s said, a movie with me, if it crosses 40 crores, it’s going to go into a loss. He makes all his money from endorsements and dancing at weddings, cinema is for the creativity.

Is that why the big stars are all turning producers these days?
I think they’re being wise. Saif is being wise. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, everybody’s done it. Because you reach a point where you can’t cut you price any longer. You’re a superstar, you charge 20 crores, 30 crores, right? But every movie can’t afford that. Akshay hasn’t got this yet. When you want creativity to be at the helm, you must take a stake in the film, and not charge the cinema. Bollywood is the only business in the universe that has a 90 per cent failure rate and is still running.


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