The king is in his counting house,counting all his money.The queen is in her parlour eating bread
ONE year ago it was raining cats, dogs and directors in every topline heroine’s backyard. Today, if you’re Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai, David Dhawan or Sanjay Leela Bansali, heroines are going cheap.
At the beginning of 1998, Manisha Koirala had a dozen movies, including Indra Kumar’s Mann. Raveena Tandon was hot with Bade Miyan, Chhote Miyan. Karisma Kapoor could ask the Anees Bazmees and Deepak Shivdasanis for a cool 50 lakhs because she had that reassurance of having films with the bankable David Dhawan and Sooraj Barjatya. Urmila Matondkar could give of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Subhash Ghai asking for dates. In short, every fair maiden was being wooed with big money and great perks. Producers were paying for everything from petrol money to chewing gum allowance and the heroine’s amma’s foreign trips.
The halcyon days are over. If the rupee has hit rock bottom and is still burrowing, the recession hasn’t spared Bollywood either. With 110 films released in 1998, an ill wind was blowing: only 10 were hits arid seven did average business. This year began badly. There have been upto 50 releases in the first six months. ..but you count the hits on your fingertips.
Cinematically, 1999 is important: by December, we’d have seen the works of David Dhawan, Indra Kumar Sooraj Barjatya,Rakesh Roshan, Subhash Ghai. And for the reigning heroines, it’s also a make or break year. Most have little or no work and they’re wondering how many consequential films they’ll have, to take them into 2000.
A certain perception is at work. “No heroine helps sell a film,” says distributor Shyam Shroff categorically. “If Sarfarosh is a hit, It’s because of Aamir Khan. If Haseena Mann Jayegi runs, the credit goes to Govinda. . .and Sanjay Dutt. The girls have always been ornamental; they still are.”
Who’s saleable? Only the three Khans. Shah Rukh (still on a roll after last year’s blockbuster Kuch Kuch Hota Hai), Aamir Khan (Ghulam and Sarfarosh) and Salman Khan (getting better each day with four hits last year, Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, Bandha.n, Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and two superhits this year, Biwi No I and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam). Ajay Devgan also has his own fan following. He had a hit in Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha last year and this year, a mega hit in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. And finally, the two old reliables: Anil Kapoor and Govinda.
That makes for an unbalanced equation. Six saleable heroes to be divided between twelve heroines (see box). Such is the plight of the heroine, that Shah Rukh actual- ly dismissed Ha] Kumar Santoshi’s worries when the latter was having a hard time decidSaid the irrepressible Khan, ing on a heroine for his film. Take a girl from the street or even one of the old dears of yesterday. You’ll still get the same price from the distributors because you've got a coup in the Aamir- Shah Rukh combination and that swhatyou’re marketing, aren’t you?”
All this means that if Madhuri Dint bags a ifim, then Manisha’s out in the cold. If Salman prefers Urmila, then Sushmita’s out. And that means that the ladles are now playing a frantic game of musical chairs. And it’s turned ugly. “There’s so much undercutting going on.. .it’s not funny,” says Manisha Koirala. Industry sources say that when Manisha asked Biwi No I producer Vashu Bhagnani for 70 lakhs, he got Karisma to do it for 35. But they also report that when Karisma asked Sohail Khan for 35 laldis for Hello Brother, he got Rant Mukherjee for 10. And when Yash Chopra allegedly asked a topline heroine’s secretary, “Kitne paise maangegl?” he replied, “We’ll do it for free, sir.”
The heroines have not roles enough and time. Madhuri, Juhi, Raveena, Tabu and Manisha are no longer teenage icons.. the hearts of college campers now go thump thump for Rani Mukherjee and Pretty Zinta. Meanwhile, the industry is eagerly awaiting that blue-blood Kapoor protegee, Kareena, who has only high-profile projects.
When Kajol the reigning boxoffice favourite married, Manisha, Urmila and Karisma heaved a collective sigh of relief. When she nixed Yash Chopras Mohabbatein, Aishwarya and Manisha began to say their prayers, hoping the country’s biggest film-maker would sign them on. But the competition is still tough. Ask Raj Kumar Santoshi. He’s about to announce his Aamir Shah Rukh film this year. While Raj himself swears by Aishwarya Rai, (“the mystery lady” he calls her), the China-Gate maker can’t stop smiling about the fact that in one afternoon, Karisma and Manisha also paid him visits. David Dhawan smugly declares, ‘I don’t need to pay heroines big money as my films sell on the combination of me and my hero. Besides if heroine A asks for 30 lakhs, then B’s ready to do it for 10.” DD’s not bluffing. The heat is on and the girls are sweating. Earlier this year when Manmohan Desai’s son Ketan Desai had the mahurat of his Salman-Sanjay starrer, Yeh Hal Jalwa, the filmmaker had a bevy of beauties, including a former Miss Universe and a former Miss World attending the party. Obviously they weren’t just sociaiising. A Salman in an Khan project is redhot. All of them wanted in.
Ultimately Desai signed Kareena. But the others didn’t give up. “Isn’t there another role going?” Desai was asked. “Sooraj Barjatya can get any heroine to work with him for a signing amount of Rs 11,” says Randhir Kapoor. “And when Karan Johar announces hi next, there’ll be a stampede outside his door. Such is the desperation for work.” finally, a note one of the big hero ines left for an equally big film-maker. “Sir,” she said If I am not in your film, I’ll commit ,suicide. My ghost will haunt you So you might as well sign me.”