The corporatisation of Bollywood and the ensuing influx of new money has left its most famous names wondering what they're worth.
As they grapple with a new kind of economics, the Indian film industry's brightest stars now have no clear idea what to charge for their services, says film director Karan Johar, who blazed a trail with his family-focused films that critics say have been crafted specially to appeal to overseas Indians.
"I don't know what a good price is anymore," he told Emirates Business. "There's big money being asked for and big money being paid. But is it worth it?"
Johar, speaking ahead of the Dubai launch of NDTV Imagine, a new Indian television station that his company, Dharma Productions, has a stake in, likened the situation to a boiling pot. "We've got to wait for it to simmer down a bit before we can begin to understand this new corporate world of business, understand the prices, understand the ups and downs."
Bollywood was given industry status in 2001, allowing producers to raise money from banks and other financial institutions, rather than having to depend on the informal sector and the underworld. This has resulted in a new professionalism in the industry and the entry of several corporate majors, such as Reliance, UTV and Percept, which have been lured by the high glamour quotient and big money. A Pricewaterhouse Coopers study forecasts that India will soon have the fastest-growing media and entertainment industry in the world, rising at a compound growth rate of 18.5 per cent between 2006 and 2011. The film business alone is expected to double in size in that period, to some $4.4 billion (Dh16.1bn).
Many of the major players now want to expand into every sector of the market, from production to distribution and exhibition, including NDTV Imagine, which, CEO Sameer Nair says, was set up to straddle the entertainment business (see box).
But Johar himself says he is some time away from making the leap to media mogul, although he has expanded his operations to produce movies made by other directors, as well as, with NDTV Imagine, looking at producing television shows.
Thus far his input has been consultative, he says, restricted to advising on the mandatory anchor programming a general entertainment channel must have, such as soaps, reality TV and game shows, as well as offering creative inputs on the look and feel of the programmes.
And he will also take to the couch next year for a new chat show, along the lines of the high-voltage Koffee with Karan, which has run two seasons on the top Indian television network Star.
"My next show will be on Imagine," he says. "It will have a new format, and certainly another beverage. I don't own the Koffee that comes with the [existing] show."
For the moment, after a year away from filmmaking to restructure his production house, Johar says he's taking a "tunnel vision approach" to movies. He wants to produce three to four movies a year, and has five releases lined up until December 2009. These include Tarun Mansukhani's Dostana, starring Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra and John Abraham and set to open this November; an animated reprisal of his own 1998 megahit Kuch Kuch Hota Hai; and projects helmed by Siddharth Malhotra and Renzil D'Silva, who wrote the superhit Rang de Basanti.
My Name is Khan, which Johar will direct, goes into production in September. Starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, the film looks at an Indian Muslim couple living in New York post 9/11. Johar has said he hopes the film will show just how far he has grown in the past few years, beyond the family friendly fare he has come to be associated with. "Today I'm bored of lavish sets, large item numbers and romantic situations. They made me who I am but they no longer excite me," he told The Hindustan Times earlier this year. "What I do next may not necessarily be a trendsetter but it would be an unusual film for me."
As anyone who has watched one of his movies might expect, he says it will have "glamour, grandeur, glory", and that it will succeed on the strength of the story, not because it features the right cast in a collection of well-styled, beautifully shot scenes. "My films have worked because they connect emotionally with audiences. They don't work because of the glamour, but because eventually the soul and gut come piercing through."
Johar also denies his movies are aimed at the overseas Indian. "I've never targeted any particular market. My films are made for Asian audiences, whether in New Delhi or New York," he says, going on to discuss how the two markets differ, and how films that work well with the more conservative expatriate Indian audiences do not necessarily succeed in India – and vice-versa.
He shies away from all discussions about money and investments, however, saying he is "quite silly" about them, and that he prefers to leave that to the CEO of his company, Apoorva Mehta.
Having grown up in Bollywood – his father was producer Yash Johar – the A-list director turns instead to talk of family, and how Indians succeed worldwide because the strong family network behind them give them confidence, and how he wants to adopt a child.
Is he ready for single fatherhood, then, I ask – he said recently that he doesn't see marriage on the horizon any time soon.
"I think I have two parents in me," he says.
Imagine a new business approach
The Dubai launch yesterday of NDTV Imagine hopes to "set the cat among the pigeons" with its fresh, contemporary programming, says CEO Sameer Nair.
Despite such entertainment staples as soaps (Jassuben Jayantilal Joshi Ki Joint Family) and mythologicals (Ramayan) the station offers enough new fare to shake up the already crowded market, including period adventures (Dharam Veer), hour-long dramas (Ek Packet Umeed), fantasy (Raajkumar Aaryyan) and a new set of edutainment shows teaching viewers the English language (Angrezi Mein Kehte Hai) and Bollywood dance thrusts (Nachle Ve with choreographer Saroj Khan).
Already, this new content mix has earned it the number 3 spot at prime time among general entertainment channels in India, and Nair hopes it can reach 100 million homes in the region. "New entrants like us look to challenge the status quo, and we're bringing about change with more variety, so it's good news for the viewer," says Nair, who was lured from rival Star Networks, where he launched the hit shows Koffee with Karan and Kaun Banega Crorepati.
As a company, NDTV Imagine's mandate, he says, is to expand across the entertainment business, with a film production house, and channels focusing on contemporary world cinema and Bollywood news and business. NBC Universal took a 26 per cent stake in parent company NDTV Networks earlier this year.
The station is available on the Pehla platform.