Bollywood is investing in fresh talent to ready a new generation of A-listers.
They are known for producing big-budget mass entertainers and casting top stars such as Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar as leading men. Therefore, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment's announcement of launching Jackie Shroff's son — Tiger — as the protagonist in their next, Heropanti, shows their willingness to subscribe to what is now becoming a norm: investing in fresh talent.
A number of films this year by some of Bollywood's biggest production houses will see newcomers take the lead. UTV's soon-to-release ABCD – Anybody Can Dance is the launch vehicle for television's dancing stars Dharmesh Yelande, Prince and Salman Yusuff Khan. UTV, which introduced Rajeev Khandelwal in Aamir (2009) and Kalki Koechlin and Mahie Gill in Dev.D (2010), will also release Kai Po Che! later this month with TV star Sushant Singh Rajput in the lead. Yash Raj Films (YRF), under its Y Films arm, has Mere Dad Ki Maruti lined up for a March release, with one-film-old Saqib Saleem and debutant actor Rhea Chakraborty, a former VJ. Their Aurangzeb has Salma Agha's daughter Sasha opposite Arjun Kapoor. Besides, YRF is introducing Vaani Kapoor in Maneesh Sharma's next, which will have Singh Rajput in it.
Even Excel Entertainment, which has often told stories of friendship and youth but with stars such as Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan, has placed its bet on newer faces for Fukrey. After a dud launch in Bittoo Boss, Pulkit Samrat will play the protagonist alongside Ali Fazal and Manjot Singh. Sajid Nadiadwala, apart from Heropanti, has announced the screen adaptation of Chetan Bhagat's 2 States with Arjun Kapoor and Imtiaz Ali's Highway with Randeep Hooda and Alia Bhatt.
This trend, however, is in stark contrast with what was earlier Bollywood's belief: stars rake in the moolah. The driving force, explains Ashish Patil, VP–Business & Creative, YRF, stems from the shortage of talent. "There is too much riding on few actors. And the same A-listers cannot do every film that comes their way. The idea is to create new stars," he says. Rakesh Mehrotra, marketing head, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, adds that talented newcomers are best suited for script-driven, low-budget films.
Manish Hariprasad, creative director – Studios, Disney UTV, seconds Patil, adding that while biggest grossers will continue to be films with A-listers, it is not feasible to wait for stars when a good script is in hand. "Also, stars don't necessarily fit every role. Sometimes, a character works better without the overreaching image of a celebrity," adds Sidhwani, citing Fukrey. Besides, newcomers are more willing to take risks with unusual scripts and characters than stars.
The investment of production houses in newcomers is no more limited to casting them to fit the role. A number of them, including YRF, Disney UTV, Excel Entertainment and also Saif Ali Khan's Illuminati Films, now have independent talent management departments. Apart from grooming actors for their debut, they also take on the responsibility of managing their image, work and endorsements. "We don't take our foot off the gas till they pop. For example, by providing proper guidance, we have been able to push Anushka Sharma into the top league in terms of films as well as endorsements," Patil claims.
This kind of hand-holding has two effects. Firstly, it assures the actor that he or she is in safe hands. Secondly, it helps the production house shape his/ her career to their advantage. "For instance, Parineeti Chopra has the image of a spunky young girl. We will ensure she doesn't sign an ad or a film which can adversely affect her opportunities later," adds Patil.
Not every production house, however, is as deeply involved in talent management as YRF. Most, like Excel Entertainment, hire professionals such as Atul Kasbekar for the job. "We want filmmaking to be our key focus at all times," says Sidhwani.
Disney UTV does not limit its talent investment to actors, but reaches out to directors as well. Raj Kumar Gupta and Anurag Kashyap are cases in point. Hariprasad says, "To break into Bollywood for a rank outsider is so competitive that there is always an unsaid loyalty towards the first employer. This makes it easier for us to approach them later when they have become stars."