The last few years have witnessed more and more actresses turning producers with their own production houses, some of them knocking the ball out of the park with compelling stories. Is it the business, is it the money, or is it about creative control?
A couple of years ago, when Madhuri Dixit-Nene, one of the leading actresses of the ’90s decided to turn producer, a leading daily asked her the reason behind the decision, and she responded, “How come nobody asks why heroes become producers? I think when you have worked for 10 to 15 years, you’re equipped to go behind the camera and produce movies.”
Earlier, there were clear demarcations between the role of a producer and that of an artiste. Things started to change when actors decided to turn producers. It began when Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand turned producers. Soon, every prominent actor and director in the business followed suit. Compared to men, there have been very few women producers in the industry. Or at least, that was the case earlier.
Before the turn of the century, there were only a few actresses that ventured into production. Jaya Bachchan produced the famous TV Show Dekh Bhai Dekh, and Hema Malini produced Dil Aashna Hai with Shah Rukh Khan and Divya Bharti. Juhi Chawla joined hands with Shah Rukh Khan and Aziz Mirza and launched Dreamz Unlimited with Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. Lara Dutta launched Bheegi Basanti Entertainment with Chalo Dilli in 2011. The graph only kept increasing from here, and more actresses have continued to set foot into the world of production. Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone, Chitrangada Singh, Dia Mirza, and now Taapsee Pannu, Alia Bhatt, and Kangana Ranaut, have all launched their production companies in recent months.
But what’s the motivation behind the move? Pranjal Khandhdiya, co-partner at Outsider Films with Taapsee Pannu who announced Blurr together, shared, “Actresses want to be more than just a glamour quotient and a supporting cast in the film. It’s actually more to do with making an effort to put their talent out there. It is a gradual evolution from dancing around trees and doing four songs and two scenes in a film. It’s about empowerment.”
Taking a page from their contemporaries, actresses-turnedproducers have learned that their films don’t have to have them in the lead roles. Khandhdiya explains, “When you start a production house, you would want to make all kinds of films and not restrict yourself to one actor. We are here to collaborate, and work with different talents. We have named our company Outsider Films, but that doesn’t mean we would favour some people, or are against some. If we need to work with someone more established, we will approach them. If we need to work with newer talent, we will work with them. It’s more a function of appropriate casting as per the script. In fact, we have had a tremendous response from the actors in the industry showing keen interest in working with us.”
Richa Chadha started Pushing Buttons Studios with Ali Fazal. She reveals, “The motivation to become producers simply came from wanting more creative control. You have the choice to market it in the way you think is best for the film or the show. You choose projects that match your sensibilities.” She adds, “We’ve had women producers at least for 20 years like Ekta Kapoor, Shobha Kapoor, Priti Sahni (my aunt), Rucha Pathak, and Guneet Monga. Change starts slowly, and that’s why now there are lead stories about women protagonists being told by women producers.” Richa is working purely as a producer and not as an actor in her maiden production, Girls Will Be Girls.
Anushka Sharma, who was barely 25 when she started Clean Slate Filmz, explained in an interview the reasoning behind the move. “I wanted to leverage my position as an actor to produce good films. I did not start producing movies for me to star in. I just wanted to tell good stories. I would sit and talk to the writers, discussing why certain kinds of films were not being written.” Today, she and her brother, Karnesh Sharma, have delivered multiple hits across mediums and genres.
Owing to another reason, Priyanka Chopra had also explained her stance in a previous interview. “My mother told me that when I turn 30, at the ripe old age of 30, I might not have a career very soon. So, I was like, ‘You’re right.’ We started a company, and my company is all about giving opportunities to smaller and more quaint stories. That’s how my stint with regional cinema started. My greatest joy with Purple Pebble is to create an all-South-Asian cast, movies, and TV shows in Hollywood. We haven’t seen that very often. It is really my quest to try and influx Hollywood with Indian talent, as much as I can.”
Distributor Akshaye Rathi mentions, “Turning producer makes sense when the paycheque that the artist is receiving isn’t significantly large. The pay scale was always dependent on the audience numbers you draw at the box office, which, traditionally, has been higher for the male actors. But now we have actresses like Taapsee Pannu that draw an equally huge audience at the box office. She has been featured in enough films without a leading man that is a bigger star than her, and those films have done well. At times, you have to take a certain amount of your fee as a backend deal to make a project more feasible. It provides you with an opportunity make more films.”
Is starting a production company a way to make sure you claim your stake in the business? Time and again, there have been reports about how actresses aren’t paid equally compared to their male contemporaries. Film Finance Consultant Sanjay Bhandari states, “Pay disparity is a worldwide thing, and turning producer is not the way to fill the gap. Producing a film is totally a different aspect. The producer carries the financial risk of its failures, and only makes money when the project is successful. After spending considerable time in the big-league roles, actors/ actresses gain experience of the industry’s nitty-gritty. As an expansion of their career and to fulfil their creative desire, they venture into production.” He added that the lenders only look at the project’s viability. The market doesn’t have a gender bias.
Khandhdiya concurs with Bhandari and clarifies, “Pay parity is, of course, an issue, but it has more to do with creative satisfaction. Turning producer also means that the actresses are willing to go through the grind, and carry the financial risk. Being in charge, putting a film together, and bringing it to the audience is a very fulfilling task. It provides a deeper sense of ownership.”
It is not just the actress, but even the directors have turned to production. They want to own the IP of their creations. Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti launched Tiger Baby, and turned producers with Made In Heaven, Gully Boy, and Kho Gaye Hum Kahan. Explaining her decision, Akhtar had said in a previous MW interview, “Excel is owned by Ritesh and Farhan, and we work with them. At a certain point, you want to be in a space where you own your work as a writer-director. It made sense because we wanted to work in both of these mediums, and we just jumped in. It was an ambitious start with two projects in two different mediums. It took all of our time, and we worked non-stop. When you are comfortable producing the work you like and championing artists, you should do it. You can’t be half here and half there. We believe you just need to start, and it gains momentum.”