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South India star makes Bollywood’s most expensive film

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He is the evergreen bus conductor-turned-film star who has hordes of diehard fans in his native South India, and now the actor Rajinikanth appears to have a movie budget that befits his megastar status.

The 60-year-old superstar’s latest film, Endhiran, has a budget of 1.65 billion rupees (S$48 million), according to the movie’s official website.

This makes it the most expensive Indian film ever, beating Hindi-language underwater odyssey Blue, which reportedly cost 750 million rupees, and Kites which was said to have been made with 1.25 billion rupees.

“It seems like a very lavish production from what we’ve seen from the stills,” leading film critic Taran Adarsh told AFP.

Blending a mix of science-fiction and fantasy, the film will be released in Hindi as The Robot, and as Robo in Telugu.

Co-starring in the film with Rajinikanth is former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai, who is also one of Bollywood’s biggest names.

But, Rajinikanth who has been the star of more than 150 films will be a sufficiently huge draw for the movie. Highly revered among his supporters, his fans are known to pray in front of life-sized cardboard cut-outs of the actor for the success of his latest release.

In this latest film, Rajinikanth plays dual roles of a scientist and a robot he creates that falls in love with Rai’s character.

The production team is also headed by director S. Shankar, and composer and lyricist A.R. Rahman, who won two Oscars for his work on the hit film Slumdog Millionaire.

Analysts have said the actor’s star appeal and the big budget is increasingly rare, as studios are discovering that big stars tied with big budgets are not necessarily guarantees of box office success.

Revenues declined by nearly 14 percent to 89.3 billion rupees in 2009, hit by a damaging strike by Bollywood producers, swine flu fears and poor quality content, auditors KPMG said in a report published in March.

In recent years, exorbitant fees for actors have been cut and performers have turned their attention to films with a quality of vision in the hope of making an impact in India’s increasingly crowded entertainment sector.

Studios across India are putting more money into production aspects such as special effects, script-writing, and marketing and consumer insight work, said Rajesh Jain, head of media and entertainment at KPMG.

“It’s a shift from taking audiences for granted,” he added.

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