Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

'Saaho': Why Prabhas’s major Hindi film debut – and his Dh51m pay packet – is such a big deal

'Saaho' is the biggest-ever film from South Indian cinema, and theatres across the country are bracing for its Friday release

After 'Saaho', Prabhas wants to steer clear of big budget films. Courtesy UV Creations
After 'Saaho', Prabhas wants to steer clear of big budget films. Courtesy UV Creations

The multi-lingual, high-voltage action and spy thriller, Saaho, starring Telugu superstar Prabhas and Bollywood actress Shraddha Kapoor, has been making plenty of waves in the days leading up to its release this weekend.

Mounted on a jaw-dropping budget of Rs 350 crore (Dh178 million) – that’s more than the individual budgets of the two Baahubali films that shot Prabhas to pan-India fame – Saaho marks Prabhas’s Hindi film debut, while also being Kapoor’s first foray into South Indian cinema.

But nothing about the movie hints at the trepidation one could reasonably expect from a first-time undertaking. Even before its release, the film has raked in Rs 320 crores in satellite rights alone.

There have been unprecedented advanced bookings, despite hiked ticket sales

Director Sujeeth, has shot Saaho in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu simultaneously over six schedules across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Austria, and Romania. One of the highlights of the film is a 20-minute-long chase sequence shot at the Burj Khalifa choreographed by Hollywood stunt designer Kenny Bates (of Transformers-fame) and his team. The budget for that one sequence alone exceeds Rs 25 crores (over Dh12m).

Indian cinemas are bracing themselves for record audiences for the film. Courtesy of UV Creations
Indian cinemas are bracing themselves for record audiences for the film. Courtesy UV Creations

But it doesn’t end there.

In addition to being shot in three languages, Saaho will be dubbed and released in Malayalam and Kannada as well. It will be released on 10,000 screens in India alone – which beats the previous record of 10,000 screens worldwide, set by 2.0 starring Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar.

Ticket prices in India for the opening weekend have been hiked to match Bollywood blockbusters and Salman Khan-starrers (those are a category unto themselves).

It’s a bold move that points to producers UV Creations and T-Series’ confidence in the film, since increased ticket prices are notoriously difficult to justify or sustain, and result in crushing losses if the audience doesn’t take to the film immediately. Even so, southern Indian states are reporting unprecedented advance bookings, with most shows already being sold out.

Why 'Saaho' belongs to Prabhas

That Bollywood favours its heroes far more than its leading ladies is no secret. But it is nothing compared to Tollywood, or the Telugu film industry’s adoration for its male actors. Shraddha Kapoor might be helming Saaho alongside Prabhas, but there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that film belongs entirely to the latter, with its fate resting squarely on his ability to please his fans. No one’s even pretending otherwise.

At 39, with a widely publicised love for food that tends to show when he’s not on a diet mandated by a movie, Prabhas certainly fits the 'necessarily conventionally handsome' bill

Last week, Twitter released a special Prabhas emoji inspired by his character in the film. It shows up when you hashtag the film’s name in a tweet – practically synonymising Saaho and Prabhas! – and will be active on the site until August 31.

In a recent interview, director Sujeeth was quoted as saying, “Everything about Saaho is different from Baahubali. That's how Prabhas wanted it to be, too. The kind of hard work and dedication he has put into Saaho is hard to find anywhere else. I want the film to work from Prabhas more than I do for anyone else.”

Although officially unconfirmed, it has been widely reported that Prabhas stands to make a whopping Rs 100 crore (Dh51m) from the film, which includes his fee and a rumoured 50 per cent stake in the profits.

Prabhas reportedly commanded 33 times more than what actress Shraddha Kapoor made

Compare that to Kapoor’s fees — believed to be somewhere in the vicinity of Rs 3 crores. There were murmurs about Kapoor having received Rs 7 (approx Dh 3.5 million) crore for the film, but those speculations were quickly rubbished as a PR stunt by the young actress.

Shradda Kapoor made a fraction of what her male co-star did for her role. Courtesy of UV Creations  
Shradda Kapoor made a fraction of what her male co-star did for her role. Courtesy UV Creations

Apparently, Kapoor bagged the film when Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif passed on it when she didn’t get her asking price of Rs 5 crores. Indian newspaper Deccan Chronicle quoted an anonymous source close to the film as saying: “The budget for hiring heroines in Telugu cinema is a lot less compared to Bollywood. These girls from Mumbai who work in Telugu cinema work for much less money in the South than what they demand in Mumbai.”

Ironically, Prabhas has received great praise for taking a pay cut for Saaho.

“I started out with a 20 per cent cut. Then, the film went slightly over and though my friends were ready to pay up, I couldn't take their money knowing they were putting in so much without thinking of what they'd earn,” he said in an interview with Mumbai Mirror.

That’s one way of putting it. If the reports are to be believed, even with this, ahem, altruistic salary cut, Prabhas will take home a staggering eight-figure paycheck home unless things go terribly wrong.

Despite the 'Saaho' buzz, Prabhas now wants to steer clear of big budget films

With so many expectations and even more money riding on him, the pressure on Prabhas to deliver is incredible. Firstly, this is his first film after a two-year-long hiatus, following the twin successes of the Baahubali films. While comparisons are inevitable given the scale of the films, Prabhas is trying to keep expectations in check by highlighting the differences between the two.

“For sure, we didn’t surpass Baahubali. Saaho is not larger-than-life, like Baahubali. It’s a contemporary film which has rich production values … Not every film can be a Baahubali,” he said in an recent interview with Indian Express. In another, he called the action choreography and VFX in Saaho comparable to international standards, and something the audience hasn’t yet seen in the country.

By all indications, Saaho is set to follow Baahubali’s stupendously successful trajectory, and Prabhas is, self-admittedly, inundated with scripts in many languages. But even as he contemplates his next move, he claims to want to strictly steer clear of big budget films – at least for a while – due to the stress built into such productions.

Bollywood’s knocking persistently at his door too, despite his struggles with Hindi. Although, if Prabhas was to make the transition from Tollywood to Bollywood, he would fit right in with its superstars. Bollywood, after all, has a special affinity for heroes that aren’t necessarily conventionally handsome. Case in point being Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, and, more recently, Ranvir Singh and Irrfan Khan. At 39, with a widely publicised love for food that tends to show when he’s not on a diet mandated by a movie, Prabhas certainly fits that description.

Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor in 'Saaho'. Courtesy of UV Creations
Prabhas and Shraddha Kapoor in 'Saaho'. Courtesy UV Creations

Given than Saaho’s success is inextricably linked to how well his fans receive it, it is natural that much of what happens next in Prabhas’s career rests on the fate of the film. Thankfully, he has a formidable supporting cast in Mandira Bedi, Jackie Shroff, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Mahesh Manjrekar Chunky Pandey and Tinnu Anand, all of whom will be seen in negative roles.

Even minus Prabhas’s star power and Kapoor’s doe-eyed allure, that’s a team of baddies I’d pay good money to watch.

Saaho releases in UAE cinemas on Friday

Updated: August 27, 2019 05:00 PM

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