Indian actresses might be beating up baddies in movies, but are still struggling for equal pay

26th May 2016
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2016 looks glamorous. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor are taking over Cannes with their bold fashion choices year after year, Kangana Ranaut won her third national award, Priyanka Chopra is jet-setting the world and taking it by storm, Deepika Padukone is ruling the sets of XxX: The return of Xander Cage like a queen and we are absolutely loving it all. However, there are some things that haven’t changed. For all the achievements these stars have under their credit, you would expect them to be raking in all the moolah, but that’s far from the truth.

The debate on income disparity in the Indian entertainment industry has been resurfacing every now and then, with a few actors, directors, filmmakers, and actresses expressing their concern and disapproval over the matter. Although things are definitely looking brighter than what they were a few years ago, it looks like our actresses have a long way to go before they can be paid at par with their male counterparts.

The men in the industry get paid more than three times on an average. Both Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan received 50 crores for their upcoming films Dangal and Mohenjo Daro, respectively. While Akshay Kumar gets 45 crores, filmmakers reportedly sign Shahrukh Khan for 40 crores.

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What the filmmakers are saying

“It’s an old mindset, a feudal system. There is a general perception that women don’t sell films a fact that is gradually changing world over. I, for one, ensure both my male and female actors get equal pay,” said actor turned director Pooja Bhatt talking about the mindset that prevails in Bollywood today.

However, there are also a few who claim that things have definitely changed for the better and the figures have gone up drastically. Like producer Vashu Bhagnani who said, “I know I paid Kareena in lakhs earlier, now I pay her in crores. If more women oriented films are made and appreciated by the audiences, then even the producers will happily pay more to female actors.”

But how can one accept an explanation when even comparatively lesser popular stars like John Abraham and Arjun Rampal get paid at par with highest paid Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone. Deepika gets signed at Rs 15 crore per film, a paltry sum when compared to highest paid actor Salman Khan who charges a whopping Rs 60 crore per film. All this despite having played the lead role in three of 2015’s most successful movies, Piku, Tamasha, and Bajirao Mastani whose box-office collections were Rs 79 crore, Rs 69.77 crore, and Rs 149.34 crore, respectively.

“A fee that any star commands is not decided by the producer, but by the star’s market value. The solution may be going the Hollywood way, where stars get part of the film’s revenue depending on its fate,” says filmmaker Vipul Shah.

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This is what the actresses have to say

“You only get paid more than a man if you are Priyanka Chopra,” said Kalki Koechlin at the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year. However, Priyanka herself doesn’t seem to be having a pleasant experience.

“The difference in male and female actors’ pay cheques is insane,” Kalki said.

Priyanka Chopra became the first major breakthrough television star from India. She has already accomplished a lot in her acting career, with some 50 films to her credit, and she’s only soaring higher. The actress and TIME 100 honoree stars in the hit show Quantico on ABC and will appear in the upcoming movie reboot of Baywatch. Despite her global appeal, she gets paid a mere Rs 9 crores, which is quite low compared to the actresses in Hollywood, where PC has her eyes fixed.

“Remuneration has changed but if you compare it with what the men get it is still very different. But I would say let’s not compare it because just five per cent of these films are being made. I think we will get our due. We are slowly moving towards that.” – Vidya Balan. The actress is known to carry the weight of an entire film on her shoulders with hits like The Dirty Picture, Kahaani, and Ishqiya to her credit and yet is paid only Rs 67 crore per film.

“We don’t get paid even one third of what male actors get, just because we are women!” Kangana Raat. She reportedly hiked her fees after Queen and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. She is now said to be getting Rs 11 crore per movie.

“There’s a difference of several zeroes in the pay cheque I get vis­a­vis the Khans” Kareena Kapoor. One of the first actresses to speak up against unequal pay in Bollywood, Kareena currently gets signed at Rs 9 crore per film.

“The remuneration for women hasn’t changed since I came here. There’s a huge disparity.” Katrina Kaif. From playing second fiddle to superstars in large budget films to caring her own niche as an actress, Katrina has sure come a long way. And yet, she gets paid a mere Rs 7 crore per film, a far cry from what the male superstars she works with get.

The sorry state of affairs in the regional film industries

The situation is even worse in regional film industries. Kannada film actress Aindrita Rai made some shocking revelations in a recent press conference by recounting a situation where she had to change her clothes under a tree while the male lead had a caravan for his service, even though she was the female lead of the film.

Talking of the rather tragic difference in pay she said “Forget 10 percent; female leads are not even paid five percent of what the male protagonist get. There is a huge gap between the payments for men and women in the industry.” While most actresses from the industry rallied in support of her statement this time around, actress Ramya Spandana who brought the same issue to the forefront a few years ago was not as lucky. There was a sudden dip in the number of roles being offered to her in an attempt to make her feel abandoned. Reacting to Aindrita’s allegations, popular Kannada actor Jaggesh opined “The Sandalwood has run for 80 years mainly because of male protagonists. This is the prime formula of films.”

However, things seem to be changing. Most recently, actress Robin Wright of the “House of Cards” fame who demanded the same pay as her male co­star or threatened to go public if denied and got it, has set an example for entertainment industries from all over the world to follow. The Huffington Post reports Wright said during a Tuesday interview at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York that she demanded equal pay after seeing statistics showing her character was more popular than Spacey’s for a period of time. She also said that there are a few films or TV shows where “the male, the patriarch, and the matriarch are equal. And they are in ‘House of Cards.’.”

The debate is just about heating up in India. Will Indian actresses succeed in getting their much deserved dues any time soon? We need to wait and watch!

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