“Women actors work five times harder and get paid 10 times less than men” – Shah Rukh Khan on working in a gender-biased industrySanjana Ray
“If being a feminist means equality, then I’m not one. I believe women should be more than us. If you’re looking at being equal to us, your aim is too low—you’re belittling yourself…to me you are far superior to men.”
The Badshah of Bollywood has been known for his opinions regarding the upliftment of women. While some have deemed these ‘patronising’ to some levels, Shah Rukh Khan’s goal has always been to use his billion-dollar platform and educate the masses in women empowerment and the need for equality. In some cases like the above, he has even pledged their superiority over the base of men.
Image credits: www.wikipedia.com
In a recent interview with Femina, SRK passionately spoke about the necessity of respecting a woman, no matter her age, stance, or field, and applauded them for leveraging and fighting through the blatant sexism that exists in our country. Streamlining into the topic of Bollywood and gender-bias, he said that it is about time that female actors are paid the same amount of money as their male counterparts – a practice that is staggeringly uncommon in the throes of B-town.
The actor, who owns an independent production house Red Chillies Entertainment along with his wife Gauri, is also one of the only superstars to admit to the fact that gender-bias is a flagrant reality in Indian cinema. Most brush it under the rug by stating the success rates of a few Bollywood actresses who go home with ‘fat paychecks’. While the idea of a well-built hero looking to ‘protect’ stands in heavy contrast to the perpetual ‘damsels in distress’ that Bollywood exudes on screen, the patriarchal concept of ‘hero over heroine’ extends to the popular mind-set in our society today.
In the interview, SRK spoke about how important it is for men and women to receive equal recognition in all fields and for female actors, specifically, to get recognised and rewarded for their relentless efforts in the still largely yet subtly male-inclined industry.
“I know that women actors work five times harder and get paid 10 times less than men,” he said. Speaking about the need to change this perception, he spoke about the various incentives that both he and his wife have undertaken in small but important ways to achieve the same. To this end, he requested all his directors to place the heroine’s name before his in a credit role, a move that began with Deepika Padukone in Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express.
“In my own small way, I have asked for their names to appear before mine in credit roll. I attempt to pay them as well as I can in my own productions; I’ve co-produced films with women directors and actors. I believe I am the change,” he said.
Through the wit of a royal jester, a mind of a business tycoon, and a personality that exudes charm like honey, King Khan has a unique insight into what the status of a woman should ideally be, both on and off the silver screen. To this end, here are a few pointers on this that we can take away from his interview with Femina which give us a whole new outlook on the world-famous superstar.
Equality at all levels
“She wants to be an actor in her own right...I want her to experience what my female co-stars have gone through. My daughter will be an actor like them and I want to feel the pain.”
SRK’s to be 17-year-old daughter, Suhana, has expressed an interest in the film industry. While the traditional Bollywood dynasties have mostly preferred their daughters to steer clear of the commercial limelight, Shah Rukh is strongly supportive of Suhana’s wishes to enter the industry. However, he professes that he will not stand in the way of her first-hand learning experience. Instead, he wishes to stand in the background and always keep an eye out for her but encourage her to understand and live all the highs and lows of an aspiring actor looking to make it big. He wants her to have the same kind of access that her brother, Aryan, who is currently studying film-making, is privy to and fight tooth and nail to survive in the rat-race.
“I always see a story from a woman’s point of view, make sure the woman’s role is meaty. Do you know that my walk in Don was fashioned after a lady’s ramp walk? And to be honest, I feel that it’s not entirely a losing battle.”
SRK has been resilient in the fact that a role should extend equally in significance to both the actor and the actress. While not all his movies echo the same sentiments, the Shah Rukh, for his part, has always made it a point to learn from his female co-stars. For instance, he has famously stuck by the fact that the one actor he could never outdo, and from whom he picked up several tips in comedic acting, is Juhi Chawla. He stated that even today, when he has to play out a comedic role, he will channel Chawla’s vibes and then set to work.
The future looks promising
“I think the digital space has potential to make the difference. If a woman actor has five million hits and a male actor has two million hits, they will be paid on the basis of that. It’ll be truly transparent.”
To SRK, the development of the digital space is directly proportionate to progress in the field of equal pay and recognition, when it comes to the film industry in the very least. Actors and actresses can then earn their keep by a different vector altogether, one that doesn’t have to rely on mass appeal or biased production houses. On a larger scale, the digital space will give a wider, more open platform to women across the world in every avenue and allow them to speak their mind without the fear of reprimand.
Credit where it is due
“My mother was a practical woman who ran a small restaurant business, had an oil agency, took up social causes and even managed to get an Oxford scholarship. She worked hard for my sister and me, and, in the end, she died of exhaustion.”
SRK’s greatest inspirations in life have been his mother, Lateef Fatima, and his wife, Gauri Khan. His two standing rocks, he attributes his overwhelming success to these two women and confesses that it is their influence through every step along the way that led him to make all the right professional choices, bringing him to where he is today. On Gauri, he says that it is her no-nonsense, practical outlook on life that inspires him to take a hold of himself in the outside world and what makes her the perfect partner, both professionally and personally. “I respect Gauri for retaining her identity and tolerating the nuisance value I bring into her life. I wouldn’t have been able do it if I were her,” he said.
While his comments can appear to be subtly patronising to some, it doesn’t change the fact that King Khan is using his extremely influential position to propagate a positive identity and profess a beneficial change for women across the world. To that end, here’s hoping for a better tomorrow.