By Amrita Roy:
Yes, gender inequality exists everywhere. In almost all professions, women get paid less than men. The ratio stands at about 75 cents for a dollar. And women face an additional glass ceiling when it comes to rising up the hierarchy to positions of strategy, control and power in organizations, while men are promoted using a glass escalator.
Recently, Kangana Ranaut made news for being the highest paid female actor in Bollywood with a paycheck of Rs. 11 crores. Reading that news, most of us probably felt quite elated. Finally women in Bollywood are getting their due not only in terms of good roles, but also in terms of salaries. Good on Bollywood and the production houses for beginning to realize that female actors also deserve to be treated with basic decency. But those Rs 11 crores put her at only 18% of the pay of the highest paid male actor, Salman Khan, who takes home a big fat paycheck of a whopping Rs. 60 crores per film.
Jennifer Lawrence, the highest paid female actor in Hollywood earned USD 52 million in 2012, while her highest paid male counterpart, Robert Downey Jr. earned USD 80 million. While this isn’t the ideal situation either, and is still lower than the 0.75:1 ratio, at 65% of the pay of the highest male actor, Lawrence is still faring far better than Ranaut. Now many people will be quick to point out that Salman Khan’s movies make a lot more money than Kangana Ranaut’s do, so it only makes sense that producers pay him more. True, ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ has earned about Rs. 320 crores so far, while ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ earned Rs. 151 crores in its theatrical run. So, Ranaut’s film made 47.2% of the money Khan’s film made. And she still earns only 18% of what Salman Khan earns. (And since she just hiked her fees, so she earned lesser than Rs. 11 crores for ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’).
If you take in the budgets of the two films, the difference is even more glaring. ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns‘ was made on a budget of Rs. 30 crores, putting the net profit of the film at Rs. 121 crores. ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan‘ boasts of a budget of Rs 90 crores, putting net profit at Rs 230 crores. So Ranaut’s film made 52.6% of the net profit of Khan’s film. Going by the profit logic that is so widely quoted as being the reason for the pay gap, Ranaut should be paid Rs 32 crores per film. But instead, she is still going to be paid just 18% of Salman Khan’s salary. It’s not even a pay gap; it’s a pay chasm.
Let’s continue with Salman Khan as an example for a little longer. Many of us may not remember the 1991 movie, ‘Love’, by its name. But any music aficionado will immediately recognize the song “Saathiya, Tune Kya Kiya” sung by S.P. Balasubrahmanyam and Chitra Singh. Salman Khan and Revathi formed the lead romantic pair in the film. In the last couple of years, Revathi has played Alia Bhatt’s mother in ‘2 States’ and Kalki Koechlin’s mother in ‘Margarita With A Straw’. Salman Khan is still busy playing the omnipotent world-saving charismatic childless bachelor whose exact age is unbeknownst but can be assumed to be somewhere in the late twenties or early thirties. Both actors are aged 49 as of September 2015.
And these, pay and age, are just two of the many symptoms of the underlying issues that Bollywood and the rest of the media have with accepting women as equals. The two male superstars of Bollywood – Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan are known to report late on film sets. Karan Johar even cheekily admitted that there’s a general understanding on a film set that SRK would be “punctually late by two hours“. This is taken on a positive note as the perks of being a superstar. It’s never reported by leading media outlets. And then we have Katrina Kaif on all clickbait headlines making news for stalling the shoot of a reality TV show for 5 – 10 minutes when she was asked to speak in Hindi. She stopped the shoot to be briefed on what she had to say. Reporting this as news implicitly plays to the stereotype that ‘female actors throw starry tantrums.’
Now, I don’t know how many people reading this article have learnt a foreign language but I happen to have taken French in school for seven years. And still, when I talk to some of my friends who are native French speakers, I take longer than 5 minutes to process what they said and to formulate my answer in correct grammatical French. The fact that she asked for the same amount of time before conversing in a language foreign to her on national TV, knowing that every single viewer is gleefully waiting to judge her on her linguistic capabilities, is not only highly professional but also extremely brave.
The two male actors don’t exactly have much reason to be late on sets every time. I am sure they have enough resources to ensure punctuality. But no one ever seems to have any problem with their tardiness.
I guess, it is easier to change the working pattern of a hundred strong crew than to tell a male actor to report sharp on time.