When it comes to gender disparity in terms of wages, Bollywood leads the pack, despite being one of the biggest industries globally and minting millions each year. According to most surveys, A-list actresses get paid 40-45% of what their male counterparts make.
While most people battling for pay parity in Bollywood jump at the chance to blame production houses and directors, logically, I find their contribution in promoting pay parity minimal. With producers and directors not at fault, what is the reason women actors are unable to earn as much as the men?
It’s no secret that male stars are far greater stars the female ones, thus making them way more bankable, despite lack of talent, lack of acting, etc. The universal law of money states that the more your contribution to the revenue of an organisation, the greater is your reward. When male stardom accounts for a massive portion of the money a film makes, as compared to the contribution of female actors towards the box office, it only seems fair that men are paid nearly twice as much as women.
No actress can come close to the massive stardom of Bollywood biggies, most prominently the Khans, Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, and a few honorable mentions including Hrithik Roshan, Varun Dhawan, etc. Majority of the films today have a male actor carrying it on their shoulders, despite there being a presence of exceptional female leads. Even women-centric films have prominent men carrying them (such as Dangal and Pink).
A major part of the audience claim they watch the film only because of the presence of their favorite actor, not bothering about the script, direction or story. Since actresses do not enjoy the kind of stardom in society the actors have, their solo films or films where they play the lead fails to create an impact.
Exceptions such as Raazi and Veere Di Wedding exist, but let’s stick to the majority. Unless the audience is comfortable, and embraces watching women in lead roles, pay parity seems impossible to achieve.
When a film like Race 3 (if you haven’t watched it, good for you) makes 10 times the money that Panga makes, or 5 times the money Chhapaak makes, you know there is something wrong with the audience. People not accepting women in commanding positions is not restricted to movies alone, but fans out to corporate worlds, politics and even the army.
Playing it in a different situation; Imagine the CEO of company A, and the CEO of company B. Company A is 10 times the size of B, and mints 10 times the money as B. Will it be fair for the CEO of B to ask for the same salary of A?
Male stars are way bigger organisations when it comes to the box office, and the numbers prove it. Research shows that Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Dangal, Mission Mangal and many more iconic films would have been duds at the box office sans the presence of Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar.
In an interview to Pinkvilla, Saif Ali Khan agreed with his wife. “I would say it is terribly unfair. They should get paid as much. I completely agree with her. I think the industry is very economically driven, so the people that pull at the box office get paid more, fair or unfair, it is like that,” Saif said.
To this, Ajay Devgn added, “There are actors who are paid less than the girls.” Saif continued, “If the females tomorrow make a film which is shouldered by them and pull them off, immediately their fee will go up.”
There is definitely a change coming, in the attitude of the audience as well as the entertainment industry, although not as fast as we would have liked. With emergence of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut we will definitely see some big changes.
The onus of this change, which will eventually lead to pay parity, lies on the shoulders of the audience, who need to accept women in lead roles. Unless the attitude of the audience changes, this revolution only seems a dream.
Kangana said, “I have heard successful women from the film industry say things like ‘we don’t deserve equal pay because heroes get bigger openings.'”
She continued, “If you don’t feel empowered, nobody can make you feel empowered. You have to feel like an equal. God has given me a pancreas, kidney, a heart and eyes. I am not inferior to others. If you don’t feel empowered no court can make you feel empowered. Half the battle is lost when you feel undeserving.”
Until then, keep throwing shade at the biggies and the producers of Bollywood.