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There’s no money, honey!

The top three heroines in Bollywood. This picture doesn't mean that one of them called me.  I have used this picture for illustration.

Top of the lot: The top three heroines in Bollywood.

At a recent event, Katrina Kaif declared with all honesty that actresses in Bollywood should be paid at par with the male actors. According to her, there is a disparity when it comes to paying an actress as opposed to her hero.

A few days back it was Priyanka Chopra, who emphatically put forward the case Bollywood actresses not being paid enough. She also stated that it’s time for Bollywood to realise that their female stars are worth more than what they think.

Really? Can we really claim that Bollywood has come of age and has learned to treat the women actors better?

Till the 1980s, Bollywood has been largely a chauvinistic hierarchy where women were only regarded as show-pieces. Eras have come and gone by, but Bollywood’s attitude towards its women actors has hasn’t changed.

The trend reached its zenith during the 1980s when most film scripts were hero-oriented and heroines were there only as eye candy.  It was only when Sridevi took over as the numero uno, did she manage to bring a heroine’s pay-scale to three-fourth of the hero’s. Films were written around her, and every move of hers, it was said of her, was worth lakhs.

Post that phase, Madhuri Dixit, Kajol and Aishwarya Rai phase (before they tied the knot) commanded a neat figure. But in their absence, it again went to the basics.

In the last 10 years, things have changed somewhat and we have seen some very powerful women oriented scripts gain box office attention. Powerful women actors like Priyanka Chopra, Vidya Balan and lately Kangna Ranaut has steered a film to victory.

Scores of articles have been written on the advent of female heroes in Bollywood and I am not going into that. But has it changed the status of a heroine in Bollywood? Can heroines claim that they are being paid on par with their male counterparts?

Let’s see how a leading heroine is treated in Bollywood even now. Before you try to corner me with specific examples, let me tell you that I know that there are exceptions, but they are few.

Bollywood actresses are more fun to follow on social media than the heroes.

Selfie time: Bollywood actresses are more fun to follow on social media than the heroes.

1. Working out a big budget Bollywood film

A big budget Bollywood film is written keeping the hero in mind. So, the project first goes to the hero. The first agenda on any producer’s mind is to ‘lock’ a hero first. The moment a hero is locked, the producer will take the script to him and discuss with him in detail. In most cases, the script will go through changes and tweaks if the hero desires.

2. The hero will only work with a compatible heroine

Once the producers have a hero on board, they start heroine hunting. The aim now is to hunt for a heroine with whom the hero is comfortable working with. For example, if you have roped in John Abraham for a project then hiring Kareena Kapoor is out of the question as the two might not be comfortable working with each other. Similarly, you might not have Priyanka Chopra and Saif Ali Khan working with each other.

But it is never the other way round — the heroine never gets to decide her hero. She can at best walk out of the project if she is not comfortable with the hero.

3. The hero will be consulted before approaching the heroine

After a list of compatible heroines are selected. Then starts the process of short-listing and calls. In most cases, the hero who gives the final approval regarding the heroine and makes the first cold call himself. When the heroine principally agrees to be a part of the project, it’s then handed over to the producers, who’ll now take it up with the managers. So, you can imagine that the hero will only agree to work with a heroine he is ‘close’ to.

4. The paycheck of a heroine is not even half that of a hero

The process of recruiting a heroine is anything, but professional. You can well-imagine that the payment structure won’t be professional too. The heroine is always paid according to a fixed rate card which varies between INR one crore to INR 8 crores. This amount is not even half of what a hero earns. A hero gets an acting fee, a part of the sale proceeds and sometimes exclusive distribution rights. If you add all that up, a hero might even earn 5 times to that of a heroine or even more, if the film does well. In some cases, the hero is made a producer and part of the profits are shared with him. This is unheard of in the case of heroines.

5. A question of supply and demand

For reasons known to all, Bollywood and South Indian cinema maintain a steady supply of younger actresses. Every year, scores of new faces are launched to replace the old order. Any heroine above the age of 35 are considered ‘old’ while heroes tend to mature only after 40. Heroines like Rani Mukerji, Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai are being referred to as ‘senior’ actresses while most developed film industries across the world wouldn’t dare to do so. Imagine, Shah Rukh Khan or a Aamir Khan being referred to as ‘senior’ actors. Sounds illogical right? We can only refer to a Jeetendra or a Dharmendra as senior actors. The term ‘senior’ is only reserved for actors who might be eligible for Lifetime Achievement Awards. Also, projects start drying up for actresses who decide to get married or worse, have a baby. The senior actresses are not flooded with projects unless an enterprising filmmaker writes a script specially targetted at them.

Soumik Sen’s Gulaab Gang was one such script.

A pretty heroine is supposed to run a sprint (short distance races) in Bollywood while the heroes are there for a marathon.

Bollywood hasn’t changed a bit from what it was in the 1980s. Whether you like it or not.

In our last blog, we answered a few ‘frequently asked questions’ on Bollywood from the readers of this blog. Today, in the concluding part of the series, I am going to answer more such questions.

The answers seem a little harsh but they are the truth.


 1. Is it true that most stars don’t step out without their PRs in tow?

Lever Meme

Answer: Not exactly. The PRs usually decide how the stars should behave and talk to the media. Basically, the PR ensures that the star always gets a fair exposure in the media. These days the PR teams also manipulate the public life of a star and his/her social media handles as well. In most cases, the star in his private life and the star in his public life are completely different animals. Trust me, stars who seem very boring in their public life and specially in media interviews, are the ones who have exciting personal lives. Examples are aplenty. The PR controls and manipulates the star like a remote control. We must also understand here that the PR is simply doing his/her job.

2. Is it true that most Bollywood stars are unprofessional?

Answer: I am yet to come across any contemporary superstar who can be termed as a professional, barring Amitabh Bachchan (I have watched him as a professional only for the last 12 years or so). I have seen how Hollywood stars work and Bollywood is not even a pale shadow of it. Most male stars decide when they would report to work and when they would leave from work. If this is not all then some of the stars also have a huge say in who they will work with and how much money they would charge for a film project. They also lay down conditions on how they would like to be paid. These are hard-nosed negotiations but most of the time, the ball is in the hero’s court and they decide how they would play it. The producers, in most cases, are too submissive (barring a few) and are too obligated to the star to open their mouth in protest. Most of the producers are so focused on completing a film project that they ignore the tantrums of the hero and tend to rush through the shooting.

3. What about the heroines?

Answer: Being a top heroine in Bollywood requires you to play the game in a completely differently manner. You can expect a blog on it pretty soon.

4. Is it true that a chunk a film’s budget goes into paying the hero?

johnnymeme

Answer: The lead stars (the lead actors and actresses of a film) are paid anything between 50% to 80% of the production costs if they have considerable brand value. In some cases, the heroes takes a chunk from the film’s profits too. If you are working with a star then you should be prepared to part with a chunk of your earnings as a producer. In Bollywood, this is a reason why some prominent filmmakers have stopped working with big stars. There is only one yardstick of being a star in Bollywood. You are a Bollywood star if you have the capability of pulling in audience on the first day of the show (which is termed as opening). Your capability to draw good openings decide your star value. It is because people or ‘fans’ who are coming into the theatre to see the first day shows of a film are still not aware about the quality of the film. They buy tickets only to see the star. Any Bollywood film earns the maximum amount of money in the first four days of its release. So, if you can guarantee a full house for the first four days, every producer will want to work with you. You are, therefore, a star. By that yardstick there are no female stars in Bollywood. There are only male stars and Salman Khan tops the list. Salman’s fans are expected to spend money to watch him even if the film is a very badly made product. Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn too have displayed such crowd pulling ability, where a film has garnered audience even though it had bad content. I am not counting Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan in this list because they always had the backing of strong scripts, directors and co-actors.

5. If there’s so much money in Bollywood, then how come there’s exploitation of labour?

Answer: Bollywood spends a lot in marketing and making films but that doesn’t mean that it spends money to pay the people it employs while making a film. The technicians in Bollywood are ill-paid, mostly. The money that goes into paying script-writers, editors, assistant directors, post-production technicians are nothing compared to the money that goes into marketing and publicity or for that matter the number of foreign locations. You may go and ask any AD on a film set and some of them might even tell you that they are not even getting paid for their work. Bollywood has become such an aspirational place to be in that most people don’t even think twice before agreeing if they are asked forego their salaries or stipends to be on the sets of a big-budget production. This tendency to get a “break” in a Bollywood no matter how has prompted a section producers to exploit talent by not paying them. For producers, who are perennially short of cash after allocating budget for stars and promotions, there is sometimes no way out but to cut costs in this manner. However, most professionals do not complain about it or take it up as an issue to deal with. The daily labourers (spotboys, lightboys, porters, helps etc) on film sets have managed to arrive at an understanding with the producers about how much they should be paid on a daily basis. The unions of these labourers have strong political backup and most producers are not willing to rub them the wrong way because, as I have said earlier, they are too keen to finish the shoot on time. However the same cannot be said about the white-collar employees of Bollywood like script-writers etc. There are several proposals about regularising salaries of film technicians pending at different levels of the associations and the government as well.

First cartoon taken from here
 Second cartoon taken from here
The meme pictures are taken from public forums

The Bollywood FAQs

questions

I get a lot of questions on a daily basis from the readers of this blog but I haven’t answered any of them.

However, I have realised that answering them is important because a lot of misconceptions float around Bollywood these days.

So, this blog post is dedicated to all my readers who have bombarded me with questions and in this post, I will try to answer some of them.

The questions have been sent by my readers over Facebook, Twitter and on mail. I am not attributing the questions to any individual because I haven’t taken permission to reveal their names.


1. How do you know who’s the number one star in Bollywood?

Answer: All these rankings are pure speculation and not based on any scientific method. Most journalists allot a ranking to a star based on their individual perception. In some cases, these rankings are released to promote a particular star or a set of stars who oblige the media house (often by attending their events or award functions). In some cases, they are driven by the PR industry. In most cases these rankings have no connection with the audience, but help to drive up the acting and endorsement fees of a star. If you are really looking for a systematic ranking then you can check this micro-site of Zoom. The channel had introduced a ranking system based on a transparent calculation. You check it here.

2. Vidya Balan has won so many awards. including the National Award. So, why is she not considered a top actress?

Vidya Balan

Vidya Balan

Answer: It’s a misconception. Vidya has been in the top three bracket for the longest time. She might have slipped down recently. She is one of the few actresses who has made a film successful despite it having a female hero. She gets frequently criticized for her weight and style but there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind of how powerful an actor she is. As I had told you earlier, the number game is generally a ploy to drive up the endorsement fees of a star.

3. Why don’t you find Karan Johar mentioning Vidya Balan as a top actress ever?

Answer: It is Karan’s show and he is entitled to have his own selection (or ranking) just like all other media houses.

4. Is it true that Bollywood actors have journalists and critics on their pay-rolls?

stars

Answer: I have never seen or heard about any actor paying money to a journalist or a film critic directly. Some production houses pay money to film critics for favourable movie reviews so that it can garner audience in the first week of its release. There are some PR houses who gratify journalists through gifts, parties and exclusive access to film stars in return for a favourable write-up. Almost all the media houses are fighting a battle to stop corruption among Bollywood journalists and critics.

5. Is it true that most of Bollywood content that appear in the media is paid for or PR driven?

Answer: Most newspapers clearly demarcate the content that’s been paid for. The TV channels doesn’t have to because it is not regulated by anybody. But this is true that most of the ‘news’ that appear in different media platforms are PR handouts. You see, PRs have blocked access to all actors for journalists. Not only actors, producers, musicians, even dress designers interact with the media under the watchful eyes of the PR. Most journalists are clearly told what to ask and what not to ask. If a journalist oversteps the line, he/she is banned from the PR agency for all future interactions with their clients. Journalists never want to get into such a situation because because celebrity or Bollywood journalism is all about access to the star. Most of the news that appear in the media are actually selective PR hand-outs. You may ask any PR in town and they will admit that they control the Bollywood news media. Those who speak directly to the media — more often than not — don’t have the money to hire a PR.

6. How come some stars and directors often get quoted in news articles and feature articles? How does the PR regulate all of them?

Answer:  There are exceptions to the rule. We have a handful of directors and actors who speak to the press directly. You can expect a Mahesh Bhatt, Madhur Bhandarkar or Sudhir Mishra to speak to any reporter who call them. They are not afraid of the media and don’t discriminate between media houses. But all and I mean ALL Bollywood stars have a selected group of journalists that they talk to and that list is generally approved by their PR companies. Most journalists who are here in this field for a longer time and have developed a rapport with PR companies, get the quickest access to stars.

7. Why have Bollywood stars stopped interacting with journalists?

telephone cartoon 1

Answer: It is because they don’t trust journalists anymore. PRs are paid by them, so they will work as per their wish. It s their duty to promote a star. But journalists can behave strangely. Some can be extremely mean while others can act very pally. Over the years, Bollywood journalists have been trained to believe that scooping out a juicy gossip is the best form of Bollywood reporting. A few journalists are corrupt while some others expect to be pampered all the time (sometimes through exclusive access to stars whenever they want). There are instances of a journalist plugging a ‘negative’ article when he/she was rubbed the wrong way.
On the other hand, a Bollywood star always expects to see good and promotional articles no matter what the truth is. Most of them are not professional enough to understand that a journalist won’t always write promotional articles about them. They don’t get the concept that at times journalists might criticise an actor or report a fact that doesn’t show them in good light.

To be continued...
 First picture taken from here

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