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.
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.