Do Bollywood heroines deserve equal pay as the heroes?
Actress Kareena Kapoor, while speaking on ‘How Does a Heroine Become the Hero?’ at the India Today Conclave 2012 recently, said she didn’t consider herself a hero because the people, who took home all the money for blockbusters like 3 Idiots, RA.One and Bodyguard, were the producers and the three Khans. The 31-year-old actress, who has reportedly demanded 80 million rupees for Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine, admitted that she is not paid at par with male actors and vowed to fight for equal pay cheques.
In this male-dominated industry, Kareena is perhaps the only actress to voice her opinion openly about the disparity in pay. Sheopined that female actors are paid far less than their male counterparts for the same amount of work they do. While the Khans and Kapoors take home a huge packet, actresses have to stay content with their regular fees. Even the top heroines are paid much lesser than the least popular heroes.
Dominance of men in almost every walk of life has been prevailing for ages now. And the entertainment industry is no exemption to this. In Bollywood, most of the films and stories are hero-centered.
Producers argue that there are only four or five superstars who can guarantee returns. Bollywood considers the Khans as the safest bet because majority of their films succeed. “The Khans deserve what they are charging because when you cast them, there’s an assurance that you are going to get your money back,” filmmakers argue.
Male actors get big-budget movies that earn at the box office while women aren’t given the same roles. Heroines are often characterized as glamour dolls and therefore producers are known to give second-hand treatment to actresses in terms of money.
The fee of a heroine for a film is usually less than a quarter of the hero’s. Even an ageing Amitabh Bachchan earns more than a top actress in her twenties. Moreover, unlike their male co-stars, they do not get a share in profits. Most top heroines go by a fixed rate card.
The world of sports is also not aloof from the disparity of payments to females. But Venus Williams showed how to change the practices. In 2007, she not just won the prestigious Wimbledon tournament fourth time, she also became the first woman to receive prize money equal to that of the male winner. Both Venus and the Wimbledon men’s winner took home about $1.4 million.
It all started in 2006 when Venus Williams had written an article on equal pay in The Times (London), and the WTA and UNESCO had asked her to lead a campaign to promote gender equality in sports. Later, Wimbledon announced it would award equal prize money to all competitors. The French Open also awarded both its 2007 women’s and men’s champions the same financial prize.
The same needs to be done with the film industry. Women today have proved their talents and have even outpaced men on various fronts, including acting, direction, screenwriting, film editing and other technical fields. Alike male actors, now heroines are also attending events and shows to promote their films. So when both are putting equal efforts, unequal pay structures are not justified.
If a heroine can attract audiences on the basis of her charm and talent, she must know her worth and quote deserved price for her work. Producers can’t afford for too long to make films without top heroines and will soon come to terms. In any circumstances, a top heroine can’t be replaced with a B-Grade or C-Grade actress. People can digest watching their ageing superstar knocking down 20 goons at a time, but they would not tolerate watching him romancing a 40-plus heroine. The demand for young and talented actresses will always be there.
Moreover, with The Dirty Picture and Kahaani, people have rubbished producers’ claims that the films with women in lead roles don’t work. Good content complimented by mind-blowing performances always produce best results. And such great performances require tremendous mental and physical energy, irrespective of the actor being a male or female. Therefore, it is unfair if the lead heroine is paid less than what a side actor gets.
To claim rightful place in the industry, actresses must pursue the issue till they achieve the desired results. As Kareena Kapoor stated,” Vidya Balan’s success story has given actresses the hope for a brighter tomorrow in Bollywood. But they have a long way to go.”