The issue of pay parity in the Indian film industry has been the talk of the town for some time now. Many female and male actors have given their take on it. Most are of the view that the fee for a similar set of skills and amount of work should be equal across the genders. However, the solution to this problem is much more complex than simply saying that female actors deserve equal pay. We should begin by asking why do women get paid less than men in the film industry in the first place? Is it because of the culture of sexism or male star reverence? Partly yes, but we as audiences also play a very important role in the current gender dynamics in Bollywood. Actor Taapsee Pannu even has indirectly implicated the cinema-goers for Bollywood’s gender pay gap in her recent interview.

Pannu is one of the many A-list actors of recent times, who have spoken up on this issue repeatedly. In her recent interview, with The Hindustan Times, she says that actors who draw a bigger crowd to the box office will naturally command a bigger paycheck than those who don’t. Filmmaking, at the end of the day, is a business. She says, “I can’t suddenly say that because I am acting opposite Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar and Varun Dhawan… I should get the same salary as theirs. Because I won’t get the audience to the theatres as much as they will. The day I command that kind of popularity and power to draw audiences in my name, the day my film opens well and filmgoers come in to watch both me and my male co-star, that day I will say I demand the same salary.”

Pannu’s statement puts the onus of gender pay gap in Bollywood on us, the audience, and rightly so.

Being a male dominated and male revering society, we have been quite unfair to our leading ladies. More often than not male actors bring in much bigger audiences than female leads, even if it is for the same film. Despite having an equal calibre, screen presence and all required ingredients which makes one a film star in India, the sheen of their fame remains lacklustre when compared to that of their male counterparts. They are usually treated as a bonus. While men hog all the limelight, and bask in the love and attention which the audience showers on them.

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • Taapsee Pannu has said that actors who draws a bigger crowd to the box office will naturally command a bigger paycheck than those who don’t.
  • Her statement puts the onus of pay disparity in Bollywood on the audience.
  • The culture of male star reverence in our society responsible for smaller paychecks of female actors.
  • If we want to close the pay gap in Bollywood then we need to give women a fighting chance.

Some may argue that this male-star reverence culture is the result of a sexist approach of the filmmakers.

Ever since the black-and-white era, the makers have handed over meatier roles to men, reducing women to secondary roles. Over decades it has only gotten worse, with the now reigning 50 something superstars earning paychecks running in two-digit crore figures. These men often work with female actors half their age, who are in the film just for the sake of two songs and to be at the centre of a rape/kidnap/blackmail or comic or dramatic sequence. Isn’t it the big boys club in B0llywood then, which is responsible for the pay gap? Isn’t it they who deny women even a chance to woe the audiences on the scale that men get to?

The audience is an equal culprit here, if not bigger than film fraternity. If Bollywood sold us machismo and male super-stardom, why did we buy it so readily? Why have blockbuster women-centric films of recent times still not entered the two hundred or three hundred crore clubs? The answer to all these questions lies in our society’s misogynist mindset which is reluctant to see heroines as anything but lovers or seductresses.

So if we want to close the gender pay gap in Bollywood then we have to give women an equal footing. Let them bring in as much money as male actors do at the box office. Or better, watch a film because it is good and appreciate the actors for their skills. Only then will these women have a fighting chance to demand an equal paycheck.

Picture Credit: indiatoday

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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