In patriarchal Bollywood, is the 'heroine' a liability?
Actors call the shot and actresses, though an integral part of a film, are treated as second class citizen.
New Delhi: Few weeks prior to the release of 'Rajjo', the film's leading lady Kangana Ranaut had very candidly talked about how women in the industry are still not given their due credit. The actress, in a no-holds-barred conversation, had mentioned that women actors aren't treated at par with their male counter parts. While Kangana's statement was something that most already know in the industry, it was heartening to see a leading lady speak so candidly about film industry and its ways.
In its 100 years, Indian cinema has undergone massive changes in terms of filmmaking and storytelling. But one thing has remained the same. Just like our society, the film industry is also male dominated and till date actors call the shot and actresses, though an integral part of a film, are treated as second class citizen.
From remuneration to roles in films- actresses are always given second preference after male actors. A heroine may have been part of five back-to-back blockbusters, but a new film is never promoted as her film. She may be putting in equal or more amount of time to the film but it is always promoted as the superstar actor's next.
"It's not that of Chennai Express did well it was only because of Shah Rukh Khan. It was also because of Deepika," points out Kangana.
From profit share to remuneration, male actors enjoy a better status in the industry when a film becomes a blockbuster. Sure, actresses get to hike their fee post a hit, but it is nowhere close to the fee that a male actor gets.
As Kangana rightly puts it "We don't get paid even one third of what male actors get. It's not so much about the money but it's about (being a) woman."
The disparity in terms of remuneration is actually quite vast. Bollywood A list actors mint somewhere around 40 crore a film (and also get profit share of the film), while a top actress earns around 8-9 crore a film.
Agreeing with Kangana, 'Hate Story' actress Paoli Dam says "Yes there is discrimination in terms of remuneration but that's there in every industry. Because it's a male dominated society and hence a male dominated film industry will also show disparity."
Women have to make adjustments in the film industry at almost every stage in their career. A relatively new actress like Sonakshi Sinha may have featured in 100 crore films but most of them had her merely as a glamour quotient. While a Deepika Padukone (who is currently at the top with 5 back to back hits this year) or a Priyanka Chopra may get offered an author backed role due to their popularity, their shelf value lesser than an actor.
Why would an actress work in a film which has her perhaps in total of five scenes and two songs? Most of the time new actresses are eager to work in big banners with big stars and such film create a perfect platform to establish a name in the industry. A few super hits under the belt, the actresses can then quote a hefty amount and demand for better scripts and roles.
For many actresses career ends post marriage. Even if they do get work post marriage like a Madhuri Dixit or a Juhi Chawla or a Kajol, they usually get to romance much older heroes while their contemporaries with whom they had began their career a decade or two back are still romancing younger women half their age.
"West has much to offer to senior actresses. The trend is very slowing coming to India," says Paoli. But a ShahRukh or a Salman film have more distributors queuing up than a Madhuri film.
Sridevi, who made a delightful comeback in 2012 in Gauri Shinde's 'English Vinglish' may have won accolades for her performance but still awaits a similar meaty role one year later. Lesser scripts are woven around women and the ones that are made do not always guarantee success at the Box Office which in turn makes makers wary of women oriented subjects.
With the changing times, things are bound to change within the industry feels an optimistic Paoli Dam. "Agree that films show disparity but things are changing and one can be hopeful. More films like 'English Vinglish' should be made so that the taboo isnt there anymore. For every action film which showcases the hero's skills to the hilt there is also a women centric film being made. So I'm hopeful that good cinema, better roles and opportunities will come our way," says Paoli.