New Delhi: A couple of years back, Kareena Kapoor showed no qualms in speaking about the income disparity that exists in Bollywood. While the actress managed to draw everyone's attention to how patriarchal gender norms still pervade the movie industry and male actors especially the Khans take home all the monetary benefits for runway hits such as '3 Idiots', 'Ra.One' and 'Bodyguard', she didn't focus on the other aspect of pay discrimination, not determined by the gender, but age structure.
If you think that age discrimination is non-existent in the industry, you've probably not paid attention to what veteran actor Om Puri said in one of his recent interviews. Even though Om has several popular and incredible projects to his credit, he knows that he isn't a 'commercial star', which is the key reason to why he has never bagged Rs 1 crore project till now.
"In this age there are not many roles being written for us. And I don't call up people and ask for work," he said recently.
"They (filmmakers) take stars. They have been stars, I am not a star... Not commercially at least. I have been a wonderful actor, but not a commercial star. For Mr Bachchan films are being made like 'Sarkar' and others. I have never got Rs one crore for a film, I get Rs 40-50 lakh only, or Rs 15-25 lakh," he added.
So it is unfortunate that the man who has been lauded for his versatility, which is becoming rare among actors these days, is willing to retire if no roles are written for him, and reluctant to 'knock doors for work'. "There are not many roles written for older actors and it gets difficult to get exciting roles today unlike the west. In western countries, there are roles written for older actors. Films are made on them, including love stories. But that is not the case here," Puri rued in the same interview.
Om grew up poor, he earned his livelihood by picking coals from the railway track. But he didn't let lack of finances get in the way of following his dreams. So even though things weren't always rosy for him, the Ambala born actor graduated from Film and Television Institute of India, and worked in several popular national and international projects.
Puri, who made his film debut in the 1976 Marathi film Ghashiram Kotwal, claimed that he was paid "peanuts" and not big paychecks for his best work. So even though his art films 'Bhavni Bhavai' (1980), 'Sadgati' (1981), 'Ardh Satya' (1982), 'Mirch Masala' (1986) and 'Dharavi' (1992) won him huge plaudits, it didn't make him a big buck star.
What's more shocking is that despite appearing in highly acclaimed projects like Gandhi (1982, directed by Richard Attenborough), and garnering global recognition in films like 'My Son the Fanatic', 'East Is East' and 'The Parole Officer', 'City of Joy', 'The Ghost and the Darkness', he doesn't make the kind of money we had expected. And many big names in the showbiz industry, despite churning out run-of-the-mill, illogical films have been successful in setting the cash registers ringing at the box office.
As Puri gears up to work with Helen Mirren in Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey film '100 Foot Journey', we are upset that even though he enjoys a fan base who loyally flocked to watch his film in cinema halls, and respect him for 'Chachi 420', 'Hera Pheri,' 'Chor Machaye Shor' and 'Malamaal Weekly' comes at a relatively low price. Is there a way by which actors of his stature can be paid the amount they deserve? Is there a system by which income disparity can be removed? Shouldn't we look into the factors that lead to this pay gap? Shouldn't older actors, who have entertained us for years, be given roles that suit their current age? Why are filmmakers only focusing on youthful, good looks and not acting ability?
The day we find convincing and logical answers to these questions, we are sure to help talented actors like Om Puri earn the money they deserve.