It’s commonly known that Bollywood actors are paid a lot more money than their leading ladies. Recently, Anushka Sharma even voiced her opinion on the disparity. "I wouldn’t be surprised if an A-list actress is getting paid the same or less money than one of the newer guys in the industry, like Varun (Dhawan) or someone. That is not fair," she reportedly said.
Trade expert Amod Mehra says that even though some female actors charge higher fees these days, the gender-specific salary gap is evident. "Of late, only Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Deepika Padukone have been able to increase their price, but only by a crore or so," he says, adding, "Till a few years back, they were paid Rs 1-2 cr at the most, but the bracket is Rs 3-5 cr now."
Trade analyst Komal Nahta, feels that the reason for this gap is that Bollywood is a male-centric industry. "Today, Varun, Sidharth (Malhotra) or Arjun’s (Kapoor) films command a price. Viewers pick what to watch based on who the hero of the film is. It’s a difficult perception to change, but the payment system is always going to be skewed because of this," he says.
Some may argue that with women-oriented films like Queen and Mardaani doing well last year, the scenario for female actors should be looking up. But trade expert Atul Mohan explains, "A film’s budget still depends on the hero, and is promoted as his film. Heroines are necessary, but they are considered the glamour factor. Unless a film is riding on the heroine’s shoulders, she can’t demand more than the hero."
Mohan adds that times are changing, but it will be a while before women get equal pay.
Good at business
Vidya Balan points out that the disparity applies to actors, but may not be true for others in the film industry, like directors and marketing professionals. Vidya, who played the lead roles in films such as Kahaani (2012) and The Dirty Picture (2011), adds that women are better at business too.
The actor says, "Historically, I agree that actors are paid more because the stakes and even returns are higher, but women are breaking grounds slowly. I have done a few such films, and last year we saw some more. I’m not saying we are doing Rs 100 cr films, but the return on investment in our films is much higher. Even if we make a film for Rs 5 cr and it makes Rs 60 cr, we have done a business of 12 times the investment. It proves we are better at business."
*All figures are per film and are indicative