Leading Bollywood actresses dazzled the silver screen last year with their power-packed performances in films such as Queen, Haider, Finding Fanny, Mary Kom and Dedh Ishqiya.
Not only did these films do well at the box office, they also garnered critical acclaim the world over. Women actors have, over the years, created a space for themselves in mainstream cinema. But getting a pay cheque as juicy as the heroes still remains an unrealised dream. Female actors have repeatedly voiced their concern over the prevalent gender-based income disparity, with Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Aditi Rao Haydari recently joining the bandwagon.
With the leading ladies of the Tinsel Town struggling to get the remuneration they deserve, would it be too audacious an expectation to demand equal pay for men and women actors in Punjabi cinema?
Mandy Takhar, who has worked with some of the biggest actors of the region in films such as ‘Mirza – The Untold Story’ and ‘Tu Mera 22 Mai Tera 22,’ says, “The actors I have worked with so far have been in the industry for way longer than me and have a greater star power. They obviously would be paid a lot better. So right now, it would not be fair for me to demand as much as they get. But I would command a decent share five years from now, when I will have the experience and the star attraction that it takes to pull a crowd.”
But Takhar is quick to add, “I know several actresses who are as famous as the actors they work with, but are paid lesser. It is unrealistic to expect women to get paid as much as the men. I would be the happiest if it happens, but it seems highly unlikely, even in the future.” Thakar has just wrapped up working with Diljit Dosanjh and Neeru Bajwa on ‘Sardaarji’, which is slated for a June release.
Sunita Dhir, a veteran Pollywood actress, who debuted in 1980 with Chann Pardesi, the first Punjabi film to win a national award, says, “There is no place for women in Punjabi cinema. It is a male-dominated industry. The roles are written by men for men, who are directed by men. Being a fairly young industry, Punjabi cinema is yet to evolve.”
Dhir played the protagonist in the 1991 woman-centric blockbuster ‘Badla Jatti Da’, a rare feat in Pollywood. “Punjabi cinema does not make female-oriented films like Mother India. Despite playing the lead in Badla Jatti Da, I was paid less than the men. I have played crucial roles in several films but have never been paid as well,” says the 58 year old, who currently heads the department of theatre and television at Punjabi University, Patiala.
Upasana Singh, a renowned face of Punjabi cinema, who currently plays ‘Bhua’ in popular television show ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’, says, “The film and television industry is male dominated just like every other sphere in India. Male actors are paid better, which is very sad, as no cinema, be it mainstream or regional, can be made without the contribution of women.”
Pollywood star Binnu Dhillon, concurs with his female counterparts. “Most people in India watch a film just to see its hero, which explains why a Salman-Khan movie, with a newcomer as its heroine, is declared a hit on its opening day.”
“In Hollywood, the character, irrespective of its age or gender, is the hero of a film. But unfortunately, in India, it is the hero of a film that drives its economics. People pay to see their hero and that is why he is paid more than everyone else,” adds the 45-year-old actor.Dhillon believes that it would take good scripts and content-based films to bridge this gender-economic divide.
Simran Kaur Mundi, who has successful movies such as ‘Best of Luck’ and ‘Mundeyan Ton Bachke Rahin’ to her credit, feels that film industry, like any other, is governed by the basic principles of economics, wherein people invest money in places and things that fetch higher returns. “The trend will change the day heroine-oriented films start giving equal or higher returns at the box office more frequently, when compared to other movies,” she says, echoing the sentiments of several other women working in the industry.