Despite a plethora of women-led films such as Manikarnika, Pink, Veere Di Wedding, Tumhari Sulu, to name a few, faring well at the box-office, the yawning gender gap in the industry is still an ugly truth. From disparity in treatment on sets to remuneration, the female stars mostly get a raw deal. While there have been several conversations around it, the actual change is yet to find its way.
One of the most vocal actresses in the industry, Taapsee Pannu believes it happens especially when the male actor is a ‘star’. “I have been through that drill in the South, I know the difference. All the actors that I have worked with were much bigger stars so somewhere I accepted the difference,” says the actress. Citing an example, Taapsee says, “I would be given a call time way earlier than an actor... such things would happen. I will not do that when tables would turn and this has been my learning from those episodes because I know how it feels,” says Taapsee who received immense appreciation for her performance in Pink and Manmarziyaan and is seen as one of the promising actresses.
Budding actress Kriti Sanon, who has delivered hits like Heropanti and Bareilly Ki Barfi, says that the discrimination on the sets did pinch her. “Sometimes, things do pinch you when you see an actor getting better treatment on sets purely because he is a guy — be it pay parity or having a different kind of a vanity or room. Sometimes people do address the actor differently. The director might tell the male actor that it’s a break and he can have his food while he has forgotten that the actress is also there. These may seem like minute things but they do pinch you,” says Kriti.
Even though inconsequential, these things continue to show how discrimination is so ingrained in people who continue to see actors as more worthy than actresses. These beliefs reflect hugely when it comes to pay-parity and actresses, including the ones at the top, are still struggling. Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, who never minces her words, has an interesting take over the subject. She believes actresses should put their foot down and just turn down offers when they feel there is a disparity. However, she too is wary of the consequences. “The industry is changing but at a snail’s pace. I can do a film like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga or Zoya Factor where I am headlining the film but we are still struggling. If you decide to not do a film because you are not getting paid enough, some other actress would come along and say, ‘okay, I will do this job’,” says Sonam and adds, “I don’t expect to be paid as much as Salman Khan but I can expect to be paid as much as Ayushmann or other actors who are as big a star as me. If they are not going to give me what I deserve then I am just not doing the film.”
Leading this conversation has been Kangana Ranaut who in an interview in 2015 said that she deserves to get paid as much as actors. The actress, who has given box-office hits like Queen, Manikarnika, Tanu Weds Manu and Tanu Weds Manu: Returns, stated being paid one-third of her male counterparts and questioned the existence of this discrimination when no one can guarantee the success of a film. Even Deepika Padukone, one of the highest paid actresses in Bollywood, refused a film because her male co-star was being paid more than her. The actress argued that her films were doing better than the actors and this pay gap was unfair.
Unlike India, in the West, the actors stood by the actresses and demanded equality in terms of remuneration. But in India, only Varun Dhawan has gone on record to accept that actresses are being paid lesser despite contributing equally to the success of films and said that he wouldn’t mind adjusting his fees, if need be, to accommodate an equal remuneration for the actresses in his films. And pay-parity isn’t the only issue in Bollywood, even getting paid on time is an issue with some projects.
Another issue for actresses has been to find work post their marriage. While many actresses such as Kareena Kapoor Khan, Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor got married at the top of their careers and continued working, not everyone is lucky enough. Unlike their male contemporaries who continue to lead films even in their 50s and are seen romancing young girls, the case isn’t the same for women. Actor-producer Ajay Devgn, believes the audience’s mindset is more to blame than the industry. “It is not difficult anymore because things are changing. Not getting work post marriage was not because of the industry; it was the problem with the audience. If these films worked earlier then we wouldn’t be talking about this. Now, they all are working and are making money. So, it is the mindset of the society and not the industry,” says Ajay. And the change in audience’s perspective will happen once the conversation about actress’ calibre post marriage stops. “I would love to see actresses like Sonam and Anushka continuing to take up the kind of roles that they were doing earlier and not have any shift in their work. However, I still hear from people that women have to be desirable… these are things you still hear around, so you don’t know whom to believe. People do speak that once a woman gets married, she is less desirable and that is ridiculous. I hope the audience shows the same amount of love that they do to men when they get married,” adds Kriti.