If reports are to be believed (though they must be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism), the highest paid female stars (Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif) in Hindi films get Rs 3 crore per film, while the highest paid male stars get many times more—Akshay Kumar is pegged at Rs 71 crore and Aamir Khan at Rs 80 crore. These are absurd figures, and even if male stars get a much less, what these figures underline is the wide disparity between the remuneration of ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ (not actors, mind you, there is no premium on real talent).
Distributors in India say that the ‘heroes’ sell films, not heroines. They also say female-centric films don’t work; even Madhuri Dixit could not make Aaja Nachle a hit they say. You could argue that even Amitabh Bachchan could not make The Last Lear a hit, or that even Akshay Kumar and Saif Ali Khan could not make Tashan a hit, but nobody would pay any attention. It is a male dominated industry in Mumbai, and that’s that!
It is also pretty much a male dominated industry in Hollywood, but the highest paid actress is only marginally behind the highest paid actor, if at all. Out there, ‘chicks’ also sell flicks’ and get high box-office returns. For a while Mamma Mia!, a film starring a 60-plus actress, Meryl Streep overtook the big fanboy flick The Dark Knight at the box-office. Give Madhuri Dixit, or Rekha or Hema Malini a film like that and then decide whether women are audience magnets or not. Not even Shah Rukh Khan could have made Bachke Rehna Re Baba (Rekha-Mallika Sherawat) a hit, had he chosen to star in it.. which he didn’t.
In Hollywood, top actresses don’t just wear bikinis and preen, they handle business too; almost all the major stars—Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, to name a few—produce their own films and control money, including their pay packets. Over there it doesn’t matter if the actress is married, divorced, had kids, is over 30… or any of the minus points that affect Hindi film actresses. Because these women take their careers seriously, not as ‘time pass’ between modelling and marriage.
Hindi film actresses do have long way to go, because Hindi films have a long way to go. But still, if second rung male character actors get more money than Bollywood leading ladies, there’s something wrong somewhere.