At the 87th Academy Awards aired on Monday morning, Boyhood actress Patricia Arquette made a powerful statement about wage equality for women. Accepting her Best Supporting Actress award for Boyhood, she declared emphatically, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Prominent amongst the attendees who gave her a rousing ovation following that statement was veteran actress Meryl Streep, which is in itself another powerful statement, given that it struck a chord with someone who is arguably the most respected actress of her generation.
How does Bollywood fare in comparison?
The Indian film industry has a stronger star system than Hollywood and some female-centric films (read: Mary Kom) did well at the box-office last year. If we take a 2014 list of ‘India’s most Googled people’ as some measure of popularity, it reveals the following things:
1) Sunny Leone is the most popular person in India, ahead of even Narendra Modi.
2) In a list of 10 people, six are actresses i.e. Katrina Kaif (no. 4), Deepika Padukone (no. 5), Alia Bhatt (no. 6), Priyanka Chopra (no. 7), and Poonam Pandey (no. 9).
Now, if we pull up a list of highest celebrity earners in India – say, this Forbes’ list of the richest Indian celebrities of 2014 – we get the following observations:
1) The only woman on that list is Padukone, with earnings of Rs 67.20 crore last year, nearly a fourth of that earned by list-topper Salman Khan (who took home a whopping Rs 244.5 crore).
2) Padukone starred in three films last year, including Farah Khan’s Happy New Year, which is currently the fifth-highest grossing Bollywood film of all time. In contrast, Amitabh Bachchan, who only had one release last year (the tepidly-received Bhootnath Returns) pulled in Rs 196.75 crore on the back of his many endorsements.
Despite these appalling dichotomies, 2014 saw Bollywood’s leading ladies catching up with the men to a certain extent. Padukone, Bhatt, and Chopra proved that the audience doesn’t only come to watch ‘heroes’, with movies like Finding Fanny; Highway, 2 States, and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania; and Mary Kom, respectively.
Even so, it’s obvious that there’s a very long way to go before we see anything resembling equal pay for equal work in Bollywood.
Take a look at this recent India Today list, which shows that India’s highest paid actress, Padukone, earns approximately (actual figures are closely guarded secrets) Rs 8-9 crores per film, while our highest paid actor, Salman Khan, rakes in nearly Rs 55 crore for the same.
Clearly, Arquette's dream, which has a long way to go even in America, would be shattered if she took a look at Bollywood's figures.
The popularity of this acerbic reaction by stand-up comedian Tanmay Bhat to Arquette’s speech sums up the wage argument in India.
Hahaha, imagining desi producers faces if Katrina Kaif asked for equal wages on stage at Filmfare.
— Tanmay Bhat (@thetanmay) February 23, 2015