19/01/2017 7:18 PM IST | Updated 20/01/2017 10:39 AM IST

Karan Johar And His Ilk Will Keep Getting Away With Paying Women Less For A Long, Long Time

Good work and equal pay, makes Bollywood a dull boy.

The India Today Group via Getty Images

You'll probably remember your social media timelines being flooded with status updates atta girl-ing Deepika Padukone last year. She wasn't being belatedly complimented for the stellar work she had done the year before -- she was a apart of Tamasha, Piku and Bajirao Mastani, two of which were mammoth hits. But because she seemed to have achieved the 'unthinkable' in Bollywood. There were strong rumours that she was going to be paid more than her male co-stars for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati.

Of course, in a fair world, people wouldn't be thrilled or shocked or surprised by the fact that an actress, who is playing the titular role in a film, is getting paid more than the others. That's how it should work: pay directly proportional to the person's job responsibilities and talent.

That's how it should work: pay directly proportional to the person's job responsibilities and talent.

Only, in the real world and across industries, your pay often depends on the shape of your genitals. If you just went 'eww' at the preceding sentence, let me break this to you, that is the 'normal' in your world and you have managed to live with it as well. Soon, this great development was investigated and headlines such as the following surfaced on social media: "Deepika Padukone is not being paid ₹11 crore, says Sanjay Leela Bhansali's rep." Didit sound like, 'that comet is not hitting us and we are not perishing'? You're not alone.

Recently, it was revealed in an excerpt from Karan Johar's biography that the filmmaker didn't speak to now-BFF Kareena Kapoor for a year because she demanded as much money as Shah Rukh Khan for Kal Ho Na Ho. While the news left a lot of us, especially women, aghast that the man has the gall to admit that he was pissed with Kapoor demanding better pay, others pointed out the greys in this argument.

The industry -- led and nurtured by powerful, rich men -- treats women as mere accessories to the He-Men in their films.

Kapoor, who was merely a couple of films old then, in all practical purposes wasn't as big a brand as Shah Rukh Khan to demand the remuneration he deserved. But what Karan Johar didn't say was also that the industry, led and nurtured by the likes of him at present, treats women as mere accessories to the He-Men in their films. I mean, Kal Ho Na Ho, in one line, would be the following: man palms off prospective girlfriend to cartoonish lackey. Since the said girl is a girl in a Hindi film, the hero has to do the thinking for her and chart her life out. How dare Kareena Kapoor demand so much money to play a human cushion in this pass-the-pillowgirlfriend charade?

How dare Kareena Kapoor demand so much money to play a human cushion in this pass-the-girlfriend charade?

The curious thing here is, Kapoor, who has spent 17 years in the industry as a very successful leading lady, was actually the real aggrieved party in this case. She demanded money and got promptly replaced by someone else. Yet, it was Johar -- who replaced her -- who had the opportunity to talk about the conflict, in his voice.

Fun fact: internet seems to have no evidence of the very articulate, opinionated Karan Johar saying a word on the gender pay gap that exists in Bollywood.

Fun fact: internet seems to have no evidence of the very articulate, opinionated Karan Johar saying a word on the gender pay gap that exists in Bollywood.

This prompted me to look up what other successful actresses -- who have shouldered films and delivered hits by themselves -- had to say about wage gap. Don't be surprised to notice how apologetic most of them seem to even talk about being paid way less than their male counterparts.


In an interview to Outlook Business, Padukone who was pretty much the backbone of films like Piku and Bajirao Mastani, acknowledged there's a wage gap problem but immediately sought to brush it off. "I look into the situation and instead of whining about it, I look at how different things were earlier and how the situation has improved already," she said.


She made the simplest, most rational argument: get paid for how much work you do. She added, if someone is doing one song and two scenes, she can't demand the same money. But when she is shouldering an entire film, she should get as much as any man. And then, she dropped the bomb about how the industry is willing to take risks with men and not women. "My male counterparts are paid thrice the amount. No one can guarantee success of a film so why such discrimination? I don't do one scene or one item song in a film. I can only speak for myself and I am commanding certain amount of money, but I still think I am underpaid," she told Barkha Dutt.


A lot of things work in favour for Sonam Kapoor to be less anxious and uninhibited compared to other women of her time. Hailing from an influential film family herself, Sonam went ahead and called out the hypocrisy like it is. Now for a long time, Kapoor has been dismissed as a pretty face, but with Neerja, again, she delivered a hit, almost single-handedly.

She said: "The kind of money John Abraham and Varun Dhawan got to make off Dishoom is way more than what Kareena and I are getting to make Veere Di Wedding. I do think Kareena and I could open a film as big as them. And we could do as well as them. Veere Di Wedding is a commercial film. I find it really disgusting that this is happening."


In an interview to BBC, Priyanka Chopra said that she hates that she is get paid lesser than 'the boys' and that the wage gap issue is 'massive', but then she seemed okay with letting a huge, sexist Bollywood film watching demography dictate their pay. "Films with a male lead can do as much as $40 million, female led films have just touched about $10-15 million," she explained. She went on to add when women can rake in such numbers, they will get paid well. The only problem with this theory is that's as plausible as a leopard changing his spots.


She also said there's not much of a disparity. Irony: she did get dropped from a film for demanding more money, it turns out. Making female actors seem even more irrelevant, she joked, that's why she always preferred doing films with the male stars. Not only is a woman's pay less, it's dependant on the man she managed to snag a film with.


Vidya Balan, who again, like a Priyanka Chopra or Deepika Padukone has single-handedly made films work, seemed to have be very optimistic about the wage gap ending soon. In 2015, she seemed to have said there is a 'huge disparity' in the way men and women are paid. But she immediately compensated for it by saying things are looking up and better. A year later, she said that though she feels that the gap is 'very big', things are looking up. She added that she is quite happy with her pay.


You get paid more in Bollywood if you're a man, no matter how talented or experienced you are. Anushka Sharma didn't mince a single word while saying it aloud. "Even if there's an actor who is probably at the same stature as me...[he] would still be paid more money than me because he's a guy...They're not thinking I'm going to treat this one lesser. It's just there. It's ingrained. You want respect. When you pay me less money, you're telling me, 'you're not as valuable'," she said.

Do you wish none of these women had to add a 'but let's not piss the powers that be off' disclaimer after acknowledging that a huge pay gap exists? I know I do. Just remember, however, that they live in a country that makes a Dabangg a many hundred crore hit. Several times over.