India’s Gender Pay Scale for Actresses Remains Far From Equal

Gender Pay Gap Bollywood Kangana Ranaut
Courtesy of Viacom 18 Motion Pictures

Gender pay disparity is alive and well in India, while rates for actor and actresses in Taiwan and Israel are more or less equitable.

In India, top male actors earn as much as five times more than top female stars, according to industry estimates, with men in the top rung — such as Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan (all unrelated), Hrithik Roshan and Akshay Kumar — raking in $4.5 million to $5.5 million per film. However, most of the top male stars also take producer credits via their production companies, doubling their paydays to between $10.5 million and $11.5 million per film, with a bonus: a share of the profits.

In contrast, actresses in the top tier who can carry a film on their own, like Priyanka Chopra in “Mary Kom,” Deepika Padukone in “Piku” or Kangana Ranaut in “Queen,” make between $1 million and $1.2 million, with no back end.

One reason given for the discrepancy is box office. “The top male stars generate much greater returns than the female stars; that’s why they get paid much more,” says producer Pravesh Sippy. For example, “Queen” made $15 million at the box office, while Salman Khan-starrer “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” took in $95 million.

Female stars in India also tend to have shorter careers. The older they get, the fewer leading parts are written for them, while men draw starring vehicles even as they age. “The fees don’t go down for older male stars,” says Dina Dattani, independent business affairs and legal consultant in the media industry and former head of business and legal at Fox Star Studios India. “People continue to write starring roles for 73-year-old Amitabh Bachchan. There’s no comparable female equivalent.”

Dattani, who has negotiated hundreds of contracts for actors and crew across all tiers, says that inequality exists across the board for women, adding that female corporate execs at the senior management level in the entertainment business earn less than their male counterparts. Indeed, the inequity extends to female employees in the industry at every level.

Success, however, does impact pay. For instance, Farah Khan, whose “Happy New Year” and “Om Shanti Om” minted $58 million and $37 million, respectively, at the global box office, is much in demand. “If a woman director makes a hit film, she can command higher fees,” Sippy says.

Matters are more equitable elsewhere in Asia. Actors and actresses are paid the same in Taiwan — and a major global star like Shu Qi will make more than a male co-star — according to production and costume designer Hwang Wern-ying, who has worked with director Hou Hsiao-hsien on several films, including “The Assassin” and “Millennium Mambo.” Still, she acknowledges how difficult it is for women to break into below-the-line fields, like production design.

Meanwhile, helmer Amos Gitai, who received the Excellence in Cinema award at the recent Jio Mami Mumbai Film Fest, says there is gender pay parity in Israel, but with a catch. “No one is very well paid,” he say, “but they are paid the same.”

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