Updated: September 23, 2018 7:15:40 am
“How Much will I talk about it? I’m done now. You talk now,” actor and producer Anushka Sharma said, turning to her colleague Varun Dhawan and entrusting him with the responsibility of speaking up on gender inequality in the Hindi film industry.
Sharma’s comment, which highlighted the need for male actors to take a stand on the gender gap in Bollywood, was prompted by a question from the audience at a recent edition of the Express Adda in Mumbai.
Dhawan responded to the question — about whether Bollywood would ever bridge the gender pay gap — with revelations about the extent to which male actors are beneficiaries of an unequal system. An important source of compensation for male actors, he acknowledged, are the “packages” they get as part of the satellite and Time women actors did packages for better pay, says Varun Dhawan; let’s play on equal ground first, responds Anushka digital rights for their films.
“Nowadays, when we make a film, there are recoveries attached… Every actor has a different recovery on these mediums, so the bigger the star, the bigger the recovery… A lot of male stars, and it has happened with me also, we get offered a lot of packages. They say, ‘Sir, aap humko apne char picture de do, and we’ll give you so many crores.’ Then you can decide how much to give the producer, how much to keep for yourself. A lot of big male actors have these deals and I think it’s time that a lot of big female actors also start doing these deals,” Dhawan said.
Sharma, along with her colleagues Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut and Sonam Kapoor, has been one of the most vocal critics of Bollywood’s gender pay gap and unequal opportunities, said there was a long way to go before women in the industry reached a position from where they could strike these ‘deals’.
“Male actors are propped up a lot more by producers, and when you are propped up so much, the value is always going to be more for the male actor,” she said.
Pointing out that a film’s success is still largely attributed to its male lead, she said, “You conveniently forget that there was a lead actress also involved… you have to play on equal ground first, and then we can talk about these recoveries.”
Calling for a greater celebration of women actors, Dhawan said, “This year has been one of the best for our industry, with the most number of hits and the most number of films making Rs 100 crore. That’s not only because of male actors. Women actors are giving big hits, whether solo or with a male supporting cast.”
Talking of recent hits such as the Alia Bhatt-starrer Raazi and Veere Di Wedding, which featured four women lead actors, Sharma described the current period in Hindi cinema as being a particularly healthy one for actors, given the diversity of roles on offer.
She said this has been made possible by a combination of factors – an audience with a more diverse taste in cinema, and women actors who are more assertive about the kind of movies they want to do. “In today’s time, you can do a film like NH10 and then also do a popular film like Sultan, and you know your audience is going to be different.”
Sharma and Dhawan, who are co-starring in the highly anticipated Sui Dhaaga, directed by Sharat Katariya, also spoke about the role social media has played in shaping their engagement with fans. Dhawan pointed out that while social media can be highly manipulative, the moments of “pure fan love” make it worthwhile.
“It’s like what happened with our film Sui Dhaaga… The memes started on Mamta, which is the character Anushka plays… I swear to God, it was all organic. It was organic fan love. When something like that happens it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Sharma, who has often found herself at the receiving end of online trolls, including for her husband Virat Kohli’s performance on the cricket field, struck a less enthusiastic note. While acknowledging that social media has made it easier to have a “personal relationsip” with fans, she lamented the amount of hatred encountered online. “Where is the accountability in what you’re saying? You’re a nameless, figureless person who has the right to say anything, to vent out your innermost darkness and demons on someone you don’t even know? That’s what you’re subjected to.”
At the same time, she said, the trolling had also made her resilient. “Anyone can come up and say the meanest thing to me right now and it won’t matter because of the training that I’ve received from trolls,” she said. “Sometimes, when something erupts on social media, my publicists get worried, and for a second, I get that pang of nervousness. (But) suddenly, I’m like, I’ve dealt with worse.”
At the Adda, Sharma and Dhawan were in conversation with The Indian Express Deputy Editor Seema Chishti.
The Express Adda is a series of interactions with people at the centre of change. Guests in the past have included Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the Dalai Lama, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, writer Amitav Ghosh and filmmaker Karan Johar.
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