International Women's Day: Bollywood needs to make equality and pay parity a yearlong fight

Abhishek Srivastava

Mar,08 2018 13:05:39 IST

It was a decision that was hailed by all, and earned superstar Shah Rukh Khan some serious brownie points. The occasion was the pre-release of his home production Chennai Express in 2013. In a masterstroke, through a tie up with Tata Tea for their Jaago Re campaign, SRK announced to the world that all his films beginning with Chennai Express will ensure that the name of the actress comes first in the credit rolls.

Shah Rukh Khan had made the announcement on the occasion of International Women’s Day and had hoped for others to follow suit. While launching the initiative, he had also expressed his desire of working with more women directors. It’s great to see that even after five years the superstar has stuck to his gun of ensuring the actresses’ names come before his name in his films' credits, and by working under the baton of Gauri Shinde for Dear Zindagi. It was a commendable gesture by Shah Rukh Khan, who, a few years later in an interview to Femina, had admitted that ‘women actors work five times harder and get paid 10 times less than men”.

However, five years later, Bollywood’s sorry state of affairs still remains intact. It’s disheartening to see that even after five years neither the heavyweight actors nor the purse-rich producers have followed suit.

Deepika Padukone and SRK in Chennai Express.

Contrast this with another senior actor, who not long ago as part of promotions for his film compared his grueling preparation for the role of a wrestler with the plight of a rape survivor. Our top-billed superstars are all male, with the exception of Deepika Padukone, who, after 10 years in the industry, can finally demand a lumpsome and carry a film on her shoulders.

In a nutshell, the cry of equality that we often get to hear every year, especially on International Women’s Day, is nothing more than a farce and a lip service. Despite the oft repeated promises, quotes and assurances of strong female characters and equal pay (among other things), what remains at the end of the day are words on paper and sound bytes for publications.

In wake of the widespread buzz around the #MeToo campaign, an international newspaper of repute had dispatched a reporter to Mumbai to dig out stories of harassment and talk to people from the industry. The local guardian of the reporter was a director who is known for his gritty films and is well connected to the movers and shakers of Hollywood. Despite the two week stay, not a single soul spoke to the reporter and finally, he had to leave Mumbai without filing a single story.

The incident only goes on to prove that the status quo of women in Bollywood remains the same. There are plenty stories, but nobody willing to talk about them.

This is why the news of Deepika Padukone getting a heavier remuneration compared to Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor for Padmaavat is refreshing. It's completely justified if true, as Deepika currently enjoys a position similar to the Khans in the film industry. But the news would have made more sense had she been offered a bigger pay packet for a film featuring any of the Khans. It’s a foregone conclusion that such a day might just never happen in our lifetime.

Shahid Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh from Padmaavat poster. Facebook

Shahid Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh from Padmaavat poster. Facebook

A research was conducted by IBM Research last year to analyse gender stereotyping in Bollywood movies based on Wikipedia Bollywood data of roughly 400 movies. Needless to say, the conclusion was least encouraging.

It’s not only Bollywood that remains afflicted with this lacuna when it comes to gender equality. It’s a known fact that western countries have a better record when it comes to gender equality. And thus, when news leaked that Michelle Williams was paid 80 dollars per day as against Mark Wahlberg’s millions, to shoot portions for All The Money In The World after Kevin Spacey was shown the doors in wake of sexual harassment allegations, it was bound to create furore and anger.

This happened in the corridors of a film industry that is considered by many as a torch bearer for other film industries of the world. This is a big slap on gender parity. The pledge for parity has only picked up momentum in the last few years and thus terms like inclusivity and diversity have assumed a significance of their own.

Writer-director Greta Gerwig's film Lady Bird made it to AFI's top films of 2017. AP

Writer-director Greta Gerwig's film Lady Bird made it to AFI's top films of 2017. AP

When the much acclaimed film Lady Bird and its director Greta Gerwig were nominated for Best Film and Best Director category for the Oscars in January, it occupied many news columns. Similarly, when Mary J Blige was nominated in two categories, the choice was hailed by many. An extremely positive build up was seen in favour of Lady Bird, Great Gerwig and Mary J Blige in the run up to the Oscars ceremony. Much to everyone’s dismay, everything came to a naught on the final day. In a male bastion world, their commendable work relegated to just a footnote. The originality of a much loved film was looked down upon in favour of a film which was plagued by accusations of plagiarism from different quarters.

While we're on the topic of the Academy Awards, it is disheartening to know that in 2016 12 women laying their hand on the coveted statue, but the number fell down to 9 in 2017 while 2018 produced only 6 female winners. The overall record for Oscars 2018 stands at 6 women as opposed to 33 men. The numbers are particularly startling considering the fact that it coincided with the #MeToo and #TimeIsUp upheaval. This figure is also the lowest since 2012 when only four women were awarded the trophy.

The glass ceiling still remains extremely tight and it will take eons to penetrate. The case of Harvey Weinstein is a shining example. It took more than 25 years for women of an extremely free nation to ensure that his philandering stories come to the fore. Gender parity stories, till then, will continue to amuse us, and serve as rare examples.

Published Date: Mar 08, 2018 13:05 PM | Updated Date: Mar 08, 2018 13:05 PM