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It may be a great time for Bollywood heroines, but they still don't get paid like heroes

Vinayak Chakravorty
Vinayak ChakravortyApr 11, 2017 | 13:15

It may be a great time for Bollywood heroines, but they still don't get paid like heroes

Now is the best time to be a heroine in Bollywood, right? We have been seeing a continual spate of women-centric films - at least half a dozen have released in just four months of 2017. Roles coming up for actresses now are richer in quality and, thanks to new economics that the multiplex culture has triggered off, most of these projects manage neat profits, too.

So why aren’t the women getting paid? Pay packets of star heroines in Bollywood alarmingly continue to remain at least a fourth or fifth of what their male counterparts take home, on an average.

The truth is Bollywood’s brutal money-is-all mantra does not recognise political correctness. Hardcore math would attribute all disparity to box-office incomes. A regular mass blockbuster flaunting a top male superstar normally makes four to five times the money that a heroine-centric hit manages at the domestic box-office, many trade pundits have argued.

The counterpoint they gloss over is women-oriented films also get a far less screen count - nearly a third or a fourth the number of screens that the heroes enjoy. No producer has taken the risk yet to try a wider release, the common argument being none of our top heroines have the massive fan following of our top heroes.

So, Vidya Balan’s return with the title role of Begum Jaan on April 14 will happen across a little less than 1,000 screens in India. This despite the fact that the film has garnered sufficient buzz. Compare that screen count to the 4,000-odd screens that a film riding one of the Khans or Akshay Kumar regularly enjoys.

New-age Bollywood has been quick to understand the logistics of heroine-oriented mainstream cinema in this context. These films are not about making big money. They are about making quick money. The rise of multiplexes over the past two decades continues to increase the segment of audience that visits the big screen for sensible entertainment. That is where heroine-oriented cinema comes in.

The growth of heroine-centric films has banked on content rather than glamour and gimmicks. These films have normally been more impressive as far as subject matter goes, than what mainstream heroes have been doling out with often mindless mass entertainers.

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New-age Bollywood has been quick to understand the logistics of heroine-oriented mainstream cinema.

The fact in turn, however, also means the target audience base for female-oriented films will continue to remain smaller than hero-dominated ones.

For that reason, films riding strong heroine roles can primarily operate on a boutique model. The decent show of Dear Zindagi, Happy Bhag Jayegi, Ki & Ka and Neerja last year proves this genre has now fashioned a functional model to make money, one that demands the budget be small. Most heroine-centric films cost between Rs 20-30 crore. Sign up a top hero for a Bollywood project, and the price zooms up to nearly four times that amount.

The industry has actually found a profitable alternative line of stars in its heroines, in this context. This is something that was lacking, unlike Hollywood. For long, making money in commercial Bollywood was mainly about films starring the top five or six male stars. The first-generation multiplex films looked at talented character artists as an option, making small investments in what came to be known as crossover flicks. These, though, were not enough.

At the same time, the occasional offbeat trek of top male stars was also happening. Shah Rukh Khan tried Chak De! India, Akshay Kumar did Special 26. Such films, though, served more as a personal badge of achievement for the star. Unless the top star agreed to a drastic pay cut, his presence automatically raised such a film’s cost, making it a risky proposition.

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Shah Rukh Khan tried Chak De! India, Akshay Kumar did Special 26.

That is where the heroines came in. With the years, Bollywood realised Priyanka Chopra’s Fashion in 2008 or Vidya Balan’s run of success between 2010 and 2012 with No One Killed Jessica, The Dirty Picture and Ishqiya were no flukes.

In the years that followed, a few films have actually grossed big. The Kangana Ranaut-starrer Tanu Weds Many Returns saw a Rs 240 crore-plus haul. Piku starring Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja crossed the Rs 100-crore mark.

After Begum Jaan, Anaarkali Of Aarah, Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Naam Shabana, eight films in the remaining eight months of 2017 have reserved title roles for its heroines. This is a rarity for Hindi films, in any given year.

Deepika Padukone in Padmavati, Kangana Ranaut in Simran, Parineeti Chopra in Meri Pyaari Bindu, Sonakshi Sinha in Noor and Shraddha Kapoor in Haseena and Half-Girlfriend are all raring to go. Sridevi returns in Mom and Raveena Tandon makes a comeback in Matr.

Now is the best time to be a heroine in Bollywood, right. So long as money’s not a problem for the ladies.

Last updated: April 12, 2017 | 13:33
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