The others on the top-10 list? The three Khans — Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir; Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan; and cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli.The next set of 10 top-earners has Deepika’s peers like Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma, Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma et al; in addition to Ranbir Kapoor, Suresh Raina, AR Rahman and others.Kangana, despite her high per film fee, was ranked considerably lower, because the Forbes list looked at income for the financial year 2014-15 (for one, she didn’t have as many films as Deepika in that same time period; two, she doesn’t have as many endorsement or live performance fees to add).The Forbes list put Deepika in the big league — one that is tough to crack into. Look at all the other names on that list: They are male, yes; but most of them (with the exception of MS Dhoni, who came to national attention in 2003-04 and Virat Kohli, in 2008) have been around for a whole lot longer than Deepika — Bachchan Sr, the Khans, Hrithik and Akshay. Deepika made her Bollywood debut in 2007 with Om Shanti Om — she’s been part of the industry for less than a decade.
Before Deepika’s 12-crore cheque, most top actresses in the industry (with the apparent exception of Kangana, whose first Hindi film was Gangster, in 2006) have long been hovering in the Rs 6-8 crore vicinity.Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif both debuted in 2003; Chopra with The Hero, Kaif with Boom. As of 2015, Priyanka was charging Rs 8 crore (this was before her Quantico-fuelled international stardom) while Anushka Sharma (2008’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was her first film), Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor were all charging in the Rs 6-8 crore range.Kareena, who before the advent of Deepika, Priyanka and Anushka, was the top earning actress in the industry. She debuted with Refugee in 2000. That was the same year Hritihk Roshan made his debut as well (discounting his experience as a child actor) in Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. Today, Hrithik charges — as per reports — Rs 50 crore a movie. For Kareena, getting a Rs 7 crore paycheque for Bajrangi Bhaijaan was a big deal.Last year also saw two major actresses make their Bollywood comebacks — Kajol and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Kajol reportedly earned Rs 5 crore for Dilwale; Aishwarya, Rs 7 crore for Jazbaa.
Talking about the wage gap in Bollywood can be a difficult thing — and it’s not just because, the industry is, as is per its common description, “male dominated”. The point is, sure the Khans earn hundreds of crores more than the highest earning actress can hope to; but they’re an exception, and can’t really be used as an indication of industry norms.
In stature, they’re second only to an Amitabh Bachchan or Rajinikanth; they have the ability to score mega openings for their films on the virtue of their names alone. And they’ve been around for nearly three decades now, having made their screen debuts at a time when most of the current lot of rising stars were toddlers.Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn too have been around for a lot longer than most of the female actresses who count among the A-list these days. The issue is further confounded because the only kind of money Bollywood openly discusses is box office collections (and even these are often inflated); the biggest stars would rather have a profit-share deal than a flat fee. And of course, most of them also have their own production banners.But what about contemporary actors? Harking back to the Kareena-Hrithik comparison, Deepika made her debut a year before Ranbir Kapoor. One might say they’ve had a comparable career graph, although the Kapoor scion’s star has dimmed in recent times. Yet, in 2015, Ranbir’s fee per film was estimated at around Rs 20-25 crore. (Some reports even claimed that he charged Rs 38 crore for Tamasha; again, there is no confirmation for these figures from Kapoor or his producers.)Ranveer Singh, who debuted in 2011 in Band Baaja Baarat — a full four years after Deepika — had already crossed the “Rs 10-crore barrier” before her.The barrier seems to exist more for the actresses then, rather than the actors, in Bollywood.
It wasn’t always the case. Hema Malini is believed to have commanded as much as her leading men back in her heyday.
And among the younger crop of stars, there is hope that gender will not be a reason for a higher or lower paycheque: Be it a Varun Dhawan or Sidharth Malhotra, Sushant Singh Rajput — these young actors are earning amounts that are comparable to the fees charged by an Alia Bhatt or Sonakshi Sinha.Unlike Patricia Arquette, not too many have spoken out about the wage gap in Bollywood. Anushka Sharma is among the few to have addressed the issue head on. “It is very unfair that we get paid the way we do, the disparity is way too much. We get paid one fourth of what the men do,” Anushka said in an interview.Will Deepika’s Rs 12 crore deal for Padmavati usher in an era of gender parity in Bollywood’s paycheques? The outlook, for the first time in many years, seems favourable.